Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Exorcism": Our Super-8 Masterpiece

In my previous outing, I tried to describe what it was like for us to make Super-8 movies back in the 1970's (see post below).  I am more anxious now to see the movie "Super-8", even though I suppose I'll have to endure a lot of modern-day action, while the charm and nostalgia of kids making movies will take a back seat.

During the height of my passion for all things movies and filmmaking, I was becoming fascinated with "The Exorcist", a film that I had not yet seen (and would not see for quite some time). But I read the novel, and two versions of the screenplay (William Peter Blatty's first draft would have made a nearly 4-hour film).  I thought it would be cool to do a version of my own, with sound and music and makeup and special effects.

Not only did I learn a lot about adapting another work into screenplay form, I learned how difficult it was to create atmosphere, to find ways to create effects under the strict supervision of nervous parents, and the thrill of exhibition and critical kudos, and even winning awards.

My poor sister was always my leading lady.  At two years younger than I, she pretty much agreed to whatever I asked of her.  In our movie called "The Exorcism", she was to play both Chris McNeill (the mother), and the little girl Regan, who would be transformed from a sickeningly sweet child to a pun-spewing monster.

My two best friends from school, Dan and Jim, agreed to play father Karras and Father Merrin.

The cast would be made up and costumed (fake cardboard priest collars, black shirts, and our fathers' overcoats and hats for the "priests", a nightgown for Regan, and a few smart blouses for Chris.) To make her look older, my sister wore my mother's wig.  I don't know why, but women wore wigs a lot then as fashion statements. Her hairpiece got a great workout that summer.

My version was to be played for laughs, not chills. We would set up a scene for a chilling payoff, and end it with a punchline instead of a scream.

I worked on the script during science and history classes. 

I retained the prologue, but instead of a big demonic statue, our befuddled Father Merrin would be hit on the head with a "devil doll" falling from the sky, an old teddy bear with "horns" attached. 

The setting was a typical suburban house; the basement doubled as a living room, doctor's office, and rectory. My bedroom was where the "fun stuff" took place.  Regan would be a sweet thing, until her transformation during the party scene, in which the only "extras" were my sister's best friend and our grandmother.

The possession occurred quickly, and then the priests would be called in to perform an uproarious exorcism ceremony.

We had a load of fun with the "demonic" stuff.  An alarmed neighbor almost called the police when Father Merrin walked down our street in a heavy winter overcoat and hat (it was a 90-degree day) carrying a "bible" and a suitcase with stickers from Disneyland and the Wisconsin Dells.

Regan's first sign of possession was doing "sit ups" in fast motion on the bed.  It is much funnier than I can describe.  Soon her face was covered in "hideous" lipstick sores and green lips.  She said the most "evil" things to "herself", mostly eye-rolling jokes and puns meant to induce mild nausea in the viewer (but no swearing...)....  During the possession scenes, we animated letters forming on her stomach that said "oh hell", and she only could levitate half-way, by raising her legs in the air (because "the forces of evil on the other side of the room are keeping her down".)

Soon Regan was cured, and hugged her mother (my mother with the wig on, filmed from behind.)  After Chris' final line and "moral" of the story ("There's a little bit of devil in all of us") I needed shots of the cast spinning their heads.  I filmed several scenes of each person turning their head in one direction, then reversing their shirts and filming the same motion from behind. I cut them to make it appear that the head had gone all the way around.

We were restricted form doing anything too messy, and spewing green bile was forbidden.  So I filmed a shot of Regan opening her mouth like she was going to spew.  When I got that film developed, I projected it onto a translucent glass screen, projecting it a frame at a time.  I animated some green goo (dish washing liquid) on the glass, and filmed it from the opposite side, frame by frame.  It turned out pretty well!

I edited the film in increments, after each cartridge was developed.  After the film was finished, we shot the credit sequence, which was so ridiculously long for so few actual cast and crew names that it created laughs on its own. 

We dubbed the sound through the projector. I found the album by Mike Oldfield called "Tubular Bells", a small portion of which was used in "The Exorcist".  A small piece edited for radio was a big hit.  We used a lot of the music from this album, a new-wavey, jazzy 30-minute instrumental piece.  Regan's voice was my own, recorded at fast speed to sound comically deep slowed down to normal playback speed.

During the filming, we had few histrionics, but we still learned a lot about each other.  My sister was a tireless performer, and was better than she even expected she would be.  My friends were great sports and very supportive.  I was very shy in school and knew few people. I was unprepared for the acclaim and recognition "The Exorcism" would bring my way.  And I enjoyed it!

When word got out that the film was finished, I was invited to show it in a few classes. Soon I had to get permission to leave several classes to show the film, always to roars of laughter, always to applause and questions from classmates who rarely spoke to me before.

At the end-of-the-year Academic Awards ceremony, I was stunned to find my name called as the recipient of the English Award.  Before my name was called, the school Principal introduced me as "The guy who would have become famous for 'The Exorcist', but Hollywood released their version while his was still at the Fotomat."

Some day I will upload this epic on this site.

Thank you for coming with me on this journey of a once-aspiring filmmaker,  who had huge dreams,  before life intruded....

No comments:

Post a Comment