The Exorcist was first on my list. How many years had it been since I had seen it? I thought back, and as I watched the movie I came to a startling conclusion. I had never seen this movie before! I “remembered” some parts, but others were a total surprise.
What had confused me after four decades are false memories of actually seeing it. Having heard so much and read so much about the movie (plus reading the novel) had tricked my brain into thinking that at some point I had watched it.
When The Exorcist came out in late 1973 it was a huge hit, much like Star Wars would become a few years hence. In Salt Lake City the movie showed at one theater, the Regency, for a long time. Everyone who wanted to see it had their chance. My memory is not tricking me in remembering people who were scared before they went into the theater. A guy I worked with told me he was so terrified before the movie started that he was hyperventilating. I also got the blow-by-blow descriptions of what went on in the movie from people who wanted to share the experience. I usually stop people before they launch into lengthy descriptions of movies. First, it is boring, and second, I don’t want any spoilers. But The Exorcist was different, and it was because I had read the William Peter Blatty novel and knew the ending. When people wanted to describe it to me I did not stop them. Because the demonic dialogue was much more profane than other movies of that era the guys I worked with loved to repeat it. I knew all of the dialogue, including the famous “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!” line.
The ouija board showed up in the movie. Some people, including my mother, felt the ouija board to be demonic. Somehow we had a ouija board in our house in the early sixties, and played it like a parlor game. One day Mom threw it into the incinerator and burned it. Someone had told her by using it we were “letting Satan in.”
So, besides me being possessed by untrue memories, how true is the story of the exorcism that inspired the book and movie? A lot of myths have grown up, and there are various versions of the story. I personally like the version from Strange Magazine, “The Strange Hard Facts Behind the Story That Inspired The Exorcist”, which demonstrates the author, Dean Opsasnick, did his homework.
The 1949 event involved a young boy in Maryland, who had been given exorcisms by more than one faith (Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic), and that later it was revealed it took “20 to 30 rituals of exorcism” before the devil was cast out of the boy. In the movie it took a lot less to get the demon out of Regan.
But beyond the artistic license, director William Friedkin, who apparently believes in possession, in the January 2014 issue Fangoria magazine said he thought the evil was directed at Father Karras. Friedkin explained: “When we meet [Father Karras] [he] is on the verge of retiring from the priesthood. He believes he has let his mother down. He tells the older priest, who is his mentor, that he feels he's losing his faith. It gives the demon an opening to show him that human beings are nothing but animals and worthless, and that his faith is in itself worthless.” In my opinion of course the chain of events that led to the girl’s possession and doom to the priest came about because Father Merrin unearthed the devil in Iraq.
Considering the troubles we have had in Iraq over the years, I wonder if George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their gang of neocons weren’t possessed by demons in getting us involved. (I’m only half-joking.)
Another thing I noticed when the movie was first run in theaters was how many people were claiming they were going back to church. Other reports told of people who thought they were possessed by demons. To me those stories meant that people were giving credence to the supernatural rather than admit they might have a mental illness.
Something else were articles exploiting the actress who played Regan, young Linda Blair. The articles worried about how she would survive such a role, as if she was really possessed. I am sure to Ms Blair it was an acting job, not a lifestyle. It got her roles in movies, and then at age 18 she was busted buying cocaine and it cost her. She still acts, but has gone on to an animal rescue organization she founded.
Everyone has seen the pictures of young Linda Blair as the demon-possessed Regan. This is a lot nicer.
...And when she grew up! Very nice!
The Exorcist is still a good movie. I don’t believe in demonic possession, but I understand why people related to it. In 1973-74, when it was playing theaters we Baby Boomers were still young and still looking for our way. The movie affected a lot of people, for better or worse.
And before I forget, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!