Terrifically Terrifying — “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty
[Happy October! Sorry for the delay – I like to post in the morning, but I’m spending a weekend at home in Michigan and have only now managed to settle into a computer. Here goes!]
I’m just going on the assumption that most people who are going to sit down and read “The Exorcist” have already seen the phenomenal (and classic) 1973 film version of the novel, directed by William Freidkin and starring Ellen Barkin, Max von Sydow, and a remarkable young talent named Linda Blair.
(Because if you haven’t seen the film, you need to. Really.)
The 1971 novel revolves around the possession of Regan MacNeil by a demon who may or may not be the actual Devil. As the book progresses, little Regan changes from a sweet little girl who loves horses and painting to a terrifying specter of personality-shifting madness and horror. Her mother, Chris MacNeil (a celebrated film actress,) tries a bajillion doctors who are all helpless to solve the problem, until going to a young and doubting priest named Father Karras seems her best option. As the rules around what the church actually considers worth of an exorcism are strict, Father Karras has to first decide if Regan is really possessed or just suffering from some strange mental illness. Finally, everyone agrees and Father Merrin is called in to exorcise the demon. And, in the meantime, there’s an investigator looking into the death of the director of the film Chris is working on… though the murderer might be the last person anyone would think of.
As it turns out, the film was a startlingly close adaptation of the novel to the screen. Pretty much everything but a minor sub-plot involving one of the McNeil’s housekeepers being suspected of the death of Burke Dennings made it into the movie. The characters are described in the novel nearly exactly as they’re portrayed in the movie, and are all believable and fully-fleshed characters. Regan’s deterioration seems real, Chris’ panic seems real, and everything seems as if it could be a true story.
Truly, it’s one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve ever encountered.
Blatty writes cinematically – Things aren’t dragged out, and lengthy pages of description are kept to a minimum. This direct approach serves the novel well, as the action keeps moving and the fear builds.
It’s actually an easy read, and one of those books you just sail through on a cloud of interest and excitement.
The book, like the world-famous and many-sequeled movie, is both fascinating and horrifying. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s a must-read for fans of the horror genre.