Oct 11, 2017

Podcast Portal: "Inside The Exorcist"

Welcome to Podcast Portal: a spontaneous column that will highlight podcasts of all genres that are lesser known or new shows that are worth giving a listen. With the medium continuing to grow, it is hard to acknowledge all of them. However, I am going to try and find as many noteworthy titles as possible to share and hopefully expand your mind to the greatest growing medium out there. If you have any podcast that you feel is worth adding to the Podcast Portal, please make sure to inform me whether through the comments or through an e-mail (information in sidebar). 

SHOW: Inside The Exorcist
HOSTS:  Mark Ramsey
NETWORK: Wondery

While there are countless great movie podcasts, there are few dedicated to cinematic history. Yes, there are critiques of classic titles, but with limited exceptions (You Must Remember This), there aren't too many shows to name. That is why Wondery has slowly become one of the most exciting new podcast networks out there. Earlier this year they created the superb series Inside Psycho, which focused on the history of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and everything that inspired it, including a gruesome first episode about Ed Gein. It is, so far, one of the best produced shows of 2017. With Inside The Exorcist, host Mark Ramsey is looking to make this dive into classic horror cinema something more than a retrospective. It's going to be an immersive history lesson with dramatic reenactments. 

In some ways, it's tough to follow up the story of Psycho, which had a rich and familiar tapestry that included Hitchcock's unique marketing technique. Still, Ramsey finds a way into this story by exploring the many paths that lead to The Exorcist. Instead of going subject by subject, he tracks the lives of "The Haunted Boy" of whom William Peter Blatty's iconic novel is based off of, director William Friedkin, and Linda Blair. Over the course of a half hour, everyone is given set up for this limited series. What's more impressive is that nobody's story is without conflict at any given time. Friedkin is a menace from a young age and likes to torment. What Ramsey does is more ingenious, as he ties the idea of fear to attending a movie for the first time and becoming too scared to go home.
This could easily just be a history lecture with familiar notes. It is a limiting way to look at the podcast medium, which feels in some ways like it's just now starting to test its potential. Inside The Exorcist is an excellent example of this, as it literally brings history to life, reenacting key conversations that drove people to their decisions. There's even unnerving sound design meant to embody the horrors of an exorcism, such as a body jolting against a bed as priests say prayers. The experience may be more educational than scary, but it still presents a passionate story that captures the tone of its subject. Ramsey is clearly fascinated by every detail, and the listener will learn to care about something more than iconic scenes in what many consider to be "the scariest movie of all time" and one of the few horror films nominated for Oscar Best Picture. 
The film has a legacy, and one that is a bit trounced by Psycho in terms of memorable moments that transcend the movie. Everyone knows the bathroom scene from Psycho, though not as many probably could recall more than "Tubular Bells" for The Exorcist. It'll be an interesting gambit, especially as Friedkin himself is an interesting filmmaker whose stories on The French Connection are evidence that he's ambitious and maybe a bit out of his mind. Still, this first episode is an origin story that compiles reality and cinematic history into a package that makes us not only understand how the film was made, but how people came to wanting to make the movie.
It should be noted that the second episode was released simultaneously for those eager to hear more. While this is meant largely as an assessment of the first episode, there's a lot to look forward to as things go on. The story of Friedkin turning down Blake Edwards in particular leads to an interesting encounter with Blatty. There's also even reenactment of behind the scenes moments on The French Connection. Ramsey makes these details pop not only because they're interesting on their own, but because he provides a scene for them to play out, like snippets from a film. It's cutting edge material, and makes this one of the essential podcasts for those who want to explore cinema's history without resorting to the tired talking heads approach. If this series continues the path set by Inside Psycho, odds are it solidify Wondery as a podcast studio to look out for.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5
WORTH A SECOND GO?: As mentioned before, there are two episodes available and the second goes into further detail in ways that elevate the story to a great sonic experience. 

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