My Google search history is full of the most random things. Last week, I was writing about a witch who was growing a poison garden, so I had a search devoted to deadly plants. Then there are my countless searches for ‘evil’ and ‘evil spirits’ and ‘séances’. I guess that’s why Google decided to show me what the world’s no. 1 horror movie is.
The answer, in case you’re wondering, is The Exorcist (1973) (according to Rotten Tomatoes). I don’t find this surprising. After all, this movie is a classic, and it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Plus, I’m a huge fan of Max von Sydow. However, is it really number one?
I was nine when the movie came out, and the commercials for the movie terrified me. I had no idea what it was about, but watching a screaming Linda Blair in a shaking bed was enough to give me nightmares. Likewise, I overheard my parents’ conversations about their friends who had seen the movie. All of this filled me with a horrible fascination for the film.
So imagine my disappointment when I finally saw it. I was in my thirties by that time, and quite the horror connoisseur. I had been expecting a rollicking ride with demon possession, but the movie moved so slowly! Yes, there were intense moments. (I’ll never forget the famous pea soup vomiting scene), but by today’s standards it all seems quite tame. In fact, when I watched it with my daughter a few years ago, she told me it was too boring. We ended up watching something else.
I guess the reason The Exorcist made such an impact was because it was so graphic for its time. According to Wikipedia, some viewers suffered from “cinematic neurosis” triggered by the movie. There were reports of audience members fainting or having heart attacks and miscarriages. (Only once in my movie career have I seen someone run from a theater due to the gore, and that was in Sweeney Todd.) Then there was the lore behind the movie. Apparently, the director thought the movie was cursed since there were so many deaths and injuries surrounding the filming.
I think that putting the movie into its historical context makes a huge difference in how it’s viewed. Things were much different in 1973. There weren’t the streaming services we have today, so horror was kind of outside the norm. And if it sounds like I’m hating on this movie, I’m not. I’ve watched it several times, and I appreciate it more with every viewing. It’s so moody and bleak. It definitely sets a mood.
But is it the no. 1 horror movie? I don’t think so. I’d put it in my top ten, but a lot of horror has come out since 1973, and I believe it would be unfair to say that there hasn’t been another, better horror movie made since then. It sets a high standard for movies, but I think others have met—and even exceeded—that mark.
What do you think? Does The Exorcist deserve its spot as the no. 1 horror movie? Let me know what you think in the comments.