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I was interested in watching Don’t Look Now as it often crops up in lists of popular horror movies, yet it doesn’t seem to have achieved the status of a classic. It is a film about loss, the landscape of unreality it can create for those that suffer it, and how, for one of its leads, it awakens an otherworldly ability.

I found the opening family setting quite unsettling, thanks to quick cuts between a handful of scenes that play on the nerves; the daughter, Christine, plays dangerously close to a pond, a pane of glass is ridden over by the son on a bicycle, the father, John, (Donald Sutherland) spills water on his work, the son spins his bike wheels feeling for broken glass. They all create a palpable sense that something is going to happen. There is foreshadowing too, with a mystery figure wearing a similar red-hooded coat to Christine within the slides that John is examining—and the figure ominously distorts under the spilt water. This becomes the catalyst for John to charge out into the garden to find Christine drowned. These scenes have a quiet (effectively unscored) subtlety that gets under the skin, before a heavy handed, but nonetheless successful, nerve-jangling jump cut from Laura’s scream to the shrill of a pneumatic drill. Brilliant stuff!

The film descends into an exploration of loss. Firstly, with life carrying on, as it does, no matter the tragedy, with the couple now in Venice for John’s work. The difference in life after their loss seems to be presented in the contrast between the open surroundings of a 70s, comfortable, family, home, to the decaying, alien, and claustrophobic labyrinthine streets of Venice—a place that is as alien as their would must be without their daughter.

Their grief and desperation for closure is brought out when Laura encounters a woman distressed by something in her eye, and only has her blind sister to help her (the blind leading the blind—possibly an analogy for John and Laura having to deal with the same loss together). The blind sister is revealed to be a medium and can see little Christine’s spirit alongside Laura, ramping up the despair and tragedy through mother and daughter being separated by their respective realms. From then on in, the film is supported by the uncertainty around whether the sisters are genuine, the worry for a loved one’s safety in a city where a killer is on the loose, symbolism of drowning, a warning from beyond the grave that John is in danger, and the all-pervading sense of unknown events being in motion, and ultimately, a questioning of sanity and/or reality..

However, for me, the film didn’t quite achieve the paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby, or the build of intensity of say The Omen, or The Exorcist. It tries for a rug-pull twist where everything falls into place for a big reveal, but it fell flat for me. What it does do, is give you a story you have to think about to understand—not a great sin, but at the risk of sounding uncultured, I like to enjoy a movie on its own merits, and not have to root around for meaning as I have clearly done here… In fairness, it seems to be a movie that intends for you to think about it after viewing, as opposed to being a bad movie where you find yourself trying to redeem it to justify a lost two hours.

Despite the film being told in a complex way it is essentially a simple tale. Possibly due to its origins as a short-story, and as such, I found it lacked substance. It ultimately suffers through the ambiguity it sets up, as I was left unsure as to whether the diminutive aging woman in red was the Venetian killer, or some kind of supernatural creature, as some consider her to be. I also found there to be a lull in pacing through its middle section, and my attention drifted.

Like any horror movie, it is out to unnerve and frighten, and clearly these feelings were meant to build from the pond accident, through to the scaffolding accident, but the film is robbed of its biggest and most surreal scare in the final scenes—namely because this is often the one scene used as a reference for the film itself. For anyone lucky enough to not know the ending, it could probably still be remembered by its set-pieces (including that infamous sex scene) rather than a whole. It had a 2.5 half stars rating on Netflix at the time, and I can see why, as I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t think it was all that good either. Now I know why I had followed the advice of the film’s title—there are better classic horrors to visit than this.

Review by Steve Merrifield

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The name of this film should, at the very least, lead you to assume there is some form of evil possession and exorcism (provided you haven’t been living under a rock or in a fallout shelter for the past 40 years). With that in mind I will review this film with the assumption that you at least know the basic plot points – beginning, possession, ending.

On December 26, 1973 the “scariest movie of all time” was theatrically released to unwitting audiences nationwide – Merry Christmas America! Movie goers that were looking for a feel-good holiday film were (thankfully) appalled by the themes in The Exorcist. Many viewers left the theater with nausea, revulsion, anger and/or sheer terror. Yes!

The story of young, sweet, innocent Regan becoming possessed and her subsequent transformation into one of the most disturbing movie monsters of all time was a bit much for the stomachs’ of casual audiences; full of left-over ham and Santa’s stolen cookies. Yet, horror-lovers rose up and the film soared with juggernaut strength to be the highest grossing film of its time; earning $441 million worldwide.

Upheld as the scariest film of all time by Maxim and Entertainment Weekly magazines, The Exorcist, which barely skirted an X rating in 1973, continues to be one of the few horror films ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

The film is adapted from a novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty and is loosely based on a true story of possession involving a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland in 1949.

Groundbreaking special effects of the time were artfully used to evoke repulsion and stomach-churning reactions from the audience.  The grotesquely demonic face of possessed Regan rivals any creature-feature monster to date and is one of the most iconic images in horror movie history. Along with this terrifying demon the image of a creepy black and white face flashes on screen for a split-second was said to be even more disturbing to many people than even that of the demon.

One of the most cringe-worthy aspects of the film is the unnatural and gruesome body contorting and self-mutilation displayed by a possessed Regan. The demon inflicts unspeakable acts of torture that I wish I could go into, but sadly can’t – spoilers! [You’ll just have to see the movie!]

And if the creepiness factor wasn’t already pushed beyond timely conventional limits, the unearthly voice of possessed Regan spewing blasphemous, sexually-laced profanity is the cherry on the (Devil’s food) cake. The voice is harsh, jarring and foreboding especially coming from such a young girl.  So much so that is will haunt your sleep (or at least it did mine).

Many more themes are explored throughout the film – isolation, medical invasion, Christianity, loss of faith, and internal struggles. The psychological layer in The Exorcist is arguably even more disturbing than all the visual gore.

Never once was I taken out of the story by the grotesque and disturbing visuals. Instead the images conveyed exactly the emotion I was intended to feel; petrified, terrorized, spine-chilled, astonished, disgusted, etc. The story arch is at times a little disjointed and sparse, relying heavily on the special effects and imposed shock, but is luckily explained in later sequels. So my recommendation is to just sit back and enjoy the disturbing visual ride; hey, at least it isn’t real – or is it?

Review by Kate Horvat from HalloweenCostumes.com

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