“Tubular Bells” is the scariest music arrangement ever made. We hear it and we’re the scaredy cat equivalent of Pavlov’s Dog – the Satan bells ring, and we tense up, scream and get all incontinent. More than once. And then cry ourselves to sleep with one eye open.
The movie’s premise – a little girl possessed by a demon – is scary enough as words on paper. But what director William Friedkin does with it, aside from prove that he has a seriously strong (or frightfully off) constitution for this sort of stuff, is treat the extraordinary of it all as if it were really happening next door to us.
The scares come from a place based in Faith, where Heaven and hell are as real as your beliefs in them care to be. Faith, for all the documentation on the subject, is tethered to the intangible; it’s not something science can define or strategize. The demon that comes from The Exorcist’s interpretation of that idea is something more powerful than a Freddy or a Jason. Something that can’t be shot or stabbed or detonated.
Before it can be attacked, let alone defeated, it has to be first believed in – as terrible and soul-threatening as this may be to the young priest and old priest charged with delivering the climatic exorcism. Fathers Karras and Merrin spend the third act of the movie fighting back the Devil for control of young Regan’s soul. And in doing so, Karras, a man of wavering faith throughout most of the movie, finally believes in the only true good he knows by sacrificing himself to save that little girl.
Film-school analyze this movie more if you want. Bottom line: It is the best horror movie about the consequences of belief ever made. It is the reason why so many exorcism movies still flood the marketplace.