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Snagging The Exorcist

One boys mission to secure this almost mythical movie

By Spencer HawkenPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
Image - Video Collector

In the 1980s our home was rushed into the 20th century with the arrival of a VHS recorder, this arrival awoke something I had missed for several years, a love of horror. My love of horror began in the late 1970’s watching late night double bills of horror on BBC2, I’d love to say I remember the first films I saw, but I cannot. This love of horror drifted as my mother and father divorced, my Saturday night horror partner (my father) leaving home and my passion for horror while it remained, was forgotten until the arrival of the recorder. Suddenly I was taken back, through the power of recordings I was able to watch all the late-night horror I could get my hands on, which was not a lot, one film a week to be precise. As my passion of horror grew, I became acquainted with the video library just up the road from my home. I spent many days hiring movies and watching them, broadening my love of horror. But one day my visit to the video library led me to a mysterious list on the counter, the list said “horror movies for sale”, one title on the list stood out it was called The Exorcist.

It’s most likely you’ll be reading this outside of the UK, which is where my story is set, the reason I mention this is because what follows might seem strange. In the mid 1980’s a woman called Mary Whitehouse and several politicians led to create a bill that saw a large number of horror movies outlawed, it was illegal to rent or buy these movies. One movie removed from the shelves by Trading Standards was The Exorcist. The owner of the video library was told that this movie, and around 40 others he had must be disposed of, but like any good businessman the owner opted to sell them.

Although I was familiar of the title of The Exorcist, I knew very little about it, back then where I lived it was difficult to keep up to speed with things like film, you could buy books in shops, but in the small seaside resort I lived in there was little to none of these publications to be found. On the day I saw this title on the list I asked my friend behind the counter if I could see it. With the exception of the odd splash of colour, the cover was in black and white. On the back cover a scene now very familiar, of the “victim” a girl called Reagan played by Linda Blair. I asked why it was being sold and I was told that it had been banned. The word was like music to my ears BANNED, I knew whatever this film was, it must be very bad. While all of the other videos on the list were priced £5, The Exorcist was priced at £10, this to my young mind meant it was super bad. I asked if they could hold it for me until the end of the day, assuring them I would get the money. But I knew from the offset this was going to be a challenge like no other for it was the mid 80s and £10 was more than a day’s work for almost everyone.

I started at home, searching for scraps of money, I was able to find around £1.50, shamelessly I robbed my mother’s electricity jar, this was where 50P coins were held to pay for electricity. At the start of each week she would add coins to this jar, and like a typical dysfunctional child the odd one or two disappeared into my pocket. On this occasion I was able to safely “borrow” £1.50, giving me a total of £3, where would I get the rest? The only thing I had that would allow me to get the remaining £7 was to sell some of my prized computer games, I headed off on a tour of friends selling my games £1 a time, sometimes as low as 50P a game. Eventually I reached the amount of £10.50 and headed to get The Exorcist. As I power walked my way to the video library, I had a sense of doom, I suspected the videotape had been sold. Much to my surprise on arrival back at the store, I found the video still there. I exchanged £10 in a number of coins and ran videotape in hand down the hill to my home.

Image - Warner Brothers

Nobody was in, I rushed to the video recorder and put the video in, it was then that I noticed the certificate it said Certificate X, what even was this? I’d seen PG, U, 15 and 18 certificate movies, but what on earth was X, I figured that X must be very bad. I pushed play on the machine, and there was a grainy imaged Warner Bros logo, followed by the opening credits of the Exorcist.

I won’t lie, I felt a little disappointed by the film, it did not scare me at all, it seemed long and quite dull, I should add I was just fourteen years old and in reflection the menace of this movie lies in a mature enough mind to truly understand what was happening, the reality was I did not. The most shocking part of the film to me was two-fold, the very adult language and the fact that the video had clearly been watched so many times it was almost unwatchable in some places.

The following day I went to school and bragged of my purchase, nobody believed me, it was only then that I discovered the power of the myth of the Exorcist. “That film is evil, people who watch it are linked to the devil”, “That’s the scariest film ever made, my dad told me!”, “People who watched that film, killed themselves”. One friend said to me “Oh my God! That film is worse than Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. The one film every child at my school had heard of was Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the kids Dad owned it and in summer holidays people would go round their house to watch it. The main theory however was that I was lying, that I did not in fact own the Exorcist and that I had made it up, to gain credibility from my peers. I had to prove myself and the following day arrived at school, brandishing my copy of The Exorcist. Credibility of me as a person grew massively and everyone that I aspired to be like approached me that day “can I borrow it?”

Now I’d lost enough computer games due to people borrowing them, to know that there was no way I was going to let this out of my sight.

For the following six or so weeks, I found myself parading around to people’s houses so that they could watch The Exorcist. As I moved from home to home, reactions were similar, parents and late teenagers were mortified, while those my age or younger were just bored. One thing that did happed was that at some point almost everyone I showed it to said to me “You mother sucks ***** in hell!’

Maturity levels at an all-time low, my friend and I learned the exorcism dialogue off by heart, preparing for the day that we might need to perform an Exorcist.

For the next 2 years I was some sort of low-level legend, I would often see people nudging one another when I was near, these were people I did not know “That’s the boy that has the Exorcist” shortly after I was befriended and before I knew it round their house with my movie. For a film that could not be seen, my community had watched it in their hundreds, and I knew the film better than any other movie, even now over thirty years later.

Realising the tape would not last much longer, The Exorcist and I parted during 1989, someone who I owed money too offered to wipe the £5 debt and give me £50 for the tape and I reluctantly agreed. As I passed over the tape my heart told me I would never see this movie again and for a time that seemed all the more likely.

In 1999 the ban lifted and The Exorcist became available to rent in the UK, I quickly bought an Ex-Rental VHS tape of the new release to replace my praised possession.

The Exorcist remains close to my heart and I’m pretty sure that for a portion of the 80’s I was the most qualified person on the movie, having watched it several hundred times.

It’s a reflective time of my life, an experience few others would ever appreciate or maybe even understand, a portion of my life long forgotten by me until today.

pop culture

About the Creator

Spencer Hawken

A multi-award nominated filmmaker with a passion for travel, film, finance and social media.

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