Thursday, July 30, 2009
Halfway through the first semester of college and my buddy Steve was well on his way to flunking out. He’d pretty much stopped going to classes, and was spending most days hanging around the dorm smoking dope and listening to Jethro Tull albums with a group of guys who were also on their way to flunking out. Steve wasn’t cut out for college. He really missed his girlfriend Wanda back home. I met her once when she came up for a visit and she was nice and really really hot. One night I could hear Steve talking to her on the pay phone in the hall, and it was clear things were not going well. After a few minutes of yelling, I heard the phone slam and Steve barged into my room, his face bright red.
“Dude, ya got any money?”
As luck would have it, a letter had come from my mom that morning and in it was a crisp $20 bill, which, back then, a guy could live on for a couple weeks.
“Yeah, I’m like loaded man, gotta twenty, what cha need?”
Steve needed to go home and talk to his girlfriend because she was “flakin’ out”, so on Friday after my classes we got on a Greyhound bus and about two hours later we were in beautiful Newport News, Va.
It was a town populated largely by shipyard wielders and active military. Steve’s dad met us at the bus station and, for a dad, he was a pretty cool guy. He was a civilian but worked at Fort Eustis, and he told a very funny joke about Eustis being an acronym for Even Uncle Sam Thinks It Sucks.
We drove directly to Menchville High, where Steve’s younger brother was playing in a basketball game. Steve tried to call Wanda from a payphone in the lobby, but got no answer. Thinking she might be at the game, we wandered through the deafening gymnasium as Steve looked around, under and over the massive crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
Eventually, we found our way back to Steve’s family just as the game was starting. I met Steve’s mom, who had driven his brother to the gym earlier that evening. She was very nice, but you could tell she felt that Newport News and its lousy basketball games were very much beneath her.
Menchville's opponent had apparently never played basketball before and after just a few minutes the home team had a big lead, and it was clear the rest of the game would just be a formality. Steve asked his mom for her car keys, saying we were starving and he had promised to take me to Dino’s, a local pizza joint he was always raving about. She complied, and handed over the keys, plus a crisp twenty of her own. Between us we now had almost 40 bucks and VW full of gas…the world was ours for the taking.
Steve tried to call Wanda again, and this time her mom answered and told Steve that Wanda had gone to Nags Head for the weekend with some of her friends, and would probably not be back until Sunday night. No, she did not know the number where they were staying.
Steve almost had a moment of uncoolness when he slammed down the phone, but quickly composed himself and we did what young men in crisis usually do, we went and crammed pizza and beer down our necks.
Dino’s disc lived up to the boffo advance billing, its gleaming pepperonis swimming in a sea of garlic and gooey cheese, and we dined aggressively. Afterwards, we cruised Warwick Boulevard for awhile, rubbing our bloated bellies and belching as loudly and grossly as possible.
We passed a drive-in theatre, probably one of the last in Virginia, and its poorly lit roadside marquee proclaimed the current offering to be “Th Exerest”. Clearly there were issues with vandalism or spelling or possibly both, but Steve’s dark mood immediately brightened.
“Dude, have you ever seen that??”
I intimated that no I hadn’t seen it, but had heard a lot about it
“Oh man, ya just gotta!!”
Steve quickly executed a near perfect Bat Turn across 4 lanes of traffic and a moment later we were at the window of the crumbling ticket shack, where he gladly forked over the exorbitant Dollar-a-Car admission. As we slowly drove over the crunching gravel searching for the optimum parking space, the opening credits glared from the enormous bulkhead of a screen.
I knew a little about “The Exorcist”. It was some sort of monster movie, and I loved those. I told Steve about how I used to watch them early Saturday mornings out of Channel 5 in Raleigh. Frankenstein, Wolfman, Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, all that stuff. Seen ‘em all. Old hat.
“You ain’t seen shit Dude” was his pithy response.
So there was cute, angelic little Regan and her movie star mom.
Regan starts acting strange, the docs take a look
Then, Holy Freakin Shit
The Exorcist was not just a monster movie. No, it was something much darker and much more terrifying than that. It was the embodiment of foulest evil, all the more hideous because it seemed so profoundly real. I knew nothing of the art of filmmaking back then, but as I consider it now after over 20 years experience in the business, what William Friedkin and his team achieved with this movie was extraordinary. Special effects then were basically limited to make-up tricks and piano wire, yet they made it work, They made your skin crawl and your pulse race and, in my case, bolt from the passenger seat of a VW and bump your head on the roof.
Considering the full arsenal of computer image manipulation available, would a filmmaker today be able to redo this film and make it even more disturbing and deeply horrifying? At the risk of sounding like an old coot: I doubt it. I doubt it very much. And to the rare credit of Hollywood, so far no one has tried. And I hope they never do.
We drove back to Steve’s in a stunned silence and he finally admitted that this was the third time he had seen it. I asked him was if it was as scary the third time around.
“No”, he said, “It’s scarier”
We slept late the next day. His mom plied us with waffles and eggs and we sat around for a while visiting with his folks. I had to admire Steve’s mastery of evasion. Every time the subject of school work came up, he dodged and weaved and deflected and changed the subject until none of us really knew what the hell we were talking about anymore. Steve then asked his Dad to take us to the bus station, because we both had to get back and “study”. You could tell Dad didn’t buy it for a second, but Mom seemed to be relieved so she dropped us off at the depot. As a goodbye, she slipped us our own individual twenty spots, and in sort order we were on the next Richmond-bound grimy Greyhound.
We got back in time to catch a ride to Charlottesville with Steve’s stoner buddies. It was Saturday night, which meant all the frat houses on Rugby Road would be in full oblivion party mode.
Those rich kids at UVA really knew how to have fun. The street was crammed with thousands of students, possessed not by demons but by the sweet insanity of youth. We were aimlessly milling about, dancing and flirting, as a dozen amateur rock bands attempted “Sweet Home Alabama.” And while there was some projectile vomiting, it was due to Purple Passion and keg beer, not the influence of Beelzebub.
The Sublime Thoughts of Bunched Undies