So before I jump into this it’s important for you to know that growing up my father often had no idea what movies were appropriate for us and which ones were not. I remember the first ever movie he took me to as a child was Spawn. This was in 1997 when I was 8…….He didn’t know what it was about and he wasn’t entirely fluent in English at the time so he would miss certain things, such as the fact that Spawn was about a dead mercenary, resurrected to lead the devil’s army on Earth while working alongside demon who were teaching him how to learn his suit which was designed specifically for killing……..You know…the normal thing an 8 year old watches. Well the point is that this was the kind of stuff I would watch when I was a kid, so clearly there was no issue when I sat beside him on the couch and watched The Exorcist. Unfortunately this left me with very vague memories of watching the movie. I was so incredibly young when I watched it that I wasn’t able to really grasp what the movie was about or what was happening. I remember legitimately thinking that Linda Blair was a very sick old lady who was just angry all the time and that the priest was trying to help her come to grips with her death. Which really, is a very different movie. So I didn’t remember the movie being all THAT scary, so going into the book I kept thinking to myself “how can it be that scary?” It turns out, it has nothing to do with a tiny old lady who’s dying. It also turns out that it absolutely terrified me and it legitimately gave me a nightmare or two. Here’s why:
The Main Character(s)
It’s really hard to say who the true main character here was between Chris (the Mother) and Father Karras (The Priest). Both of them had somewhat tragic backstories and as a result of the current hauntings were forced to confront their past. Chris who often felt as though her career had pushed her ex-husband (Reagan’s father) away was forced to finally examine her life at what was more important between her time consuming career and relationship with her daughter. Whereas Father Karras was frequently reminded of the death of his mother and how he had abandoned her when he left for the priesthood (namely due to the fact that the demon brought it up in every interaction). You grew to really care for both characters and you saw how loving of a parent Chris was and how loving of a son Karras was. The struggle each of them endured when the possession was at it’s worst was unique and yet somehow relatable as the theme surrounding their internal conflicts arose from the notion of ‘what would you do for your family’. I think so far of all the books I read they were two of the most likeable main characters and not only that but they had the most organic backstories that weren’t forced to give them some “depth”. Rather you saw these characters get established, tested, grow and finally each found resolution.
Let me start this off by telling you that over my life I have very stupidly said the name of many a demon. Often when I come upon a name in a book that’s unfamiliar to me I sound it out loud. Afterwards I realize what I’ve done and I curse myself for having said it out loud. This one was certainly no different, as I once again, very stupidly said the name out loud. And after reading the book I became even more terrified in case I had called it to me. The thing that was perhaps the scariest about this particular demon was that it often toyed with every character in the sense of it would make itself present but then it would cast some doubt as to whether or not it was real or if it was all Reagan. Father Karras pointed this out when he said “the hardest lie to detect, is the one surrounded by truth”. The demon knew of all the things the characters were looking for to determine if the haunting was sincere and would demonstrate some of the qualities and hide others. This kept the characters along with the reader asking themselves “so is this true or not?” Such as when the demon reacted violently to having regular tap water sprayed at it when the priest pretended it was holy. The reaction suggested that Reagan wasn’t possessed but was rather in a suggestive state and being told that it was holy caused her to react violently. But at the same time the demon knew that only holy water could hurt it so it could’ve been pretending to make the Priest think that it was faking so he wouldn’t perform an exorcism. But once you realize that the demon is indeed real and that Reagan is certainly possessed then you begin to get really terrified as it begins to actively harm everyone, going so far as to killing some of them. So much for my mom’s constant comfort when she would tell me “what’s the worst a ghost could do to you!” Clearly my mother never read the exorcist! (ps. I’m not going to type out the demon’s name so nobody makes the same mistake I did! And no I’m not referring to when it says it’s name is I am nobody, but the other name it says).
The scariest thing of this entire book is doubt. The entire time you’re questioning whether or not this is indeed a possession or if it’s a serious mental health crisis. As someone in the social services, who also is very much into the paranormal, I found myself looking at this book from two perspectives. I often agreed with the doctors who stated “she’s demonstrating symptoms of these various conditions” and my mind often went to those same symptoms. But at the same time I also kept saying “oh that’s classic demonology” and so did Chris when she was watching Reagan deteriorate. It certainly frightened me because I found myself asking “what if I ever see that in the future? Which hat am I going to be wearing that day?” Aside from that though the hauntings themselves were some of the most terrifying scenes I’d ever read and I think partially because they were so violent, vulgar and sudden. The scene when she’s hypnotized and begins speaking as the demon is terrifying and then suddenly she’s on top of the psychiatrist, violently grabbing his….well you know…..and so when you see the sudden uncontrolled attacks it terrifies you. It doesn’t slowly build to them and then pay off at the right moment, rather it springs itself out at you at the most unexpected time which leaves you feeling uneasy the entire time they interact with her. Some of these scenes will give me nightmares for a long time, and not just from the images of the movie, but rather from the author’s description because he did such a good job of describing the incidents without giving too much or too little detail.
The Movie Comparison
As I said in my intro, I watched this movie when I was super young and didn’t appreciate it at the time. So I did myself a favor and re-watched it. And seriously it’s as scary as it was described. If a movie can scare me 40 years after it’s initial release when the effects are dated and the images grainy and slightly unclear then clearly the source material is terrifying. This is why I loved horror movies of this era, it didn’t rely heavily on CGI, huge name actors and cheap scares (scary noise, investigate, cat jump out of a closet, breathe sigh of relief, turn around, killer now present). The voice of the actor doing the demon (not Linda Blair) was even more terrifying than the voice I heard in my head when reading their parts. The sincerity of the actors was truly believable, and the film (from the 70’s mind you) certainly didn’t shy away from the graphic images and language used. Even by today’s standards a number of the scenes would be considered too graphic or violent and wouldn’t make it to the editing room floor (ie. The crucifix scene). So it’s amazing that the film captured it all and didn’t spare any details. This is one of the truest adaptations that doesn’t lose anything by being so nearly identical. I’ve found in other adaptations that when the actors speak the author’s words that it can sound forced and I often say “that’s not how I heard it in my head”. But this cast did an amazing job of making this their own while staying incredibly loyal to the source material. Overall an amazing adaptation.
If you don’t like horror, then don’t touch it. Take the book as far away from you as possible and don’t ever look at it ever again. If you love horror then read it, read it again and read it a third time to appreciate just how many layers it has. It’s one of the scariest books I’ve ever read and I’d happily read it again and again. Overall it was an amazing experience, even though I spent the entire time terrified. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t ever read it.
Next up: Probably the shortest on my reading list, namely due to the fact that it’s mostly pictures, is the vampire story 30 Days of Night. It’s currently the middle of winter and the past few weeks have been brutally cold so maybe this one will hit a little close to home…Anyways, wish me luck!