There is nothing more terrifying than demonic possession.
Not. One. Thing.
Sure, ghosts are scary; they create chaos in your house and give you unexplained scratches. Unstoppable killers like Jason (Friday the 13th) or Freddy (Nightmare on Elm Street) represent punishment for our sins.
But none of these compare to demonic possession. Think about it: a demon, the very antithesis of a benevolent soul, takes over your very being for the sole purpose of torturing you and your loved ones. That’s the only reason for a demon’s existence: undo any good or benevolence that God has created and replace it with unimaginable pain and suffering.
I love The Exorcist. I’m not the only one; remember the hype for Paranormal Activity and how people were blacking out or throwing up in the theater? Multiply that by 20. People had heart-attacks. Lines went around the block and lobbies were filled with panicking audience members who couldn’t handle the movie. The number of real-life exorcisms rose significantly after the movie was released. My own uncle hasn’t eaten pea soup since 1973. It was so terrifying that medical literature was written in response to mental illnesses triggered by the movie.
The film was a worldwide phenomenon, making nearly $403 million in total. Hollywood naturally wanted to capitalize on The Exorcist‘s success and started making a lot more films about demonic possession. However, every possession film following The Exorcist has received considerably smaller box office returns:
The Amityville Horror (1979): $86 million domestic (no international data)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005): $144 million worldwide
The Last Exorcism (2010): $67 million worldwide
The Rite (2011): $96 million worldwide
The Devil Inside (2012): $101 million worldwide
The Possession (2012): $71 million worldwide
None of these movies made more than $100 million domestically and half of them didn’t even make $50 million. The Exorcist made $204 million domestically. Why, when The Exorcist had been fantastically well-received, did these other films fail?
It is because they were terrible movies: The Last Exorcism is the only one with a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (73% positive reviews). None of the others go above 44%. The Exorcist currently sits at 87% positive reviews.
In a trend similar to found footage films, directors saw that a movie with demonic possession was well-received and said to themselves, “If I put a demon in my movie, people will be terrified!” Except they took it one step further and copied the same basic plot elements: a typically young, typically female human gets possessed. Then at least one priest, who will always have doubts about the existence of God and the Devil, must overcome his doubts to exorcise the demon (possibly at the expense of his own life).
If we are going to have a rebirth of horror films, directors need an injection of imagination and good old-fashioned filmic knowledge and technique. Come back next week to learn how.
By: Alex Allen | Contributing Writer