‘The Exorcist’ screams religion and horror during screening

November 3, 2015

By Natalie Rodriguez

In the hype of Halloween, a remedy for those who seek horror is the film The Exorcist. The film was screened on campus on Monday, Nov. 2, in the Martin Recital Hall. It included a short discussion panel held by three Dominican professors including Timothy Milinovich, assistant professor of theology, Christopher Olson, adjunct instructor of communication arts and sciences, and Father Richard Woods, professor of theology.

Milinovich discussed the connection between religion and horror; two themes that he believes are closely related.

“Horror and religion have always gone together,” said Milinovich. “Horror is what we define as the unknown that can harm us and religion is the unknown that can protect us. The fear of death is one example of the unknown that is tied to religion and religious practice.”

The film was highly successful after its 1973 release. It grossed over 400 million in the worldwide box office and became a cultural phenomenon. In fact during its theatrical release, people were often nauseated by scenes and had to leave and/or get medical help.

“Some of the scenes don’t go away,” said Milinovich. “They remain quite controversial and some of them are considered some of the most iconic scenes in the horror industry. The movie was considered problematic at a cultural level and saying it was unsettling is an understatement.”

The strong impact of the film led it to be the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The director’s cut version of the film was shown with 10 additional minutes of footage. According to Assistant Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, CarrieLynn Reinhard, the film is still influential even after so many years.

“When discussing exorcisms, this is the movie that people think about regardless of the new exorcist movies,” said Reinhard. “This was the first one and I think it is still influential in terms of how people think about Catholicism. It still has the ability to scare people.”

Reinhard served as the panel’s moderator. She is co-writing a book with Christopher Olson detailing the history of exorcisms in cinema and the underlying trends they have. At the panel, Olson discussed some of their research, including how The Exorcist has an anti-feminist approach and how the film tied into the aspects of American society at the time of its release.

“The goal was that students would see the film in a new light,” said Olson. “They may take a new position on what the film is saying and doing. Beyond that, The Exorcist is just a great movie. One of the best to this day.”

Professor Woods spoke on the film’s accuracy in depicting Catholicism.

“We have to address the fact that the idea and ritual of exorcisms is part of the history of Catholicism,” said Reinhard. “We need to be aware that this is definitely a part of what people outside of Catholicism think about Catholicism. It is also important for Catholics to be aware of how Catholicism is being represented in the media.”