Classics don’t need a remake, not even if the world is in literal flames. Hollywood is in a bind as far making money or staying relevant during multiple pandemics(viral, environmental, societal.) There are several horror reboots and sequels headed our way in 2021; the only one I’m excited about is Candyman because it will be a fresh look at an underrated horror movie. I don’t want to see the 17th Child’s Play. Having been haunted and later inspired by The Exorcist, I definitely don’t want to see a new version. There is no need to reboot a definitive horror movie, one so impactful that many still consider it the most frightening thing ever put on film. Good horror films offer fresh frights. We may need familiar stories to recover from 2020; we don’t need tired ones.
Our world has much in it to scare us. We are living in a world that is plagued by a pandemic, climate change, political and civil unrest as many of express frustration at what is perceived as inept, disconnected, and/or corrupt government leadership. These are all frightening realities; filmmakers and screenwriters have opportunities to dive deeper into social reflection and understanding. Have we lost our ability to be reflective through our popular culture and art? The Exorcist was released in 1973, on the heels of Watergate, after the Woodstock era, as the hell of the Vietnam war came to a close. While The Exorcist does not make deep social commentary, it premiered during a time of darkness, secrecy, mystery which provided a social context for evil. As a nation, there is plenty of evil to analyze, ponder, and fear. A retread of cliched evil is weak in every sense of the word. There’s no creativity or courage in rehashing what has already been done rather than tackle the darkness and evil we face.
The Exorcist set the stage for dozens of demonic possession movies; it also set up the cliches of that subgenre. No amount of CGI is going to make these new again: levitation, body contortions, projectile vomit, and the deep dark voice. These might jump scare us but they will not make us face the unknown. Part of the appeal of The Exorcist is its examination of faith. The three main characters, Father Karras, Father Merrin, and Chris, Regan’s mother, all grapple with their understanding of the universe at large, with their own spiritual journey, and with their faith that evil can be conquered. These are disconcerting questions and ideas. Special effects may add fireworks but they cannot generate reflection.
We are underestimating our current movie audiences. My twelve year old and her friends are discussing white supremacy and young activists via TikTok. They are intelligent and deserve a film that will set the bar for horror for their generation. Even if a horror film doesn’t want to examine the real evils of our IRL world, it can provide an opportunity not only for escape but for deep thought. A great horror film sparks fear while inspiring conversation and contemplation.