Title: The Exorcist
Author: William Peter Blatty
Release date: May 1st, 1971
Way back, in the summer of 1990, a nine year old kid named Steve (hey, that’s me!) stayed up late to watch whatever movie was going to be playing on Super Channel. The goal was to either see bare breasts or have the crap scared out of me. So, it went, weekend after weekend, following this pattern. And on one particular late night viewing, a movie came on that did exactly what I wanted it to do – scare the Holy Hell out of me.
When I first saw ‘The Exorcist’ I was stunned. Maybe it was because it was far more brutal, graphic and intense than anything else my young brain had experienced on film? I’d read a number of King’s works by then and was used to dark horror, but this wasn’t on the written page. This was being broadcast into the living room where I sat in fright. I also remember thinking that I was close to the age of Regan. That could’ve been me that was possessed!
Now, where I grew up, I didn’t have a lot of access to horror novels. King was plentiful in our Community Hall Library – but I still wasn’t allowed to borrow any of his books, being too young. So, I’d either borrow the books from my neighbor, or I would ask her to take something out for me from the library. As she volunteered there, she had no problem doing that.
I read ‘The Exorcist’ for the first time, back in 1990, shortly after watching the movie, and was spellbound.
As so often happens, the years trickle by and you get to a point of wanting and needing to re-read something that decimated you years prior. I wasn’t sure what to expect re-visiting this one thirty years later, but I was excited to re-experience this one once again.
What I liked: The book follows Chris and Regan, mother and daughter, who’ve temporarily relocated to Washington, which Chris – a movie star – finishes filming scenes for the movie she’s in. Regan begins to act oddly and throughout the book this only increases.
Blatty also gives us solid secondary characters in Karl and Willie, Chris’ housekeepers and Sharon, her personal assistant. The main star though is Karras, a priest struggling with personal decisions and his own faith. It’s this aspect that continues to be highlighted and hammered home, as Regan grows more vile and self-destructive and Chris looks to Karras to help her drive the demon she believes to be possessing her daughter out. The only problem – Karras doesn’t fully believe Regan’s possessed. Blatty does a great job of having this religious character look at these events through a skeptical eye and a scientific eye, something that is often downplayed or outright ignored, especially in fiction. But there are a fair number of Theologians who research and learn with a critical eye.
Once Karras convinces himself that Regan is battling a demonic entity, Merrin is called in to perform an exorcist and we get a mild battle of wills between Regan’s possessor and the scholar, Merrin. The ending closes this off, but also leaves things open for a follow up, which we know arrived in the form of ‘Legion.’
What I didn’t like: I think time and – let’s call it advancements in visceral story-telling – haven’t been kind to this book for me. Everything seemed subdued and underdeveloped. I know I’m in the minority with this book, people still list it as the most frightening book they’ve ever read or the best possession book out there, but the scenes with Regan are maybe 10% of the entire book and simply revolve around her yelling obscenities and thrashing on the bed.
The scenes with her felt very anti-climatic now and simply not frightening. Especially when you compare it to the darkness and brutality we are exposed to in real life every day, but also with what readers are reading. This definitely was a book that would shock and offend people back in the early 70’s. Now, not so much and it came off like that each time Regan lashed out.
Lastly, the role of the detective Kinderman was a horrible addition and honestly added nothing, except for allowing him to be there for the second novel. He may very well be the most annoying, bumbling, useless character ever written and every time he came around I audibly groaned over his appearance, knowing it would slow up whatever Karras would be working on, or taking away from Chris’ struggle with what was happening with her daughter. Every single time Kinderman showed up, he inevitably asked the person he was conversing with if they’d go to the movies with him and I still can’t figure out if that was because Blatty thought it would be a humorous aspect, or if the character was just that asinine that he needed to say that.
Why you should buy this: Look, I think it’s obvious from my review that I just didn’t have the same experience I did this time, as I did the first time, and hey, it happens. I know people are still discovering this novel and falling in love with what Blatty did and that’s fair. For me, it just didn’t do it and the only reason I didn’t DNF it earlier on, was because I wanted to re-visit it completely and see if anything else is revealed about Captain Howdy that I could no longer remember.
If you’re looking for a possession novel or have heard all about this one from friends for years, definitely dive in. You may find this one works for you and scares you to your core. Personally, it was a big miss for me, but one I’m glad to have re-visited once again, just to see how 42 year old Steve experienced this one, version how 9 year old Steve did, all those years ago.