…and you know who else…

…has been looking at Charles Laughton’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? Only William Friedkin, around the time he was making THE EXORCIST.

Or if not, it’s a w ild coincidence.

Of course, Friedkin has talked about how the famous poster shot of Father Merrin arriving at the house in Georgetown was influenced by René Magritte’s painting The Empire of Light (above), but I think it’s that close. Maybe he used that as a cue when discussing the scene with DoP Owen Roizman, and maybe Roizman thought of Charles Laughton and Stanley Cortez’s imagery. Or maybe Friedkin saw Bernardo Bertolucci making the much more reasonable claim that Magritte’s “day for night” painting was a reference point for Vittorio Storaro’s THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM — the thought stuck in the sausage-meat electrical storm of Friedkin’s brain, and he later “originated” it by the simple procedure of opening his yap.

Then there’s this ~

Okay, not that close, and one might fairly ask how many ways there are of shooting somebody standing over somebody else who’s lying in a bed? Actually, quite a few, and most of them are in THE EXORCIST. So much of that damn film takes place in a single bedroom… I’m convinced that’s why they cast Max Von S: one look at him reminds you that long static scenes in rooms CAN be cinematically compelling.

At any rate, these two images have so much in common viscerally that leafing through film books as a kid, I think I somehow confused or conflated the two movies, imagining some kind of NIGHT OF THE EXORCIST.

What a messed-up film that would be. For, with its horror of female sexuality and the body, THE EXORCIST is more like the film preacher Harry Powell would have made if Warners gave him the money.

The Night of the Hunter (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The Night of the Hunter (Criterion Collection)

27 Responses to “…and you know who else…”

  1. I noticed this on my last viewing of Night of the Hunter, as well as how that triangular composition in the bedroom repeats itself later in the film:

    I’m consistently impressed by how much of an influence Laughton has had with his one movie, and how many of the film’s ideas, lines, and images can be reused ad infinitum by other filmmakers. I wouldn’t doubt that Friedkin had Night of the Hunter dwelling in the back of his head when he was making his horror movie about a persecuted child. (Does this make Father Merrin the equivalent of Rachel Cooper? At least Von Sydow and Gish have the same elderly authority.)

  2. If you take The Exorcist at face value, Merrin is Cooper. If you refuse to accept demonic possession, you can see him as Harry Powell.

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    In Bertolucci’s SPIDER’S STRATEGEM, the key art reference is Antonio Ligabue(whose paintings background the credits), the Italian naive painter. Ligabue is cited again in Bertolucci’s sort-of sequel(in that it uses a similar story and deadpan comic approach to thriller) in TRAGEDY OF A RIDICULOUS MAN.

    Max von Sydow’s casting implies that the key influence on EXORCIST was Ingmar Bergman, especially VIRGIN SPRING or THE SILENCE or HOUR OF THE WOLF(which has a truly frightening scene where Erland Josephson starts walking up the wall). One of Bergman’s favourites was ”The Phantom Carriage” by Victor Sjostrom(cast in WILD STRAWBERRIES) who worked with Gish on THE SCARLET LETTER and THE WIND and since Laughton was consciously working in the silent film ethos, it’s likely he was aware of Sjolstrom. There is something Scandinavian or Central European in the look of the film and the first still of Harry Powell over Shelly Winters’ bed feels Dreyeresque.

  4. Friedkin is the Quentin Tarantino of his day.

    (Note: That’s not a compliment.)

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    I always thought of him as a genre film-maker, a belated descendant of the Fleischer-Aldrich-Karlson stable. I haven’t seen many of his films though. I liked Sorcerer, a gloss on Clouzot, but fun.

  6. david wingrove Says:

    “Friedkin is the Tarantino of his day.”

    I get the feeling you’re wildly overpraising one of them, but can’t work out which. For me, they’re both equally dire, but in radically different ways.

  7. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

  8. Quentin’s the one Jeanne Moreau should have married.

  9. Friedkin strikes me as at least part-psychopath, so he was a good choice for The Exorcist — they very much wanted a director who wasn’t Catholic, and wouldn’t take for granted the story’s supposed plausibility. Friedkin’s documentary background and complete lack of artistic integrity meant he could commit totally to the “reality” of demonic possession without believing in any of it. Because a liar knows what truth is, but a bullshitter just doesn’t care.

    As a medieval mindset put onto film with maniacal conviction, I find The Exorcist quite powerful. Saw one of Friedkin’s TV docs a while ago, and it was pure fiction. Fact IS fiction to Billy F.

    Blatty’s script, like Mel Gibson’s Christfilm, seems to see the Devil as practically all-powerful, whereas Laughton is quite clear that at heart Satan is empty, shallow and less than human, not more.

  10. Arthur S. Says:

    Polanski remarked about ROSEMARY’S BABY that any treatment of Satan was necessarily deist since it implied the existence of something opposite and that it was ultimately a canny construct that helped religion persist. He made the Satanists very absurd and banal in his film, almost comical.

    I wonder if you’ve seen Schrader’s prequel. I liked it more than the Friedkin. Schrader is an actual theology PhD and was raised in the Bible Belt and he brings a wealth of history and reference to the project as can be expected from the screenwriter of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. What Iain Quarrier did to Godard,(“He made my 1+1 equal 2”) happened to Schrader and his film got shelved, reshot by Harlin, when that tanked, his film was released to pretty good reviews.

    There’s actually a funny story I came across recently from someone. He says that the commentary on the DVD of DOMINION has Schrader talking about meeting Mel Gibson. He was producing PASSION at Cinecitta as well and they met up and Gibson mentioned fears about protests for his film and Schrader offered commiserations citing his experience on LAST TEMPTATION. Schrader says there was a long pause and he got a strong feeling that Gibson was among the ones who protested against the film when it came out.

  11. Friedkin is a nasty misanthropic talent, but a talent nevertheless. Also very good – almost as good as Lumet – at adopting theater pieces to the screen: everything from BOYS IN THE BAND to his Showtime versions of INHERIT THE WIND and 12 ANGRY MEN (in which Jack Lemmon is far more believable and real than Henry Fonda was). Put the nastiness and the talent for adapting theater pieces together and you get BUG – which proves that Friedkin has still got it, whatever *it* is.

  12. I should clarify my last comment. 12 ANGRY MEN began life as a teleplay, but has been performed theatrically many times since. The thing that distinguishes his “theatrical” adaptations, including BUG, is his ability to make an exciting film where most of the action takes place in a single room – that ability served him well in THE EXORCIST with so much of the film (as David C pointed out) taking place in Regan’s bedroom.

  13. I thought the Brink’s Job was quite good, and atypical in tone for a heist film. I was suprised.

    Friedkin’s next is an adaptation of a play.

  14. “Friedkin strikes me as at least part-psychopath, so he was a good choice for The Exorcist — they very much wanted a director who wasn’t Catholic, and wouldn’t take for granted the story’s supposed plausibility. Friedkin’s documentary background and complete lack of artistic integrity meant he could commit totally to the “reality” of demonic possession without believing in any of it. Because a liar knows what truth is, but a bullshitter just doesn’t care.”

    This sounds similar to the way I judge corrupt politicians – they were either so stupid they didn’t realise the wrongness of their actions, or they were aware and did them anyway. Either way, they’re not fit for office.

    I agree on Friedkin as well, sadly – people claim great things for The French Connection and The Exorcist and I just cannot see anything more than extremely committed actors and actresses betrayed by their over literalised material.

    I much prefer William Peter Blatty’s Ninth Configuration and Exorcist III (Legion) simply for being far purer ‘Catholic made’ films – often just as ludicrous but at least from the source and with a certain bizarre conviction to them:

    The video above does bring up that bizarre religious idea that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are externally imposed concepts. I’ve always felt that religion is an imposed attempt to bland people into a homogenous group – condescending in the idea that people are forced into ‘evil’ acts, yet also cannot fully claim credit for any of the ‘good’ things they do either. All religions have seemed to me to be a horrible form of social control dressed up as a path to salvation.

  15. Christopher Says:

    Friedkin’s commentary over Val Lewton’s The Leopard Man is one of the most jarbled confusing things for a short and simple film I’ve ever heard.

  16. David Boxwell Says:

    CRUISING was imagined by Harry Powell while he was in prison with Peter Graves.

  17. Oh, when Friedkin tries to formulate actual thoughts in the form of actual sentences, madness follows swiftly. Haven’t braved the Leopard Man commentary but I can sort of imagine: word soup illuminated by flashes of combusting flatulence.

    Blatty is kind of nuts but I do sort of like his two features as director. 9th Config gets into creepy homophobic terrain with the strangely-imagined biker gang boss, but it’s not like anything else… unless it’s like Castle Keep on bad acid. Exorcist III is a lot of fun.

    Didn’t care for Schrader’s take (didn’t see Harlin’s: my masochism doesn’t extend so far). Apart from the unfinished CG and the end shot swiped from The Searchers FOR NO REASON, it just didn’t scare or worry me or make me think about the issues, which even the Friedkin compels you to do, just by sheer sturm und drang. Interestingly, he pissed off the studio by attempting a “metaphysical thriller”, which is exactly where Boorman got into trouble decades before.

    The Boorman is goofy as all heck. I have a certain sneaking affection for it, and then I also want to yell at the screen.

  18. I think I’ve seen NIGHT OF THE EXORCIST. Shot in Liechtenstein by director Jose Larraz, it was, I believe, released as Noche de los Exorcismo in Spain and (oddly) as Nuit du Nez du Pape in France, features hardcore inserts shot by Jess Franco, and stars Howard Vernon, Paul Naschy, and Rosalba Neri. I think.

    In the great Tarantino vs. Friedkin debate, I’d have to side with Friedkin, though I’m not particularly fond of either. Other than Reservoir Dogs, QT has produced nothing but crap. On the other hand, I rather like Cruising and Bug has its moments. Never cared for The Exorcist, though: too much Catholic dogma for me.

  19. CRUISING was Friedkin’s psychotic homophobic remake of THE SEVENTH VICTIM.


  20. John S: heh! Sounds all too plausible.

    C. Jerry, nice article, and observation!

    Is Friedkin preferable because of a seriousness of intent? I think that’s a pose, though. But Friedkin does invest in whatever he’s making, generally. And Bug is indeed pretty strong — not coherent, but strong. His total commitment to whatever bullshit he’s telling is probably what makes him so compelling.

    Cruising unintentionally illuminates the “phobia” part of homophobia, but while it would be easy to say it “examines” this, in fact I think it just assumes the audience shares its own fear.

  21. Precisely. It acts as if no one gay were in the audience.

  22. And, as with many horror films of the time, The Exorcist was both shamelessly copied (and improved upon in many ways) over in Italy. Beyond The Door was such a copy of The Exorcist that Warners threatened to sue. Here’s the trailer (starring Juliet Mills, daughter of John Mills and sister of Hayley!), and I wholeheartedly endorse the film, which is far more entertainingly goofy than the Friedkin:

  23. Looks like it’d make a fine double bill with Avanti! That shot of Juliet hovering is pretty creepy/funny. I wish there were more films that took advantage of that weird hinterland of conflicted resonse between scary and absurd.

  24. Just wait until you see the demonically possessed killer train in Beyond The Door III! (Beyond The Door 2 was another title for Mario Bava’s excellent film Shock)

  25. I like the Bava a lot, a real WTF storyline and some amazing visuals and shocks, all for cheap! And I gather it has nothing whatever in common with BTD1 or 3.

  26. No, nothing at all except for a general possession angle, with the first being the most obvious Exorcist influenced. The third film involves a group of teens witnessing a satanic ritual, escaping on the train and then having it cursed into demonic life. The best way to describe it is as being a kind of mash up of Race With The Devil and Stephen Law’s horror novel Ghost Train!

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