BY ANDREW MOODY
In 2019, everybody is aware of William Friedkin’s horrifying 1973 movie, but few are aware that it was based on a bestselling novel. Fewer are aware that the late author William Peter Blatty claimed it was based on a true story.
Whilst it is impossible to know if this boy was possessed by demons, I don’t think it is possible to know for sure he wasn’t. It’s a typical atheist catchall to deny the supernatural, but as a seventeen year old veteran of psychiatric treatment I have seen patients suffer from what is clearly not “mental illness” (whatever that is) and it is always in the eyes that you can tell. I believe both the novel and the film are about as realistic a depiction of demonic possession there’s ever been, which is why both endure still, nearly half a century later. As I wrote for Splice Today a year ago on modern day Vatican exorcisms:
“Recently added to Netflix was William Friedkin and Mark Kermode’s short but fascinating documentary The Devil and Father Amorth. I watched it inside a psychiatric ward on Clonazepam and Lithium. The documentary, a little over an hour, depicts the ninth “exorcism” of an Italian lady Rosa by the late father Gabriel Amorth, who was one of the Vatican’s most respected and widely requested Exorcists. Amorth suggested exhausting the possibilities of MRIs and psychiatry before approaching him: “Out of a hundred people who seek my help, one or two at the most may be possessed.” For any viewers expecting vomiting pea green soup or a 180-head twist may be disappointed, but it’s unlikely you’ll leave the film unaffected. At times, a visibly enraged and disturbed Rosa screams in a guttural, demonic voice, very clearly not her own, and very difficult, given the circumstances, to fake.”
Unlike most readers, I approach both book and movie versions of the Exorcist as close to documentary realism as has ever been recorded successfully as commercial products. I dare you to laugh while viewing or reading alone at night. In today’s strange world, would anybody really be surprised if the demonic lived in the shadows amongst us? Until the Victorian age the Old Testament was not analysed scientifically, but were viewed as parables and metaphor. The fundamentalist, Dawkins-led atheism that has taken over would have been laughed at. According to legend there are twenty thousand miles of Occult literature buried in the vaults of the Vatican. One can only assume certain (or most) of these ancient books concern demonology.
Aside from certain subplots not featured in the movie (in the 40 year anniversary redraft Blatty also introduces some new scenes and characters) where the book and film coincide best is in the way they depict the genuine pain and temptation faced daily by the Jesuit priests who eventually do battle with Pazuzu, the African pestilence demon that possesses the young Regan.
For fans of the movie who remain unsure of what exactly occurs in the bedroom at the climax, the novel provides details that will satisfy them. Since I refuse to give spoilers in my reviews (to reiterate a literary review is not a plot summary) even the most well versed acolyte of Friedkin’s masterpiece will find plenty of satisfying new character information that even those who find books dull cannot fail to be intrigued by.
Anybody unaware of the psychology of demonology will thoroughly enjoy the clever unravelling of the devil’s modus operandi and even the most ardent atheist may find themselves questioning their own complacency.
I had read the original 1971 version before Blatty reworked the novel. Both are classics, but I doubt you can get the original anywhere but Amazon now.
For any Catholic who understands the tenets of the doctrine, I can think of no better work of fiction to strengthen your faith and reinforce your belief in spiritual forces in the world, both good and evil.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction