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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 34

[34th of 100]. People who know me well enough know that I have an almost morbid interest in horror films, devouring everything from supernatural horror to the weird, from psychological horror to the slasher, from creature features to body horror, from monster movies to comedy horror -- although I draw the line at the unexcusable sadism of torture porn, and anything dealing with snakes. Around October of every year, I program for myself a monthlong Halloween marathon centering around a theme. In 2018, I did "Women in Peril" films. Why do I do this? I like that horror takes me out of myself, allowing me an experience of utter terror but within the controlled confinement of a fictional story. Horror becomes an exercise of trauma experienced in mithridatism. [It also gives me the absolute pleasure of watching my significant other squirm in his seat with every drip of dread and drop of shock. His response to horror is experiential, he feels every blow and every bite, and he recoils from them. Needless to say, he hates watching horror movies, but I love bringing him to them.] Why do I devour horror movies? I can trace it to my first movie experience: a 1978 disaster film titled The Swarm, which I saw in a movie theater in Bayawan. I must have been only 3 or 4 years old, and the memory of seeing children being attacked onscreen by a wild swarm of bees proved indelible, the menace of the scene magnified by the oversized image pulsing with light from the screen and the embracing darkness of the El Oriente Theater. The Swarm was a singular scare -- although watching the film again so many years later, I was amused by how silly and stultifyingly unscary the movie actually was. But if I have to pinpoint a particular film that first defined for me what unadulterated cinematic horror was -- something visceral that gripped you -- it has to be this demonic horror from 1973. It has not lost its power to disturb even after all these years, and I think it sprang from the sure control the director, William Friedkin, had over the material, shaping it from the pulp fiction of William Peter Blatty. Note that it does not shy away from its backstory, that extensive epilogue in the deserts of Persia where the titular exorcist, Max Von Sydow's Fr. Lankester Merrin, goes through an archaeological dig and finds himself confronting ancient evil. That epilogue sets the tone for the cumulative evil that soon explodes in a Georgetown townhouse -- the kind of evil that eclipses all others because it has a religious dimension, and the weight of the possibly true. All the Regan scenes for me -- from the dehumanizing discomfort of the hospital tests in the beginning to the suffocating demonization that would soon occupy all -- shocked because no one had ever dramatized this kind of horror in such visceral compositions. I have no doubt this film gave me sleepless nights when I first saw it. I re-lived a bit of that trauma years later when I saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose [2005], a film which owes a lot of its existence to the Friedkin masterpiece. After watching it, I found myself waking up at 3 AM sharp every morning [the film's designated evil hour], as well as get the whiff of a burning smell [the film's designated sign for an evil presence]. That went on for six months straight, a tiring extended episode of my own psychology torturing me in light of a horror film. And still I watch, daring myself once and again with this morbid exercise. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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