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BCB After Dark: Make it Happ-en?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if you would sign Ian Happ to a long-term extension.

Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the happiest happening for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. If you’ve spent the evening watching baseball, you’ve come to the right place. Come on in and join us. There are still a few tables available. Settle in and mingle. Bring your own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

The Padres tied up the National League Championship Series with an 8-5 win over the Phillies. The Friars trailed this game 4-0 at one point and things were looking grim in San Diego, but now they head to Philadelphia all tied up at one game each.

Meanwhile, the Astros got a terrific pitching performance from 86-year-old (approximately) Justin Verlander and won Game 1 of the ALCS 4-2 over the Yankees. At least Anthony Rizzo hit a home run, albeit not off of Verlander.

Last night I asked you if you think the Cubs will make the playoffs in 2023. Obviously we don’t know what players the Cubs will add this winter, so it’s really about what your expectations are at this point. I’m sure I’ll ask this question again before the season starts. Anyway, the vote was extremely close, with 52 percent saying “Yes” and 48 percent saying “No.” So that will be our point of comparison for when I ask this question again in March or April.

Here’s the part where I talk about movies and jazz. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight in our exploration of Halloween-themed jazz music, we’ve got Canadian vocalist Holly Cole with her take on the Tom Waits song, “Whistling Past the Graveyard.” This is from her 2012 album Night.

I try to avoid the big classic films because I figure that everyone has already seen them and I don’t really have anything to say about them that hasn’t been said a million times already by smarter people than me. But tonight I’m going to attempt to say a few words about 1973’s The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller and of course, Linda Blair in the role that she’s still known for almost 50 years later. There has been so much written about The Exorcist that I don’t think I can really contribute much. But I’ll try anyway.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen The Exorcist in at least 30 years and it might be even longer than that. It wasn’t really a movie that connected with me at the time and I never felt any reason to watch it again. But The Exorcist is one of those films that you just feel like you’ve seen 30 times because it is such a part of the popular lexicon. Even in the 1970s when I was way too young to have seen it, I was very familiar with it because of all the jokes about levitating beds, spinning heads and vomiting pea soup that were everywhere.

Having watched it again and with a lot more life experience behind me, I can appreciate that The Exorcist is a masterpiece of filmmaking and a prime example of the “New Hollywood” era of 1967 to 1980 that is often called a Golden Age of American filmmaking. Friedkin and writer/producer William Peter Blatty created something visually and narratively stunning and unlike anything that had come before it.

Having said that, if I don’t see The Exorcist for another 30 years, it will be okay with me. While it’s a brilliant film, it’s not a particularly enjoyable film. The special effects and makeup make for a gruesome experience. The film doesn’t have the “jump scares” that modern horror films employ to get the adrenaline of the audience flowing. Instead, we watch a grisly battle between good and evil, science and religion, modernity and the ancient. When Roger Ebert reviewed the film in December of 1973 (it came out the day after Christmas, believe it or not), he gave it four out of four stars. He also wrote this:

I am not sure exactly what reasons people will have for seeing this movie; surely enjoyment won’t be one, because what we get here aren’t the delicious chills of a Vincent Price thriller, but raw and painful experience. Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all? It’s hard to say.

That sums up my feelings as well.

A couple of things surprised me on re-watching The Exorcist. One is simply how little the Mike Oldfield song “Tubular Bells” was featured in the film. It plays once while Ellen Burstyn is walking in the park and then over the end credits. That song, which was not written for the film, has become so associated with it that I thought I remembered it being featured more. It’s still one of my favorite Halloween songs of all time.

The second is how desensitized I’ve become to the graphic nature of the violence. When The Exorcist was released, people were sickened by the green vomit and the violence. In fact, the violence was so realistic that Burstyn and Blair where both suffered injuries during filming that they are still living with today. Burstyn was on crutches for two weeks during filming after she got thrown across the room. It was a bit of a scandal at the time that The Exorcist didn’t receive an “X” rating.

The scene that seemed to affect people the most, however, was the blood in the angiography scene. which was apparently a realistic portrayal of what went on during that medical procedure at the time. Go figure.

I’m always reluctant to pass on stories of people being sickened by things they see in films because most of the time, they’re made up by the publicity departments at the studio. But while I believe they were exaggerated, I do believe that some people were sickened by the special effects of The Exorcist. But a lot of what’s in the picture is not as shocking today. Maybe we’re the worse for it.

The Exorcist had been a best-selling novel before it became a film, but there were some serious issues in turning it into a picture. For one, author Blatty insisted upon producing the film himself, to make sure that his artistic vision was faithfully reproduced. I haven’t read the novel, but it reportedly hews pretty close to the book. Second, the lurid nature of the book made casting the film difficult. Blatty insisted that Regan, the possessed girl, stay at 12 years old, whereas a lot of studio executives wanted to make her 16 or 17. They had a very practical reason for this: the subject matter was completely inappropriate for a pre-teen. Janet Leigh, who was famously hacked to death in a shower in Psycho, forbid her then 13-year-old daughter Jamie Lee Curtis from even auditioning for the part of Regan, for example. But eventually they found Linda Blair, who claimed to have already read the book. They used an older body double for the most objectionable scenes and the voice of the demon was dubbed in by an adult actress.

Blatty based the character of Chris MacNeil, a famous actress and Regan’s mother, on his good friend Shirley MacLaine. But Friedkin didn’t want MacLaine playing the part because she’d starred in The Possession of Joel Delaney, a film with a similar theme, the year before. A lot of other bigger name actresses passed because of the subject matter. But they eventually landed on Burstyn, who lobbied for the part, and just made her up to look like MacLaine.

Burstyn does a pretty terrific job in this film. Anyone who has ever been the parent of a sick child whom the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with can relate to the anguish that she displays. Of course, most of us don’t have their kid projectile vomiting pea soup on people, but even minor issues with a child can send a concerned parent into a tailspin of despair and desperation. Burstyn shows that here.

Stacey Keach was set to play Father Damien Karras, but at the last minute Friedkin decided to go with playwright Jason Miller instead. Miller had never been in a film and had only a few stage acting credits, but Friedkin was intrigued by Miller’s Tony-winning play That Championship Season and how it dealt with some themes of tortured Catholicism. Upon meeting him, Friedkin thought he looked like John Garfield and decided to cast him instead. As an in-joke, Detective Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), tells Fr. Karras that he looks like John Garfield when the two meet. (Then later corrects himself to say he looks like Sal Mineo.)

Despite being an inexperienced actor, Miller does an amazing job as Damien. Fr. Karras is both a priest and a psychiatrist, and that battle between faith and science is at the heart of his characterization and the heart of the film. That theme is also a reason that Blatty set the film in Washington DC rather than Salem, MA or some old European city. Blatty wanted that battle between the modern and the ancient, and that aspect of the film is one of the things that made The Exorcist revolutionary for its time. It took horror out of old, Gothic mansions and put it in the world that people actually lived in.

The Exorcist is very much a product of “New Hollywood.” Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman had worked together on The French Connection, and they bring that same grainy, cinéma vérité-style look and feel to the film. There’s very little music in the movie to set the tone. I don’t think anyone would mistake it for a documentary, but that’s the look Friedkin was going for.

I’m generally better at putting films in their cultural or historic context than I am at analyzing them as art, so I will say something about why I think The Exorcist resonated with audiences so much at the time. I would never say that horror films with a demonic theme like The Exorcist, The Omen or The Amityville Horror were responsible for the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, but I will say that they both sprung from the same well. The general fear of a changing society and changing mores led to the idea, amongst those uneasy by the changes, that there was something sinister behind it all. If it hadn’t been for “Satanism,” the “Satanic Panic” forces of the 1980s probably would have latched onto something else for their paranoia, but these kinds of movies likely primed the public to accept these tales of demonic people doing things in the name of the Devil. It’s a lesson for our times as well.

The Exorcist deserves all the accolades it gets as a classic of American cinema. But it’s also really not a pleasant watch. At least for me it wasn’t. I can’t say that I was sickened or grossed out, but the film does such a good job of making this hell ugly and unpleasant that I left thinking “Yeah, I don’t need to do that again anytime soon.”

Here’s the trailer for the film. I’m sharing the trailer primarily because it’s safe for work, but it also has bits of the Lalo Schifrin soundtrack that got dumped from the actual movie.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

Tonight’s question has been asked before in this space, but it was under much different circumstances. Would you sign Ian Happ to a contract extension?

Happ was a bit of an enigma over his first five seasons with the Cubs. He could get hot and be very good for a while, but he was prone to slumps. His power totals were good and he normally hit around 25 home runs a year (or the pro-rated equivalent) and he drew a lot of walks. But Happ didn’t make a lot of contact, which lead to a strikeout rate of above 30 percent. He also wasn’t very good defensively in left field, which is one of the easier positions to play.

But Happ was a completely different player in 2022. While his power was down—Happ only hit 17 home runs last year—he was making a lot more contact and getting on base more often. Happ cut his strikeout rate down to 23 percent in 2022 and that helped to raise his batting average to a career-high .271 and his OBP to .342. On top of that, while he’s not going to win any Gold Gloves out there, Happ actually looked like a pretty solid defender in left field this past season.

All of this led to a career-high in WAR for Happ this past season: 4.3 on baseball-reference and 3.5 on Fangraphs.

Happ is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and can become a free agent after the 2023 season. So would you sign him to a contract extension? I’m really terrible at predicting the market, but I’d guess that something around four years and $90 million would get the job done. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing that Tom Ricketts can’t afford.

We should also mention that Happ has value as a team leader. It’s hard to quantify what the value of that is, but it’s not nothing.

However, Happ has only produced one season where he seemed worthy of such a deal. Last season I put a poll in this spot that asked “Would you non-tender Ian Happ?” You said no, but the very idea that I could ask that and now we’re talking extension indicates how much things have changed. But there’s no guarantee that Happ won’t change back.

On the other hand, the Cubs have a lot of promising outfielders coming up through the system. Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brennen Davis, Alexander Canario, Owen Caissie and Kevin Alcantara are all players we hope will be major league contributors before the end of any Happ contract extension. They probably won’t all make it, but then again, there are a few other lesser-regarded outfield prospects with the talent to emerge into top prospects in the next year or two. Seiya Suzuki is going to be in right field for a while. If Happ takes up left field, there’s only going to be one spot on the roster for those younger players. Christopher Morel needs a place to play too.

So what do you think? If you were Jed Hoyer, would you sign up Happ to a contract extension?


Should the Cubs sign Ian Happ to a long-term extension?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    (99 votes)
  • 42%
    (73 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for joining us for our last show of the week. If you checked anything, let us get that for you now. Please get home safely. Recycle your cans and bottles. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.