The Exorcist is one of those movies everyone has heard of. It may surprise you to know that growing up I didn’t really watch or read a lot of horror – I’m the eldest of five kids so usually anything I wanted to watch had to be suitable for children up to ten years my junior, and my mum doesn’t like scary movies. So obviously when I went to uni I started catching up on what I’d been missing. Then I met Lauren, a seasoned horror fan, and gained access to her dragon’s-hoarde of DVDs. The rest, as they say, is history. We once treated ourselves to a romantic date night going to watch The Exorcist on stage in London and it was fantastic.
“I don’t know why he does it! He was always my friend before”
“Captain Howdy! And then after it’s like somebody else is inside me! Making me do things!”
If you like the movie, I would highly suggest reading the book. Blatty writes wonderfully and despite himself (he never intended to write a ‘scary’ book) this is a masterclass in slowly developing horror because Regan is twelve years old. She’s an adorable little girl who loves her mother, who makes clay birds and leaves her flowers to make her smile before work, and we see her literally decay inside herself as something inhuman takes control of her body slowly at first, and then with a terrifying speed and strength that drags her to the the brink of death. What’s even more terrifying than the possession of a young, non-religious girl by a demon is the unwillingness of even the local Catholic Priests to accept that it is happening. In order to approve an exorcism, they need firm and unshakable proof that what is happening isn’t the outcome of a mental illness or physical ailment.
But what do you do if the demon knows this, and refuses to allow proof to be given while slowly murdering a child?
“Yes, I do find that interesting,” he said; “but in the meantime, the drawer trick?”
“What about it?”
“It’s incredible! I was wondering if you’d do it again.”
“Why not now?”
“Why, we must give you some reason for doubt! Yes, just enough to assure the final outcome.” The demonic personality chuckled maliciously. “Ah, how novel to attack through the truth!”
This is one element I loved about this book. It’s not just ‘well she’s possessed call the church!’, Regan sees doctors, she sees psychiatrists, every effort is made to assure that this isn’t simply a little girl suffering from a severe mental illness or physical malady. As someone who doesn’t consider themselves religious, I found myself envisioning what I would do in such a situation. My first response wouldn’t be ‘demons’, it would more than likely be ‘this person is incredibly ill and needs medical and psychological help’. As both a priest and a psychiatrist, Father Karras represents the point where these two mindsets meet and we see his struggle to definitively prove what is happening to this child without further endangering her life by making the wrong call.
We are treated to a whole host of characters throughout this novel without any of them overpowering the others. From the MacNeil’s themselves – Chris, the movie star and Regan, the girl whose loneliness and insecurity opens her up to something horrifying – to Father Karras, a priest losing his faith. The titular exorcist himself is in it surprisingly little, because it is Regan’s possession, and not her exorcism, that forms the sickening bulk of the tale.
“She needs a priest!” Chris cried out suddenly, her features contorted with anger and fear. “I’ve taken her to every god-damn, fucking doctor, psychiatrist in the world and they sent me to you; now you send me to them?”
“Jesus Christ, won’t somebody help me?”
Fair warning now, if you don’t like profanity (I’ve never seen the C-Bomb used to much in my life) or graphic descriptions of some very indecent and nauseating stuff to do with Black Mass, demons and that all famous scene where a possessed Regan puts a crucifix to a use that is absolutely not its intended purpose, this is not the book for you. I knew it was coming (the movie is actually very accurate about the bulk of it) and it still managed to disgust me. These acts of violent sexuality are all the more startling because, as mentioned, Regan is a child. The demon inside of her is ancient, but it is not the demon we see doing these things, it is the little girl who still plays with her toys and wants a horse. Parts of this book are genuinely sickening and as its rare for me to have such a physical reaction to a book that I can at any point close and put down, I have to give it major points there.
Don’t worry, I’m not including quotes for that part.
The Exorcist is a fantastic book. I read the 40th anniversary edition, with very little knowledge of exactly how it differs from the original, so that’s the one I’d recommend purely from experience. And I definitely do recommend it. This book made my skin crawl, it is fantastically written and I think whether or not you are religious it has something in it to frighten you. I couldn’t put this book down, and it will definitely stay with me.
Overall rating: ⛪️⛪️⛪️⛪️⛪️ 5 churches out of 5