Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Exorcist, The

A series of three movies (plus one sport and one spoof) derives from The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty.

1. The Exorcist US movie (1973). Hoya/Warner Bros. Pr Blatty. Dir William Friedkin. Mufx Dick Smith. Screenplay Blatty. Starring Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras), Max von Sydow (Father Merrin), Kitty Winn (Sharon). 121 mins. Colour.

Probably the most famous Horror Movie of all time, this shocked many because of its sensationalism; in fact, it is based on a recorded case of Possession, that of 14-year-old Washington youth Douglass Deen in 1949. Young Regan suffers fits and other weird manifestations, and medical science cannot help. Matters worsen: she is a focus of wild Poltergeist effects, and also is revoltingly physically transformed (> Transformation). When mother Chris in desperation brings in young Father Karras things get worse: the child blasphemes in a hoarse, unnatural voice, can swivel her head through 360°, and produces green projectile vomit. Karras, dubious in his faith but certain that Regan has been possessed by the Devil, calls on senior priest Merrin to perform an Exorcism. This at last succeeds, but at the cost of Merrin's life.

TE is a disturbing movie on several levels. Ignoring the grue of the impressive spfx, it invokes several of our primal fears, not least the notion that this might happen to our child; in this respect, it can be seen as a vastly exaggerated version of the Rite of Passage every adolescent makes when moving from childhood into a rebellious form of pseudo-adulthood. The movie's structure (like the novel's) creaks, though; while we can empathize with Regan and her mother, the other characters seem always to be only temporarily on the stage, so that even Merrin's violent death is an emotionally arid affair.

Video release of TE was disallowed by the UK censors on the grounds that it could damage viewers psychologically, although the fiction was maintained that it was the movie industry which had voluntarily withheld the release. Appeals in the 1990s against the decision were met with obfuscation.

further reading: The Story Behind the Exorcist * (1974) by Peter Travers and Stephanie Reiff.

2. Un Urlo dalle Tenebra (vt L'Esorcista N.2; vt A Cry in the Dark; vt Cries and Shadows; vt Naked Exorcism; vt The Exorcist 3: Cries and Shadows) Italian movie (1975). Dir Angelo Pannacciò. Starring Richard Conté, Françoise Prévost, Jean-Claude Verné. 88 mins. Colour.

Unconnected with the rest except through its ripoff vts and included here merely for clarification. A nun attempts to exorcize her brother. [JG]

3. Exorcist II: The Heretic (vt The Heretic) US movie (1977). Warner Bros. Pr John Boorman, Richard Lederer. Dir Boorman. Spfx Jim Blount, Wayne Edgar, Chuck Gaspar, Jeff Jarvis, Roy Kelly. Vfx Van der Veer Photo, Albert J Whitlock. Mufx Dick Smith. Screenplay William Goodhart. Starring Belinha Beatty (Liz), Ned Beatty (Edwards), Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Richard Burton (Father Philip Lamont), Louise Fletcher (Dr Gene Tuskin), Joey Green (Young Kokumo), Paul Henreid (Cardinal), James Earl Jones (Adult Kokumo), Max von Sydow (Father Lancaster Merrin), Kitty Winn (Sharon Spencer). 117 mins. Colour.

Some years have passed since the events of 1, and Regan, in New York, is receiving psychiatric help from Tuskin, though she seems completely adjusted; in the temporary absence of her mother she is being cared for somewhat shakily by mother's secretary Sharon, more affected by the memories than Regan herself. Lamont, a pupil of Merrin's (from 1), having failed in a South American Exorcism, is detailed by his Cardinal to investigate the mystery surrounding Merrin's death. Lamont at last recognizes he is dealing with a Demon. After many plot twists Lamont, with Regan in tow, reaches the Washington house where the events of 1 occurred and defeats the demon, but at the cost of his own life.

EII received an appalling press on first release, and was much recut by Boorman for release in the UK. In fact, it is at least as imaginative and interesting as 1 (the above synopsis does not do its complicated plot justice) although, lacking gore and shock obscenity, it does not have the same jolt-you-out-of-your-seat power. The Technofantasy aspects are contrived, but intercut flashback African scenes are broodingly impressive, and the movie's flow of ideas never flags. The direction is exciting, as is much of the photography (some by Oxford Scientific Films). This is not a landmark fantasy movie but it is a good one. [JG]

4. The Exorcist III US movie (1990). 20th Century-Fox/Morgan Creek. Pr Carter De Haven. Exec pr James G Robinson, Joe Roth. Dir Blatty. Spfx Bill Purcell. Mufx Greg Cannom. Screenplay Blatty. Based on Legion (1983) by Blatty. Starring George DiCenzo (Stedman), Brad Dourif (James Venamun), Nancy Fish (Nurse Julie Allerton), Ed Flanders (Father Joseph Kevin Dyer), Don Gordon (Ryan), Mary Jackson (Mrs Clelia), Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras/Patient in Cell 11), George C Scott (Lt Bill Kinderman), Nicol Williamson (Father Paul Morning), Scott Wilson (Dr Freeman Temple). 110 mins. Colour.

15 years ago, around the time of the events in 1, a Serial Killer called James Venamun, nicknamed the Gemini Killer, was caught and executed. Now, impossibly, he has renewed his crimes, still confining his murders to people with a name starting "K" but choosing his victims among those connected with the Exorcism of Regan. Lt Kinderman, investigating, finds as his first mystery that the fingerprints around the mangled corpses differ each time; also, to prolong their agony, they have been injected before mutilation with a medically correct dose of a paralysing drug. Kinderman's old friend Joseph Kevin Dyer is taken into Georgetown General Hospital for a check-up and becomes the next victim. During the investigation at the hospital, a staff doctor, Temple, guides Kinderman to Cell 11 in the secure block, where a catatonic patient, brought in 15 years ago, has been confined these past few weeks since "waking up" and is becoming violent. Kinderman recognizes Father Karras, who died at the end of 1; but as he interviews the patient the face shapeshifts (> Shapeshifter) into that of Venamun, who in due course explains that his Soul after electrocution was – as revenge for the exorcism – inserted by "The Master" into Karras's dead body.

This, although it leaves many unanswered questions, is a powerful movie and an improvement on Blatty's routine novel, which it much simplifies; its construction of atmosphere is immaculate – notably aided by attention to incidental sound effects. Blatty billed it as the first true sequel to 1, but the word "sequel" seems misapplied to what is a related but separate tale.

5. Repossessed US movie (1990) Dir Bob Logan. Starring Linda Blair, Leslie Nielsen. Screenplay Logan. 84 mins. Colour.

An often funny, often not, Parody of the first movie in the series. Blair plays a housewife repossessed by the same demon of which she was exorcized when a child; Nielsen is the exorcist. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.