Friday, June 05, 2009

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

(pb; 1971: prequel to Legion)


Caveat: there may be possible spoilers relating to The Exorcist in this review.

Repeated, rhythmic tappings are heard in actress Chris MacNeil's Washington D.C. house, at first in the attic, later in different locations. A short while later, Chris's twelve-year old daughter, sweet-natured Regan, begins acting unnaturally rebellious and verbally abusive as if she were another person. (None of the many medical and psychiatric "specialists" who examine Regan can figure out what's wrong with her.)

Then Burke Dennings, Chris's current, raconteur-when-drunk film director, is found dead at the bottom of the steep steps leading up to Chris's house, a direct fall from Regan's window. It seems Burke died when his head was turned all the way around -- backwards -- on his body, then flung onto the steps: the steps couldn't have done that sort of damage...

Enter: the kind, middle-aged, garrulous, cinema-loving Homicide Detective/Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, who's investigating Burke's murder, but only knows that Regan is bed-ridden and "sick"; and Damien Karras, a middle-aged psychiatrist-priest who's wracked by doubts regarding his dual professions, and grieving for his recently-deceased, lonely mother.

Karras has been hired to try and help Regan, and when Regan shows many of the signs that indicate demonic possession (speaking in foreign tongues, telekinetic ability, wallowing in her own filth, verbal and physical abuse of those around her), Karras calls on an additional person to help them.

Enter Lankester Merrin, an old priest who once, in his younger years, exorcised the demon who has now possessed Regan.

The name of this feral-grinning demon is Pazuzu, and Pazuzu will take Regan, and those around her, anyway it can.

Compelling, intricate, landmark novel. Blatty's writing style is thick with facts and potentially-miasmic ruminations, but leavened with often-dark wit, everpresent humanity, and hope. The characters are distinctive, memorable, and the scenes of bodily waste and shocking blasphemy are equally so.

One of my all-time favorite horror novel, this. Check this out!

The Exorcist was released stateside as a film on December 26, 1973.

Directed by William Friedkin, and scripted by novel-author Blatty, the film starred Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil. Max von Sydow played Father Merrin. Lee J. Cobb played Lt. Kinderman. Linda Blair played Regan. Jason Miller played Father Karras. Jack MacGowan played Burke Dennings. Reverend William O'Malley played Father Dyer.

Sequels and prequels followed:

...the had-interesting-elements/ideas-but-plotwise-it-was-a-mess Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, in which Linda Blair returned as Regan MacNeil);

...The Exorcist III (1990, underrated film, based on Blatty's Exorcist novel-sequel, Legion, that's as excellent as -- and different than -- the original film, with The Exorcist's Lieutenant William Kinderman and Father Joseph Dyer as the main characters);

...Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (shot in 2004, released in 2005: it recounts Lankester Merrin's first encounter with Pazuzu, when Merrin was a young man - directed by Paul Schrader, this interesting, worthwhile psychological thriller is less about blood n' guts, and more about interior darkness. The producers didn't like Schrader's trademark approach, so they scrapped the film, had it reshot with many of the same actors and a different director);

...Exorcist: The Beginning (2004, the Renny Harlin-directed, rescripted and reshot prequel - of the two prequels, this one is the lesser work; too many blood n' guts scenes in such a relatively short movie dull the senses, and make this viewer long for some psychological horror elements... it's not bad, exactly, but it's typical. Harlin can be an excellent action-flick director -- anyone who's seen The Long Kiss Goodnight and some of his other movies can attest to that -- but he was the wrong helmer for an Exorcist flick.)

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