Happy 40th Anniversary, THE EXORCIST!

William Peter Blatty’s novel THE EXORCIST recently earned a hardcover reissue from HarperCollins in a 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION. To celebrate, a few BOOKGASM staffers weighed in on their experiences with the book and, naturally, the Oscar-winning movie it spawned. Turns out we need to read more.

I’ve never seen THE EXORCIST. And I realize that makes me a giant pussy. I started watching it once. At a Halloween party in high school (circa 1987). And it scared the shit out of me. I’ve heard all about the pea-soup vomit and the spinning-head stuff — the stuff that entered the pop-culture lexicon and, if you really think about it, it’s pretty effed up that it did, you know? 1973 was strange, glorious times.

I am easily disturbed. I’d watch a great white shark eat poor little Alex Kintner on a 24-hour loop if I could, and I got a huge visceral kick (pun intended) watching Ryan Gosling stomp a dude’s head in during DRIVE last year. But the super-creepy, disturbing stuff crawls under my skin and I just can’t take it. Not even naked Maria Bello has gotten me to watch any David Cronenberg after suffering through EXISTENZ and I don’t know if I’ll try THE EXORCIST again anytime soon.

It scared the shit out of me so much that I’ve never finished watching it — that may be the best possible compliment one can give a movie like it. —Brian Winkeler

• • •

THE EXORCIST is a story that I’m only familiar with in regards to the movie. Never read the book, and never had a desire to read the book. I’ve had people tell me that the movie scared the bejeezus out of them, but when I finally caught it on cable (again, as a kid), it didn’t appear to be, you know, “all that.” I liked it, certainly. But scary? Not compared to modern horror. Of course, stuff that scared me as a kid seems tame compared to today’s horror. But anyway …

THE EXORCIST is an enjoyable film and has an underlying tension that builds and builds, unlike modern horror, which tends to rely on special effects and shock tactics. I would catch it on cable from time to time, and especially loved it when it would air on Joe Bob Briggs’ cable show because of his commentary and factoids about it. I still dig it, and fondly recall the clever dialogue between the demon and the priest: “What a wonderful day for an exorcism.” —Slade Grayson

• • •

Everyone was reading THE EXORCIST the summer it was first published in paperback, including those who I knew hated horror fiction. So naturally, I avoided it. When I finally got around to reading, I knew I hadn’t missed much for putting it off.

But obviously, its uncanny popularity, bolstered by the success of the William Friedkin movie adaptation, paved the way for the endless cycle of novels and movies about demonic possession that followed, much like THE DA VINCI CODE and the TWILIGHT books would later do for their respective themes. —Alan Cranis

• • •

Before I popped in the VHS rental of THE EXORCIST in the early ’80s, my mom told me it was the one movie she would never watch again. Suitably impressed, I proceeded through the film underwhelmed. My lesson was to always expect every film to be a turd, and most of the time you’ll be either satisfied or impressed. But at least THE EXORCIST pointed me towards Blatty’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, a wonderfully nutty film which the author has sometimes called the true sequel to the Friedkin movie. —JT Lindroos

• • •

I have never read William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST, but it sucks. I know this because I have seen the film version and it sucks. I realize this opinion puts me in the minority, but the majority opinion sucks, too. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.

The only thing that doesn’t suck is Linda Blair, who’s one of my favorite B-movie actresses, which makes the fact that she’s so closely associated with the worst film on her résumé so hard to bear. And, yes, I stand by that last sentence’s suggestion that THE EXORCIST is a worse film than ZAPPED AGAIN!, REPOSSESSED, NIGHT PATROL and SORCERESS. How could I possibly justify such an obviously wrong-headed opinion? Because those films are merely terrible, while THE EXORCIST is terrible, pretentious and fucking boring at the same time!

And do you know what isn’t fucking boring? THE EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC. That movie is awesome. If I ever find a copy of the novelization of that (I’m sure it had to exist at some point), I’d totally read the shit out of it and offer my thoughts in an insightful BOOKGASM review. Bet you can’t wait. Suckers. —Allan Mott

• • •

Every year in Oklahoma City, the library system has a huge sale of donated books at the state fairgrounds. In junior high, I went once, and it’s where my mom bought me paperbacks of THE EXORCIST, David Seltzer’s THE OMEN, Jay Anson’s THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and other books for movies I hadn’t yet seen. (Also in that stack that day was Blatty’s nonfiction paperback ON THE EXORCIST: FROM NOVEL TO FILM, which I never read and wish I still had.)

I’d certainly heard about THE EXORCIST’s most notorious scenes at the time. So of course, when I get home, one of the first things I did was find how on Earth a guy would depict masturbating with a crucifix in print. It wasn’t tough to find.

That said, I never completed reading it until about 15 years later. While the book didn’t have the power as the movie, I can’t imagine one without the other. Blatty stuck pretty close to his work when adapting it for the screen. It still boggles me they actually gave him an Oscar for it; I mean, I’m glad, but did Hollywood realize it was horror? —Rod Lott

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