Horror Book Review: The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty)


The Exorcist might be one of the most famous horror movies ever but not many will know that it was based on a book by the same name published in 1971.

Those familiar with the movie will be over-joyed to know that it took very little liberty with its source material. The book & film are one & the same except for some longer interactions & background information for characters.

Inspired by a ‘real’ case of possession in 1949 the book details the story of 12 year old Regan MacNeil who lives with her actress mother, Chris in Georgetown, America. After messing around with an Ouija board Regan falls ill & her behaviour begins to change.

Strange events start occurring in the house such as loud banging at night, windows being opened & items going missing. After a particular disturbing event during a party at the house Chris takes her daughter to see specialist doctors who can find nothing wrong with her. Convinced that Regan’s behaviour is down to repressed anger over her parent’s divorce the doctors continue to evaluate her psychosocially.

Meanwhile Father Karras, a young priest & psychiatrist who is having a crisis of faith is dealing with the pressures of being a priest when desecrations begin to occur at the local church. A statue of the Virgin Mary is damaged & painted to look like a ‘lady of the night’ & prayers printed in Latin but describing a lesbian meeting between religious figures are left.

Regan’s behaviour gets increasingly worse & Chris begins to believe it might be something more. Her director ends up dead seemingly at the hands of Regan so Chris turns to the priesthood for help & enlists Father Karras who is willing to see Regan as a psychiatrist as he doesn’t believe she is possessed by anything.

Regan is no longer herself & after meeting with her several times Father Karras becomes convinced she is possessed by a demon. Father Karras requests permission to conduct an exorcism. The local bishop agrees does not think Father Karras is qualified so calls in Father Merrin who has just returned from Iraq & is experienced in these things. Father Karras will assist which leaves the man frustrated but hopeful.

The demon inside Regan has battled Father Merrin before it would seem & relishes the chance to win this time. The exorcism goes on for days with no progress really being made & Father Karras begins to worry that Regan won’t survive the demon much longer.

SPOILERS!

Father Merrin dies of a heart condition that he was aware of during the exorcism leaving Father Karras to continue it alone. Filled with anger for what the demon has done he demands it leave Regan & take him instead which the demon is happy to do. Before the demon can make him turn on Regan he throws himself out of the window falling to his death.

Regan is returned to herself & Father Karras dies with the last rites being read to him, faith now restored.

The Exorcist is a harrowing book even by today’s standards with a level of description that just makes you believe every word you’re reading. The story is incredibly convincing & each character interesting & sympathetic. Unlike the movie the book details more secondary character involvements including that of the house-help. While none of this extra stuff is necessary to the overall exorcism picture it does help create more believable characters.

The demon in particular is both fascinating & haunting. The way in which it tries to attack & tempt is horrifying. You want to see it get its comeuppance but not at the expense of Regan MacNeil.

If I had one complaint it would be about her…Regan as a 12 year old is just a little to ‘good’ for my liking. It seems as though she was written that way to make the devilment by the demon so much more shocking.

The best bits are as the demon begins to take hold of her…Regan’s changing behaviour as she goes from bright & happy child to sullen & with-drawn. Her happily sitting with a doctor before spitting in face & calling him a cunt is disturbing as we can see what is happening even though others can’t.

A doctor is at no stage going to think a child is possessed by a demonic force. The same goes for most rational thinking people…this is how the demon stays hidden for so long. Chris is an atheist & has no reason to ever think about possession until a psychic gives her thought to pause.

Even Father Karras is initially sceptic explaining at length to Chris why the likelihood was so low. His explanation of how the church decides on an exorcism is interesting & reality based.

The ending comes at speed but it is clearly the only way it possibly could have ended. The demon was powerful & Father Karras weak…it made sense.

An excellent read for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie & an even better read for those who have as it builds upon what you already know.

The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty)
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