THE HAUNTED SCREENING
By Roy Frumkes
It was 1973, and the print was so fresh it had literally just dried, and had been rushed over from the lab. 30 or 40 of us were crammed into the small Warner Bros screening room, filling every seat, and there was an air of joviality in the room. Andrew Sarris was chatting up Pauline Kael. Liz Smith was engaged in conversation with someone I couldn’t identify. I was alone, but glad to be there. I no longer remember how I got invited to this privileged first critics’ screening of THE EXORCIST. I had a film-oriented radio show that aired on Sundays, and I often conducted one-on-one interviews with film personalities, but rarely was that credential sufficient to get me invited to a premiere screening like this.
It had a lot of advance buzz, and director William Friedkin had previously done the enormously successful and well-respected THE FRENCH CONNECTION.
The lights dimmed, and screening began.
None of us had witnessed anything like it. When the end titles came on – blood red on a black background, keeping the screening room bathed in uncomfortable darkness, no one said anything. There was a palpable feeling of dread in the air. And when the lights came back on, we all sat there, shaken. I looked around. Sarris was no longer being chatty. Liz Smith looked stunned. And no one moved to get up. We’d been bludgeoned by a frightening new direction in cinema history.
And although, after the first few months of release, people started getting off on the head-spinning effects and profanity, and audiences were no longer traumatized by the experience of sitting through this visceral assault, to this day I don’t like hearing noises from the floor above my apartment, and I always keep a light on at night.
Roy Frumkes teaches a number of genre classes such as Horror, Film Noir, and Comedy, as well as Finance and Distribution.
Check out his Faculty page here!