What Scares William Friedkin?

William Friedkin directing Ellen Burstyn on the set
of The Exorcist in Georgetown.

While many people consider The Exorcist to be the scariest movie ever made, director William Friedkin does not call it a horror movie. The term “theological thriller” is more to his liking. When one takes that into consideration, it begs the question: What does William Friedkin find scary?

“There are not that many films that scare me,” he tells A.D.D. “I can name on the fingers of two hands — and have some fingers left over — the number of films that actually terrified me: Psycho, Alien, Seven, Diabolique, Rosemary’s Baby and Blue Velvet.” When asked about The Omen, which some consider to be a classic chiller, he responds: “The Omen‘s a piece of shit.”

Not much seems to frighten the famed director, but what does has left an indelible impression. “Psycho definitely,” declares Friedkin. “I saw it when it came out in 1960, and the only thing that bothered me about it — and nothing bothers me about the other films like Alien or Diabolique, which is terrifying — is that at the end of Psycho a psychiatrist comes out and explains the whole thing. And it’s inexplicable. Human behavior on that level is not be explained by a psychiatrist or anybody else, yet they felt at the time that they had to tell people that this guy killed his mother because he found her in bed with a stranger. He chopped them both up with an axe, and from that point on he became his own mother. All of this and that, which is a bunch of bullshit lingo. The reason people do that sort of thing is inexplicable.”

He who scares Friedkin:
Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

Friedkin points out that Anthony Perkins’ tormented character in Psycho was inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who lived in rural Wisconsin. “He used to get a hold of strangers and cut them up, skin them and roast their body parts in the oven and eat them,” the director says. “Now, what explains that? Nothing we know of on earth, other than the existence of evil. The Devil is real in Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. Literal characters, not fictional characters, so I don’t have the answer. I don’t know that the answer is in The Exorcist, but it struck me when I read the files of the case that inspired [Exorcist author/screenwriter William Peter] Blatty that that had happened. It was one of three in the United States in the 20th century that was reported that the [Catholic] Church authenticated as a case of demonic possession requiring an exorcism. There are countries and priests who claim to do two or three exorcisms before breakfast, like Father Gabriele Amorth, who claims he has done 77,000 exorcisms. He’s the Vatican exorcist, he’s in his eighties and I think he gives exorcism a bad name.”

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