“Exorcist” author reflects on Halloween, demonic possession, and faith
I vividly recall my father warning me not to watch “The Exorcist” movie when it came out in 1973. Not that I was old enough, at just 13, to trundle down to the cinema and see it, but he wanted me to avoid it when I got old enough to go to movies on my own and without parental supervision.
My father hadn’t even seen the movie himself, but he had read the novel by the same title upon which the movie was based, and he told me that the book was truly frightening. He didn’t want my imagination to have to cope with the residue of horrifying mental images he said the book had permanently lodged in his mind.
Roger that, Dad. I followed your advice to the letter. Thank you. Nearly 40 years later, I can report to you that I not only never saw the movie, I never read the book, and I’m glad of it.
I did, however, make the mistake of reading Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil — or, at least, three quarters of it, before I had to put it down.
Martin’s true-story accounts of demonic possession were simply too disturbing for me to continue reading. This is in part due to the fact that, like many people, I just don’t want or need scenes from such accounts playing themselves out in my imagination at the wrong moments, such as when I am trying to get to sleep in an unfamiliar house or hotel when I am traveling.
Back to The Exorcist. Of course, I know the general plot line and am aware, unfortunately, of major shock scenes in the movie, mainly because of how talked-about it was when it first debuted. Kind of like how, years before I ever saw “The Godfather,” I knew all about the infamous “horse head” scene because everyone was talking about it.
Weird. As an adult, when I did finally see “The Godfather” and it came to that scene, it was as if I had already seen it because of how familiar it was in popular culture. I figure that this is how I came to know a good deal about The Exorcist, not by reading the book or seeing the movie, but by osmosis.
When the movie came out, as I recall, the television evening news was awash in man-bites-dog reports about how freaked out people were by the movie. I saw plenty of interviews with folks coming out of the theaters, having just seen “The Exorcist,” who were truly terrorized. That was enough, in itself, to dissuade me from wanting to go and do likewise.
A few years ago, I was chatting about this movie genre with my friend Héctor Molina, who had recently seen “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” It didn’t really bother him. In fact, he mentioned how fascinated he was with the theme of God’s grace and redemption in that movie. But for me, there was no chance I’d see it because, as I explained to Héctor, given how advanced the movie industry has become in the science of special effects and CGI technology, I am quite confident that what I avoided seeing in “The Exorcist” would probably be there in chilling abundance in “Emily Rose.” He saw my point and added that a few others who were with him watching the movie were quite scared by it.
And all of that is my roundabout way of getting to the point of this post. I just read a brief news bit written by William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, who, to my surprise, reveals that he hadn’t had the slightest intention of frightening anyone with his work. In fact, he had something altogether different in mind. I’ll let him explain to you what that was.
But for me, at least, I not only will continue to follow my father’s wise advice, I pass it along to you.
Saint Paul said it better:
“[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
That’s what I want for my mind. And for yours.