The people who are trying to ban the film are not eccentrics or kill-joys but people who love and care about the welfare of others, writes PETER JENNINGS
"The Exorcist" is a thoroughly evil film — terrifying, dangerous and extremely powerful, it has no significant religious message whatsoever. There is a trend today to treat the devil as a joke who has been turned into a semi-comic figure and an ever-increasing number of people are now showing an interest in the occult with disastrous results.
Demonic possession is not make-believe. it is a frightening reality and has a startling significance on the daily lives of many people, some of whom become demented by its deadly cult.
Watching the film at the ABC One. Shaftesbury Avenue. last Friday evening was the most terrifying experience I have ever encountered at the cinema. People round about were trembling with fear. At the end there wasn't the usual rush for the exits. People were numbed with shock. The girl in the seat behind clung to her boy friend's arm. She was crying and shaking.
As the lights were dimmed the music became heavy and oppressive and I could feel a real sense of evil. Throughout, the air was thick with tobacco smoke as people tried to calm their shattered nerves. At times 1 really wanted to get up and walk out, it was so nauseating. The film opens tamely conveying only a feeling of vague unease and the suspense builds up slowly. The person next to me began to twitch and move his legs about.
After about 50 minutes a man in his early thirties who was sitting a few rows from me got up to leave and crashed in a crumpled heap in the aisle. St John Ambulance men and cinema usherettes carried him out. Ten people also left about this time and in all I counted nearly 30 people who left before the end of the performance.
Kenneth Jones, a St John Ambulance man for 15 years, said as we left: "Never have I seen such reactions to anything as I have to this film. We treated over twenty people at the last showing for fainting and sickness, five of whom were physically sick."
Forty-year-old Peter Thompson said: "I took two days dosage of tranquillisers during the film, otherwise I should have had to walk out. I was weeping with fear and my hands and arms were shaking." Peter spent four years as a patient at Broadmoor because, as he explained in his book "Bound for Broadmoor," of the disastrous effects which films like this had had on him."
The people who are trying to ban the film arc not eccentrics or kill-joysbut people who love and care about the welfare of others. Accused of making hysterical outbursts by the anything-goes lobby, are we to stand by silently and let a film be shown in which a pretty, vivacious I4-year-old schoolgirl, Linda Blair, plays a gruesome, screeching, foul-mouthed, festering and twisted banshee? The exorcism itself indicates nothing of the intervention of the love of God.
The film leaves the overriding impression of the hopelessness and futility of the Church and the priests against the forces of evil. The power of the devil appears to triumph over the power of Christ, because as the evil spirit leaves the body of the young girl. it immediately attacks one of the priests carrying out the exorcism. He meets an extremely violent and gruesome death • before the girl herself is delivered.
The author of the hest-selling book and producer of the film, 46-year-old William Peter Blatty, based his story on a I 4-yearold boy living in Mount Ranier, Maryland, who in August. 1949, was exorcised of a demon by a
Jesuit priest. The boy is now a happily married man. the father of three children. and the priest who performed the exorcism now lives in peaceful retirement. A young girl rather than a boy was used in the story to heighten the sensationalism. Blatty was reported last week saying that "people would get absolutely no impulse to dabble in the supernatural or the occult after seeing the film. What I set out to do with the book and film is to present a powerful argument for transcendence by making supernatural phenomena extremely real and persuasive."
Vomiting, urinating, a great deal of blood and flow of fourletter words and the most appalling blasphemy are worked into the picture. Sadly more and more of these diabolical films that pervert and seduce innocent young people to a moral code that is diametrically opposed to the Christian concept of family life are being granted a certificate for general release by the useless British Board of Film Censors. Tragically. the makers seldom evaluate or consider the effect of these products upon the susceptible V iewer.
Local authorities that put this film on bear a very grave responsibility for the consequences. Why has the Greater London Council's Film Viewing Committee shirked its responsibility and not seen the film which will cause serious mental disturbance. especially to emotionally unstable people? If it is not banned completely then at least it should be restricted to one cinema only and not the unprecedented five Wcst End cinemas as at present.
What end does the film really serve except the cold commer4 dal gain of its makers? It will possibly bring the devil back into conversation for a short time. but the effect on the lives
of some of those who see it may he life-long. What effect will it have on the people with psychologically sick children? It will undoubtedly add new terrors and fantasies to the mentally disturbed and cause sleepless nights to many, because of its sic.k-ening plausibility. That it has been nominated for ten Academy Awards makes me fear for the entire future of the film industry.
Leslie Grew, the cinema manager, said that he had been in the business all his life and had got completely hardened to films like this. He thought it was a good film.
Before we entered the cinema, David Curnock, 29, and I. 26. prayed together with the noise of the West End traffic swirling round us. David is a Church Army captain and warden of Spitalfield's Crypt. a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics. What was his reaction to the film?
"I think people arc going to relive parts of the film in their mind, dreams and at night when they are alone. It is very dangerous and powerful because it makes one think and relate to it. One just can't fob it off and say it's a manufactured horror film because it's about real people with real problems."
He continued: "It is a cleverly worked out way of putting over that the Church, the priests and the power of Christ appear to have no effect today against the powers of evil. The whole film is twisted and is the work of the devil."