the action of throwing someone out of a window.“death by defenestration has a venerable history”
Any seasoned horror film fan will have vicariously experienced any number of various forms of gruesome death: impalement, eviseration, decapitation, burning in flames, eaten alive & etc. etc.. Whilst we continue to pursue our occult horror kink of pondering The Devil In The Details, we noticed one particular form of death presents itself in the three classic Devil themed horror films widely considered to be Cinema’s original “Unholy Trinity,” namely Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). These three films have historically contributed a lion’s share to the satanic cinema vanguard and unleashed a flood of imitators in their sulphuric wake. The form of death exhibited in these three films which we are referring to here is technically known as defenestration, otherwise known as jumping, or being pushed, from a window.
First, let’s start with a quick review of the defenestrations in said Unholy Trinity.
Rosemary’s Baby: Actress and Playboy Playmate Victoria Vetri, aka Angela Dorian, played Terry Gionoffrio, the young houseguest of elderly satanic couple Minnie and Roman Castevet. Terry commits suicide (or so we believe. It is never actually revealed, in either novel or film, whether it was truly suicide or murder; we are left to decide on our own) by jumping from the 7th floor of the notorious Bramford apartment building where Rosemary and her husband have just moved in as neighbors. We do not see the actual jump onscreen but only it’s immediate aftermath. Terry’s death is the catalyst for Rosemary’s involvement in the Castevet’s insidious, diabolical plot.
The Exorcist: Two characters in the movie, film director Burke Dennings (Jack McGowran) and Father / Doctor Damien Karras (Jason Miller), are both (at different points in the story) expelled from the demonically possessed Regan MacNeil’s bedroom window and plummet to their deaths at the bottom of a very steep flight of stairs outside. Father Damien’s death, which is also a suicide rather than a murder, is shown onscreen.
The Omen: Lee Remick as Mrs Catherine Thorn, unwitting foster mother to the child Antichrist Damien, is in hospital recovering from the results of another bad fall which, as with most deaths in The Omen trilogy, appears as the result of an uncanny and tragic accident. As she awkwardly attempts to leave said hospital she meets with foul play and is expelled from a very high window.
You can view Mrs Blaylock’s online dating profile here:
While we’re on The Omen, who can forget the young nanny Holly (played by Holly Palance, daughter of actor Jack Palance) who made her cinematic debut in perhaps film’s first, and most spectacular, jumping suicide by hanging which ends with her body crashing into (rather than out of) a window?
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Is it merely our diabolically enhanced imagination which feels some poetic connection may exist between the defenestrations in three of our most highly regarded diabolical horror films and the Fall of Lucifer along with the Rebel Angels from the Book of Revelation (12: 2 – 9) ? Or, the biblical Fall From Grace in the Garden of Eden? Is there not an infernal taint of the soul inherent in such a death? Whether by murder or suicide? This is especially poignant in Father Damien Karras’ savior-like death to save young Regan MacNeil. We might also pause to consider Rosemary’s acquaintance, Terry’s leap (of faith?) from the seventh floor of the “Black Bramford”, and it’s Qabalistic and spiritually infernal association with a diabolical “Seventh Heaven” motif.
Of course, plenty of other forms of death occur in The Omen series. The only death from The Exorcist we haven’t mentioned yet is the elderly priest Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) who collapses from heart failure during the strenuous exorcism. The only death other than Terry Gionoffrio’s in Rosemary’s Baby is that of Rosemary’s elderly friend Edward “Hutch” Hutchins (death by witchcraft); and that occurs off-screen. But defenestration has a special aura of the satanic. The French have a phrase for it: l’appel du vide, the call of the void. That inexplicable impulse as you stand in a high place to leap. Lucifer rebelled and was cast down (so the legend goes); did He not have the same sort of feeling? Could He not resist the call of the void?
You know: when you’re falling… DIVE!
The significance (if indeed we choose to see it) of defenestration in these black art- flavored movies ends at: 1) the parallel poetic resonance with the biblical Fall of Man, and the Fall of the Rebel Angels. And 2) the case of suicide as a mortal sin in the case of Terry Gionoffrio in Rosemary’s Baby and Father Damien in The Exorcist. This final point – that of suicide as a mortal sin – we have already examined in a previous article here:
Though the motif of hanging as ritual suicide, or as a punishment for witchcraft, also intrigues us, we will save that particular form for a later article.
What movies would you add to cinema’s greatest Unholy films? Do Suspiria (1977), The Sentinel (1977) and Angel Heart (1987), come to mind…? Please view our ever-expanding list of diabolical horror films at the Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films
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