In “Part I: The Exorcist as Hero”, Cuneo describes America's surprisingly widespread fascination with exorcism. He points out two major contributing factors: the influence of the mainstream entertainment industry and the impact of contemporary cultural attitudes on society.
He discusses the novel and film of The Exorcist, claiming that its instant media attention sparked an avid interest in the healing power of faith. Since Blatty created the narrative from a supposed exorcism case, audiences across the nation had difficulty in separating reality from fantasy. Cuneo believes there was an overwhelming consensus regarding the image of the two Fathers who performed the exorcism--that of self-sacrificing heroes who commanded respect for the Church. It was not their scientific expertise that helped them wage the battle against evil, but rather their faith and knowledge of mysterious powers that saved Regan.
Consequently, from the mid to late-1970s, almost every media outlet concerned itself with exorcism and its validity. Newspapers, radio casts, talk shows, and even a series of related films were released (Devil Times Five, The Possessed, Good Against Evil, etc.). Furthermore, possibly because the entertainment industry is known to shape public opinion and capture the national psyche, there was a sudden increase in possession cases reported to Catholic rectories.
Throughout the rest of the section, he argues that modern US culture supports the use of exorcism. It is apparently readily available, cheap and fast; it does not require a lot of time and investment like many other treatments. Exorcism practices are also morally exculpatory, in that they place the blame of one’s problems outside of the self—it is essentially a guilt-free process. These are all precisely American values. In addition, it can even be seen as an alternative therapy. Since the current biomedical system is often unfeeling, heavily bureaucratic, and too technical, such therapies are seen as comforting and supportive. In line with Cuneo’s ideas, instead of seeing the problem as cholesterol or genes, many Americans actually think of it as a demon. Exorcism offers the possibility of a fresh start—a rebirth of sorts.
However, he acknowledges the fact that not everyone is equally influenced by the media nor our current cultural ideals. He maintains that exorcism is a “ritualized placebo”—those who want it to work, will believe it to work, and will actually feel changes as a result.
In continuation, though Cuneo watched hundreds of exorcisms, he never witnessed any strange happenings. He attributed many conditions to sound medical, social, or psychological causes. Since people report its efficacy though, he concludes that the practice has the potential to be advantageous, but not in the ways as advertised by the media. One can only judge its effectiveness on a personal level. Overall, American exorcism tests the limits of traditional religious values, pop culture, and current beliefs in psycho-spiritual healing practices, thus shaping the face of modern religion.
Al-Krenawi, Alean and Graham, John. "Spirit Possession and Exorcism in the Treatment of a Bedouin Psychiatric Patient." Clinical Social Work Journal 25.2 (1997).
10 May 2008 .
This study investigated the diagnostic decisions regarding the case of a Bedouin psychiatric patient, called “M”, who underwent sudden and severe behavioral changes. He felt angrily towards his mother’s disrespect for his wife, eventually instigating several arguments, and nearly physically attacked her.
He was referred to the nearest biomedical hospital, where he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with auditory and visual hallucinations that were themed around demonic images. The psychiatrist also gave him anti-psychotics in order to alleviate the hallucinations. Though the drugs calmed him, they did not eliminate these intrusive images. M failed to improve until he received guidance from a social worker, who arranged treatment with a traditional healer upon consideration of his Muslim background. (Because they highly regard the Mother figure, any wrongdoing towards her is considered sinful. Thus, M believed that God inflicted punishment by imbuing him with evil spirits.)
The healer, or Dervish, functions as a Bedouin version of an exorcist, working to treat mental and physical illness through the use of ritual and prayer. He diagnosed M as being possessed by demons, and went on to perform Tazeem, which is a dialogue with spirits—much like Western exorcism. The Dervish overpowered the evil spirits and managed to quickly relieve M of both his hallucinations and pent-up anger.
He continued seeing both biomedical and traditional practitioners until he felt fully restored. The psychiatrist admitted his initial diagnosis was incorrect, since the medications were not appropriate for M’s condition as he should have been classified as neurotic. Understanding his cultural framework, which insists on an external locus of control, was crucial for offering him effective treatment. Thus, the modern, scientific system would have been futile without the integration of traditional, religious-inspired practices. The authors posit that both realms should be seen on the same level, as complementary structures enriching one another.
In terms of the film, The Exorcist presented the ritual as outrageous and dramatic. However, this actually promoted the curiosity of many viewers, compelling them to explore the possibility of exorcism as a real phenomena with tangible benefits. People began to entertain ideas relating to practices of the occult, which involve superstition and supernatural powers; many took an interest in studying foreign cultures and understanding their belief systems for healing. As addressed in this article, it turned out that the synthesis of both science and religion proved to give the best outcome.
Hence, the film was influential in shaping America’s modern day religious scene. Many fans started to explore what they initially feared, opening up their minds to a new world in which otherwise ‘strange’ and seemingly ‘uncultivated’ practices were discovered to be actually useful towards mental health. In essence, people began to realize that biomedicine, alone, does not always provide the best answers.
Based on his best-selling novel, The Exorcist was written and produced by William Peter Blatty, who worked alongside Hollywood director William Friedkin. The film was influenced by an actual exorcism case involving the supposed demonic possession of a fourteen-year-old boy in a suburb of Washington D.C. A student at the Jesuit Georgetown University at the time, the young Blatty felt that the boy's eventual healing was proof of the devil's existence, and thus the power of God, heaven, and faith.
The film recounts the story of Regan, a pre-pubescent girl living with her single mother, Chris MacNeil, in a posh Georgetown suburb. All is going well until Chris hears strange sounds in the attic, which is followed by a series of peculiar behaviors elicited by Regan. She becomes unruly, urinates in front of guests, and uses gratuitous profanity among other things.
Her mother is shocked and desperate, so quickly consults a team of doctors for her care. Regan undergoes several intensely painful medical procedures, but nothing seems to give definitive physical results. After the death of a family friend and her continually dangerous behavior, the doctors 'give up' and resort to religious means. They suggest the ritual of an exorcism in helping Regan get back to her usual self.
Chris approaches Father Karras to perform the exorcism. After much hesitation and doubt on his part, he eventually agrees to do so under the instruction of the experienced Father Merrin. What ensues is a fight between good and evil, where both sides pay a price for the liberation of little Regan.
Overall, The Exorcist proved to be a breakthrough in contemporary horror film, setting the stage for future successes in this genre. On the surface, the film was popular because of its cinematic craftsmanship, successfully achieving basic elements of a horror film and portraying supernatural events as highly realistic for its time. Additionally, on a deeper level, its exploration of controversial issues tapped into the true fears and concerns of crowds at large. Both of these cinematic and thematic aspects contributed to the film's wide appeal.
This annotated bibliography provides a brief list of sources that investigate these topics.
(It should be noted that there are certainly several controversial themes highlighted in the film. Such include, but are not limited to: female and child victimization, uncontrollable youth, violation and disfigurement of the body, offensive language, sexual vulgarity, desecration of the Catholic Church, breakdown of the family, destruction of the home, etc. Since this project only entails ten items, I have chosen to focus on one overarching issue that the film forces us to contemplate--the roles of religion and science/modern day medicine in the healing process. I present four sources that offer differing views on this; the other six describe cinematic techniques, of which two assess their credibility based on audience reaction.)
Klemesrud, Judy. "They wait hours--to be shocked." New York Times on the Web 27 Jan 1974.
University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia 9 May 2008.
This is a NY Times article written about a month after The Exorcist was released in theatres. Klemesrud stood in a massively long line, interviewing ticketholders and employees at Manhattan’s Cinema I complex. She found out that previous moviegoers had not only vomited, but also hurriedly left, fainted, screamed, endured heart attacks—and one even reportedly had a miscarriage due to the horrific scenes.
Many people waited for up to twelve hours to be able to see how the impossible would be represented on screen. The crowds wanted to see flying objects, spinning heads, levitation, and not to mention the morbid scenes capturing blood, vomit, guts, and gore. Several fans wondered if parts of the book would actually be represented in the film—such as the taboo masturbation-with-the-cross incident and gratuitous language use, among other possibilities.
Some of the interviewees were seeing the movie for the third or fourth time. In fact, one reported feeling “contaminated” when they left the theatre, unable to get rid of the images and feelings aroused during previous views. Even though he had been having terrifying dreams ever since, he still wanted to see it again because of its extreme shock factor.
People leaving the theatre commented on how accurate the film was in comparison to the book, and remarked how “there’s nothing else like it”. Klemesrud goes on to quote a Chicago newspaper, which reported a psychiatric hospital admitting six people who had seen the film.
In considering this historical report, The Exorcist seems to have realistically transmitted a sense of fear and threat; so much so that it managed to provoke all of these reactions and predicaments among its viewers. It can be inferred that the cinematic techniques employed throughout the film played a large role in bringing about these truly terrifying sentiments. Had these special effects not been believable and successful in capturing people’s greatest fears, the film would not have been enjoying so much box office prosperity.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1997.E96 K476 1997
This small reader gives an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Exorcist. It includes details about disagreements between director Friedkin and producer Blatty, interviews with child star Linda Blair, rare photos shot on set, and background information on the methods used to manufacture the many subliminal images and special effects sequences. Written by film critic Mark Kermode, he gets at the bottom of many of the rumors and mysteries surrounding the film.Make-up artists, special-effects advisors, and the optical-effects team worked tireless hours in order to create shockingly realistic visuals that broke many cinematic boundaries. First off, it turns out that the entire MacNeil house was re-constructed from scratch in a New York studio. The real house in Georgetown was only used for exterior shots. Friedkin’s team constructed mock-ups of Regan’s bedroom, complete with false walls to promote the jerking of the bed, an air-vented window that would blow and billow on cue, and false ceilings that would allow Blair to levitate with the help of piano wires (previously rumored to have been possible by the use of a ‘magnetic field’). Furthermore, the entire room was encased in a refrigerator-like cocoon, which kept the temperature below freezing point in order to create visibly condensed breath.
Another salient special effect was Regan’s projectile vomiting. Make-up artist Dick Smith developed a plastic mouth harness that would pump split pea soup into Blair’s mouth, then out through a central nozzle. On other side of her face, the harness would be covered by heavy makeup, while the main feeder tube would lay underneath her hair. When in use, Regan could be seen vomiting large amounts of green matter from her mouth, in a supernatural--yet realistic way.
In addition, Regan had both a human-double (played by Eileen Dietz) and dummy-double. In the famous 360 degree head-turn sequence, the camera moves from Father Karras’ indifferent reaction, to the dummy, which is seen in a full face shot overlapped with the heavily made-up features of Eileen Dietz. Apparently, the optical effects team used a beam-splitter to match a live, glass reflection of Dietz speaking in demon-like make-up, over a head-shot of Blair’s life-size dummy, which remained stationary in contrast. This technique makes the viewer see the dummy ‘move’, which contrasts with the previous head-revolving shot. Thus, in a single image, Friedkin takes the film from the absurd to the awe-inspiring, thereby accomplishing horror when laughter could have easily replaced it.
These are only a few examples of the unconventional special effects employed in The Exorcist. With an approximate $12 million budget, and the ingenuity of a unique collective of artists, Friedkin was able to direct a film that blurred the line between illusion and reality, therefore successfully creating a true horror film.
Schneider, Steven. "The Exorcist." St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. 2002. FindArticles. Philadelphia. 5 Apr. 2006.
The Exorcist is frequently regarded as one of the most influential films history. It significantly impacted American culture and the movie industry by breaking down barriers in many ways. First and foremost it opened the door to cinematic respect of the horror genre. It has received more publicity than any other horror film to come before it and probably after it. The film went so far as to momentarily distract the media from the developing Watergate scandal.
Infamously know for its vulgarities, The Exorcist redefined the boundary of what could be shown on film. It was even banned in Brittan. Today the film is still one of the most graphic displays of obscenity ever made for the mainstream. The Exorcist is responsible for all the films after it that aim to entertain by disgusting the viewers. Additionally, the film presented this entertainment at a new level of special effects quality. For the type of effects attempted, the filmmakers succeeded to a “degree of realism never before achieved.” It is no surprise that the Catholic Church, who supported the idea of the film in preproduction, withdraw its approval after seeing how “real” the filmmakers were willing to go.Even thirty years later, The Exorcist is generally regarded as the best film within its genera. For a movie that made such an impact, a modern day parallel can be drawn to a very different film. Brokeback Mountain has the potential to be just as influential as The Exorcist. Already it has opened the respect door for a genre, redefined the limits of screen content, earned more press than any previous film of its type, and won the disapproval of the Catholic Church.
This article is the original review of The Exorcist by film critic Roger Ebert published on the films opening day. Ebert begins by comparing and contrasting The Exorcist to another recent film about religion, Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergman. He notes that they are both great films dealing with religion and human suffering but Cries and Whispers is “great art” while The Exorcist is “great craftsmanship”.
The Exorcist, according to Ebert is so well crafted that it pulls the viewer into the experience. He explains that when reviewing a film he measures it against films of the same genre. Arguing that The Exorcist is one of the best horror films ever made, he cites how well it “exploits the way film can manipulate feeling”. Even with the most far-fetched events onscreen, the film maintains a convinced audience.
Ebert goes on to explain how the cast was very significant in the effectiveness of the film. He commends the lead actress, Linda Blair, for the torture she went through as well as the torture she put the viewer through. Additionally he approves of using actor Max von Sydow for the role of the priest/hero. Max von Sydow had been in so many other religious rolls; Ebert felt this one to be appropriate as well.
Today Roger Ebert is one of the most well known and respected film critics in the industry. This review is interesting to look back on because it was written before the public really knew Ebert or the film. Therefore we have a look at the film from a great critic unaffected by his reputation or the public’s opinion of the film. Ebert’s four star approval of The Exorcist goes to show that he knew that this movie would be a hit regardless of how obscene it was for the time.
"'The Exorcist' Fairly Close to the Mark." National Catholic Reporter 1 Sept. 2000. FindArticles. Penn Library, Philadelphia. 5 Apr. 2006 <http://www.findarticles.com>.
This article discusses how some exorcists from the Catholic Church have spoken up about the accuracy of the 1973 film, The Exorcist. Regarding an industry (film) that is continually criticized for inflating its subject matter, these exorcists claim the movie to be fairly similar to what they have personally witnessed. One exorcist actually declared the events in the movie, famously known for their vulgarity, to be tame in comparison to exorcisms he has seen. Additionally, the chief exorcist of Rome regards the film as a reliable representation.
This accuracy makes sense because the film and the novel it was based on were inspired by an allegedly true story. During the 1940’s a young boy was witnessed doing supernatural things. Subsequently he went through an exorcism that was later portrayed by the young Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Priests who performed this exorcism have attested to the films authenticity citing words unexplainably scratched into the boy’s body. Additionally they recall the Archangel Michael speak through the boys body, freeing him of the possession. The boy apparently made a remarkable recovery at that moment and went on to live a happy normal life.This article, published by the National Catholic Reporter, shows that the belief in exorcisms as a way of healing is still alive today in the Catholic community. Though many things that were once attributed to demonic possession are today cured by modern medicine, there are people who believe in possession. The Exorcist touched on a real fear of many Americans. Perhaps this is why it was so horrifying and became such a sensation.
This article discusses The Exorcist and how the current events during the time it was made were very important to its creation and success. During the 1970’s America was going through difficult times. William Blatty found inspiration in an old and allegedly true story of a possessed young boy saved through exorcism. Blatty revived this story turning it into his novel and film, The Exorcist, in an effort to give hope to the American people and scare them back into church. This was an unusual move because exorcism for a long time has generally been seen as an archaic practice now replaced by modern medicine. Regardless, the movie represented many key issues facing Americans during the 70s and became a huge success. Mainly the exorcist dealt with “America’s growing fear of its youth.” This idea manifested itself in many ways, chiefly the main character being a possessed little girl. Additionally, The Exorcist was a movie that invaded a previously regarded “safe place” by Americans. Setting such horrifying events within this safe place, a family’s household, was particularly disturbing to wartime 1970’s America. Blatty’s character change from the boy who inspired to story, to a girl was probably no mistake either. The feminist movement of the era can possibly be credited for this representation of a threatening female. Moreover, early scenes in the movie suggest that the evil demon came from somewhere in Iraq, “coinciding with a new low in US relations” with the Middle East. In all, Blatty did not succeed in diving Americans back to church. However, he did strike upon a few relevant topics that greatly affected his audience, sending them to the theater and his film into box office success history.
This section discusses emotion in regards to films of different genres. It professes that horror films are intended to elicit a compound emotion. The obvious first element to that compound is fear. This fear is usually drawn from a lethal, supernatural threat such as a monster or a demon in the case of The Exorcist. Because the antagonists are hostile and possess great super abilities, they are perceived as very dangerous and the audience fears for the human characters in the film.
Along with fear, the second component of the emotion provoked by horror movies is disgust. Many films stimulate fear in the viewers without disgusting them, but they aren’t horror films. A horror film needs to make the viewer uncomfortable, sick inside, and scared all at the same time. Such has been accomplished in The Exorcist when the head of the possessed character, Regan, spins her neck around and she vomits intensely all over the room. This disgust can be attributed to the theme of impurities of the antagonist. The antagonists are unclean, and the thought of being near them is nauseating for the audience.
Thus the objective in a horror film is to trigger fear as well as disgust from the viewer. The intended fear in the antagonist is generally achieved from its hostile actions such as a demon taking possession of Regan. Disgust of the antagonist is generally achieved when the viewer’s archetypal concepts are challenged. Often the antagonist is a self-contradicting hybrid such as a demon within a young girl in The Exorcist. Regan is assumed to be a cute child but instead she is a disfigured, foul mouth, supernatural threat. Consequently the combination of fear and disgust of Regan galvanizes a horrific emotional reaction.
Price, Stephen. Movies and Meaning an Introduction to Film. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997. 250-252.
In The Exorcist, the antagonist seems to be the little girl, Regan. However, Regan is actually the victim of the true antagonist, a demon residing within her. The demon is taking on the appearance of Regan and hence taking on human characteristics. Here normality is threatened in a way that is not totally obscure. No one actually knows what a demon looks like. However, the audience can relate to the possessed little girl and therefore she is extremely terrifying.
Other horror films have been made by completely abandoning fantasy and are disturbing simply because they could actually happen. One such film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The Exorcist can also be seen in this way because the antagonist and plot are derived from religion. For viewers who believe in demons and exorcism, this film is plausible, making it exceptionally fear-provoking.
Additionally this section mentions how the structure of horror movies changed in the 70’s. During this time there was a shift away from the happy conventional ending. The Exorcist exemplifies this when in the end, the two heroes die and Regan is left permanently scarred.
Call#: Van Pelt Library BF1400.A1 A49
There are many elements of The Exorcist that shock people, one of which is sex, as the dialogue in the movie touches on this theme with extreme vulgarity. In the article titled “The Turn of the Screw and The Exorcist: Demoniacal Possession and Childhood Purity”, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, examines the sexual undertones of The Exorcist and maintains that it is a major theme in the story.
Beit-Hallahmi parallels demonic possession with “forbidden aggressive and sexual drives” (296). Through the jokes and perversions, he writes that The Exorcist portrays a distortion of sex, which turns into evil. Essentially, the source of evil is seen outside of one’s self, though the sexual drive arises from within; he argues that we have to protect ourselves from the returning evil, which we must exorcise. And so, he concludes, the major theme in The Exorcist is a protection sexuality projected onto evil.
Regan is the only character that represents good, life and asexuality, while all other characters are mixed. The Demon represents evil, death, sex, and bad religion. Beit-Hallahmi claims that Regan thus serves as a battlefield for good and evil, and that only asexual adults (the priests) are able to save children. He urges the ideal of keeping children pure and innocent by saving them from sexual development. Although Beit-Hallahmi holds an unconventional analysis of the film, it is interesting to understand the vast diversity in opinion that emerged from the film. The vulgar treatment of sexuality is in the movie more for shock value, but according to Beit-Hallahmi, provides a deep meaning and lesson to Blatty’s story.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995 .F56 1995
Within the horror genre, there are many subcategories and different techniques that filmmakers use. In the essay titled “The Aesthetics of Fight” by Morris Dickstein, Dickstein highlights the most important moments in horror cinema and presents his opinion on the elements of the best horror films. Unlike William Paul who embraces the horror and comedy within these films, Dickstein discards the excessive gore as unnecessary.
Dickstein attributes the success of many horror films to curiosity of the audience to see something forbidden and taboo. In all horror films, the ultimate attraction was the fear of death. Dickstein brings forth the Freudian argument that the horror film was a safe way of playing with death. Horror films also had a cathartic element; in the context of The Exorcist, Dickstein would argue that the audience is neutralizing their own anxiety with the exorcism of Regan.
The horror film evolved from fear of an external monster to a monster within the individual, even starring pure evil itself, as is the case in The Exorcist. In most films, the portrayal of explicit sex and graphic violence generally occur together. Dickstein relates the excessive gore to the association of horror films as B-movies. He writes that horror is most effective when it is simple and fundamental, and when it avoids overwhelming the audience with gore and violence, which can turn comical. While Paul legitimizes this comedic quality to the serious topic of the film, Dickstein uses this as a separating factor between a quality and inferior horror film. Dickstein’s viewpoint is important to the understanding of the film as it considers The Exorcist in the context of other films in the same genre and with the knowledge of the history of the genre, adding to the variety of responses to the film.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H6 P35 1994
Laughing Screaming is a collection of essays and studies of individual movies that examines the relationship between a public wanting to laugh and scream at the same scenes in movies. Particularly relevant in The Exorcist, William Paul dissects specific scenes and responses such as the vomiting scene. He takes a rather Freudian approach and expresses that the “gross-out”, as he terms it, is in fact a mechanism of regression for the viewers.
Paul believes that violence is acceptable when it adds meaning to the film and viewers allow themselves to believe that the revulsion has purpose. The difference in gross-out aesthetics is that it works against meaning in favor of spectacle. Having established gross-out as a means for expression in film, The Exorcist contains scenes in which the vulgarity can be almost viewed as slapstick comedy, according to Paul. However, they merit some legitimacy in the fact that they are tied to religion.
In the vomiting scene, the projectile both attracts viewers to watch it and repels. However, the context of the action causes viewers to identify with Regan and her hardships, where Paul argues that people regress in the film. This process then allows for the gross-out scenes to be an acceptable, and even important, part of the film. Paul’s detailed assessment of the factor that drew people to the film is a unique perspective to understanding The Exorcist, using both psychology and aesthetics.
Though the origin of Blatty’s novel is rather well-known, his intent to present the story to the public is not as obvious. Other sources that I have presented suggest that he wanted to bring forth an assertion of God’s existence. In this article, Nick Cull takes a deeper look into the nuances of the book and film, presenting Blatty’s release of the story as a commentary on the times.
Cull views The Exorcist as a proactive device by Blatty to influence the early 1970s; he writes, “It was more than a product of its time; it actively sought to shape that time”. Throughout the essay, he relates the novel to current events of the 1960s and 1970s. In the opening pages of the novel, Blatty included quotations meant to illustrate contemporary evil, including an FBI wire tap of a gangster joking about torture and murder and an account of Communist atrocities against priests. In part III of the novel, Blatty also included an epigram about the 1969 massacre at My Lai. Cull asserts that the demon in The Exorcist is actually a combination of those evils – crime, Communism, genocide, war, and assassination. He goes even further to claim that Blatty’s intention was to “scare a new generation of Americans back into church”.
Cull’s description of the film focuses more on the social evils portrayed: inter-generational conflict, the guilt of the middle-aged over neglect of their parents, and risk of the sacred home. It is here that Cull falls into overanalyzing Blatty’s work. Many resources, and even direct quotes, point to the fact that Blatty was not entirely satisfied with the film, having compromised much creative liberty to William Friedkin. Yet film should not be taken to be Blatty’s ideal interpretation of his novel, which is an assumption that Cull lacks in his analysis. Though Cull eventually concedes that The Exorcist brought more Americans back to horror films than the church, his analysis, even if it overanalyzes Blatty’s intentions, provides a deeper interpretation of the film's subtext.
Dempsey, Michael. "The Exorcist." Film Quarterly. Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer, 1974): 61-62.
The Exorcist was extremely popular among the viewers, driving out millions to see the spectacle of the film. Though sensationalized in the media and among the viewing public, the critics had a much different view. The review in Film Quarterly expresses a critic’s opinion compared to the masses, showing that the film produced just as strong a negative effect.
Michael Dempsey opens his review with the line, “The Exorcist is the trash bombshell of 1973, the aesthetic equivalent of being run over by a truck” (61). He proceeds by criticizing first the public response of the film; he believes that people inappropriately associate shock value with film quality. As William Zuckerman noted that people went to the theater to be stimulated by fear, Dempsey blames William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty for manipulating “the most primitive fears and prejudices of the audience” (61).
Dempsey also criticizes the filmmakers, in particular the ideas that Blatty attempted to reveal in the film. In regards to theology, he calls Blatty’s portrayal “idiotic”. The use of an exorcism of a young girl does not prove the existence of God, as Dempsey writes “…faith, faith in what? In a God who allows an innocent girl to be tortured?” (62). He asserts that Blatty’s faith stems not from the love of God, but from the fear of hell. Dempsey also evaluates the originality of the film, citing a list of movies with similar elements, and the acting, calling Linda Blair’s performance a “film technician’s Frankenstein” (62).
Although Dempsey’s review is from a rather extreme point of view, it is important to understand the full range of response to the film. The explosive response to The Exorcist came from many diverse viewpoints, Dempsey representing the opinion of the film from a cinematic perspective.
Marriott, James. Horror films. London: Virgin, 2004.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H6 M323 2004
The Exorcist succeeded in large part due to the hype surrounding the film. In fact, there was just as much controversy within the filmmaking process as there was about the film. In the section titled “The Exorcist”, James Marriot provides details behind the making of the film, from inception to the post-release reactions. In it, it is revealed that the film may well have been a product of the director, William Friedkin, rather than that of William Peter Blatty.
Blatty initially wanted to write a factual case history, based on an article he had read in the Washington Post in 1949, but the family had no interest. Producer Paul Monash offered Blatty $400,000 for a six-month option to film his novel, who then sold the option to Warner Brothers for a reported $641,000. After Monash was cut from the project, Blatty wanted an agnostic director but ended up with William Friedkin, a Jewish director who forced Blatty to create a second draft of the script in order to work with him.
Friedkin was a difficult director; having no connections to Iraq, he had to make additional promises to Iraqi filmmakers in order to shoot the opening scenes there. He opted to have all mechanical effects and little optical effects – for the exorcism sequence, the entire room was enclosed and refrigerated. Blatty criticized many of Friedkin’s techniques, such as the spinning head sequence which he deemed unnecessary, saying that “supernatural doesn’t mean impossible” (qtd. in 132). There were additional dangers on the set: a rig that was attached to a mold that had been made for Linda Blair came loose during shooting, requiring back treatment. Friedkin used these difficulties to show journalists and the public that the movie was cursed, increasing the buildup of attention around the film.
After the film’s release, which opened in only 30 cinemas, the term “cinematic neurosis” became popular, when psychiatric problems were exposed from disturbing films in people with no history of mental illness. The movie was blamed for criminal and suicidal acts, including one incident in the UK in October 1974, when a 14-year-old boy blamed for the movie for his murder of a 9-year-old girl. The MPAA changed the rating from R to 17 certificate from increasing public pressure, and the UK gave it an X rating. The public was so caught up in the hype that the movie became the highest grossing horror movie internationally. In this section, Marriott explains the creation and perpetuation of that hype that would dispel any oddities surrounding the movie.
Magistrale, Tony and Michael A. Morrison, ed. Dark Night's Dreaming : Contemporary American Horror Fiction. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PS374.H67 D37 1996
The Exorcist is based on the book of the same name written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the screenplay. Chapter 6, “Casting Out Demons: The Horror Fiction of William Peter Blatty” details Blatty’s inspirations for writing the novel and his thoughts on the reaction to his work. Even the book had an enormous impact, spending 55 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. From this, the more serious intentions of the story can be understood without the visual stimulations of the movie to distract.
Douglas E. Winter writes that Blatty brought a new legitimacy to the horror genre, that he “ushered the reign of Stephen King and the stylized horror genre in the late 1970s and early 1980s” (84). Blatty was raised as a Roman Catholic, having attended a Catholic grammar school, a Jesuit high school, and a Jesuit university – Georgetown. Before writing The Exorcist, he had already published 8 books and produced 11 film scripts, and was known as a comedy writer. It wasn’t until 1971 that he wrote the book based on a successful exorcism he had read about in the Washington Post in 1949. Blatty said, “It seemed a validation of what we were being taught as Catholics, and certainly a validation of our hopes for immortality. Because if there were evil spirits, why not good? Why not a soul? Why not life everlasting?” (qtd. in 87). It was this confirmation that Blatty tried to evoke through his novel, though he concedes that “the real point of the book is nowhere to be found in the film” (qtd. in 91).
Winter praises The Exorcist as a book that confronts religious issues in a thought-provoking manner. He also discusses the social undertones of the story, of women's liberation and the rebellion of youth. The popularity of the book can be attributed to its sensationalism and to the pronounced taboos, but Blatty's real intention, as shown by Winter, was to reveal his hopeful attitude of what the exorcism implies about the justification of religion and the afterlife.