October 3, 1974 [The Texas Chain Saw Massacre/The Exorcist]

I want to look away--but I give in, and The Exorcist earlier this year and now The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are not content to scold me for watching; no, I must be punished. There were moments during The Exorcist when I looked down at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, unable to escape the soundtrack but having had enough of the sight of the thing. So I’m a candyass--but during the picture there was a near-fist fight in the audience, and three people stumbled up the aisle, and when the movie wasn’t whining and growling I could hear low sickened murmurs and little sharp anxious snorts. This was not the zero-budget, grainy-print crowd: They had come to the mall for a Hollywood picture, but Hollywood had other ideas.

The Exorcist is a nightmare--oh, the cliché of that; but it’s true: The room with the closed door, the certain knowledge you shouldn’t go in, the compulsion that drives you anyway, the awful hybrids that lurk within. Over and over, in the dark, with all hope folded up tight, like a suicide note still clutched in your hand.

But there’s Lee J. Cobb, kindly and sonorous, and Max von Sydow, tall and holy, so it should be OK--but I’m too nervous from all those expelled fluids and devilish recriminations, and Cobb doesn’t know what’s going on, and von Sydow seems so frail. Could it be that I’m not in Hollywood any more?

Well, compared to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, all that was Disneyland. I’d heard this little creep of a movie was without remorse--but that’s like saying Nixon is no longer President. Both are done to a crisp, lopped off at the shoulders without hesitation. The plot does not matter; it is the world we are forced to live in--not The Exorcist’s nightmare, but a sunlit afternoon--Texas summer hot, with dead scrub along the roadside and the asphalt getting spongy--but the evening brings no respite, because that’s when the door suddenly opens, and the Monster conks you over the head--it’s why you’re there, you understand, and what It does--and happily cuts you up. This is a movie without a conscience; its last twenty minutes is nothing but uninterrupted screaming, and if you pay attention you pay dearly.

Things are getting bad out there; I’m not sure if we’re even allowed movies any more, just bad dreams and the nausea of fulfilled urges.


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