“Exorcist” Misconceptions Addressed

The Exorcist, both the novel and the film, have been subject to various misconceptions, some of which this post attempts to correct.

Father Merrin’s archeological dig disturbed the ancient sleep of the demon Pazuzu, who went on to seek vengeance on Merrin via the demonic possession of Regan Macneil.

This is wrong for several reasons. First, Pazuzu is not a demon at all, but rather an ancient Neo-Assyrian deity. His functions are to bring pestilence and to control the southwest wind. His most famous act was to vanquish the evil goddess, Lamashtu, who was considered to be the cause of miscarriage and childhood illness. Hence the Iraqi museum curator’s comment on seeing Merrin handling the Pazuzu amulet he has uncovered from the dig, “Evil against evil.”  Neither author Blatty nor director Friedkin suggest that Pazuzu is a demon or is any way involved in the MacNeil possession.

Second, the Pazuzu amulet and later the large Pazuzu statue, figure in the Prologue as projection carriers for Merrin’s mounting sense of dread. Merrin’s unconscious mind seizes on these ancient pagan symbols, which begin to trigger premonitions and feelings of dread within the old priest. They are the stimuli, not the causes, of his apprehensions. The Iraq dig becomes for Merrin an omen, a foreshadowing that he must soon “face an ancient enemy”. This enemy is not Pazuzu, but a nameless demon that Merrin confronted and defeated in Africa some twelve years previously. Nowhere in the novel or the film is the demon named. Certainly if Merrin thought the demon was Pazuzu, he would have called it by that name. Instead, Merrin c0nsistently refers minimally, curtly, to the possessing entity merely as “the demon”.

Film director Burke Dennings was molesting Regan MacNeil.

This is wrong because Blatty goes out of his way to depict Dennings’ murder as despicable and  inexplicable, and to portray Dennings as a genuine friend of the MacNeil household. In point of fact Blatty describes Dennings as a kind and thoughtful person, except when inebriated. Moreover, even when inebriated, Blatty describes Dennings as a loud, insulting, obnoxious drunk, not a child molester. In one scene Blatty has the film-wrap dinner party hostesses remove (a briefly unsupervised) Dennings from the premises (i.e., before he would have time to sneak up to Regan’s room for nefarious purposes). But perhaps the most telling argument against the Dennings molestation theory is Regan’s own attitude. Her only objection to Dennings is that her mother might marry him and therefore further displace Regan’s father, Howard MacNeil. Even so, Regan tells her mother Chris that “Mr. Dennings” is welcome to attend her birthday celebration. Obviously, Burke Dennings is no molester. The Exorcist’s only molester is the demon itself.

The pale “demonic” face-flashes seen in Father Damien Karras’s dream and during the exorcism represent Pazuzu.

This is incorrect because Pazuzu, as mentioned above, is not a demon and is not possessing Regan MacNeil. The demonic face is that of actress Eileen Dietz, who was a body/stunt double for Linda Blair (who played Regan). Therefore it would be preferable to call the “flash face” instead “the Dietz Face,” in order to avoid the confusion of calling it “Pazuzu” or “Captain Howdy”.  Moreover it must be noted that the Dietz Face in no way resembles the Pazuzu amulet and statue.

The Dietz Face represents Captain Howdy.

This is wrong, at least in terms of the film’s original release. “Captain Howdy” is the name that Regan calls the demon during its initial introductory phase. It is unknown if the name is Regan’s own title or if the demon has so introduced himself. In any case, it is unlikely that the face could represent Howdy, because Karras dreams of the same face, which  shows up later in the exorcism.  We have no idea what Captain Howdy looks like (if indeed he even has human features).  Director Friedkin never visually takes us inside Regan’s mind. We only know that a demonic face – the Dietz Face – appears to Karras in a dream and then later on in the exorcism. Again, this applies to the film’s original release.

However, in The Version You’ve Never Seen (TVYNS), Friedkin does enter Regan’s mind just once, during her initial medical examination, during which her eyes widen and she “sees” the Dietz Face. This establishes that the demon manifests internally at least once to Regan, and at least once to Karras, and it is wearing its Dietz Face.

Even so, there is no reason to think that the Dietz Face is Captain Howdy, since – again – the same face also appears in Karras’s dream. There is no reason that Karras should be seeing the face of Regan’s “imaginary” (demonic) playmate – he has not yet even met Regan or heard her Howdy fantasies;  moreover: obviously, Karras is a sophisticated adult, and the demon would likely appear to the priest in a much different form than it appears to the child Regan.

Perhaps the Dietz Face is the demon’s archetypal linkage or  interface with the human psyche, or perhaps this is how the human psyche reacts to the demon’s presence. And in any case – as already mentioned –  the Dietz Face bears no resemblance whatsoever to Pazuzu, a fact which further strengthens the claim that the demon and the ancient deity are two entirely separate individuals.

Lieutenant William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) finds fragments of a clay Pazuzu sculpture at the base of the Hitchcock Steps outside of the MacNeil house. How did the Pazuzu amulet get from Iraq to Georgetown?

This is incorrect. What Kinderman finds at the base of the steps leading to “M” Street are simply Regan’s innocent clay sculptures; they are not heads, amulets, or any other representation of Pazuzu. Presumably these were knocked off her window sill when Dennings was defenestrated. The film does not make clear, but the novel does, that Kinderman takes a sample of the sculptures for analysis, which reveals that the same clay was used to desecrate a Marian statue in a nearby Catholic Church (Regan, possessed, or semi-possessed, was carrying out this “satanic” abuse of holy objects).

How does Karras’s mother die in the hospital when the script has her dying at home?

Mary Karras does not die in the hospital. Rather, Karras comes to visit her and to tell her that he is getting her out of the hospital. It is only after a stay of unknown time at home that Mary sickens again, this time fatally. This is what Father Joseph Dyer refers to at Chris’s dinner party in saying that Mary had been dead for several days before it was discovered that she had passed away.

How does the Saint Joseph medal get from the “Pazuzu hole” in Iraq to Damien Karras’s neck?

It doesn’t. These are two separate medals. Assumptively, the first has been reverently placed in the “Pazuzu hole” by some Christian in order to ward off evil influences of what, to that Christian’s (or Christians’) mind, was an unholy pagan shrine. The second is simply a medal worn by Karras, a Catholic priest, and as such is unremarkable. It’s there to provide resonance with the Prologue’s medal. On a purely symbolic level, once the Iraq medal is removed from the hole, Merrin discovers the Pazuzu head and begins to experience a feeling of growing evil; once the possessed Regan rips away Karras’s medal, the demon manifests “full force” and Karras pulls the demon into himself. This obviously signifies the removal of a symbol of holy protection, followed by the appearance of unholy presences.

The demon killed Merrin, which means that the demon won.

This is erroneous because the demon did not kill Merrin, and the demon considered Merrin’s dying a cheat and a defeat for itself (the demon). Merrin simply died of heart failure. The demon had no influence on Merrin’s death (despite the ludicrous assertions of Exorcist II: the Heretic). Moreover, the demon wanted to kill Regan in Merrin’s presence and in spite of Merrin’s best efforts. That Merrin died before the demon could defeat him (the demon rages that Merrin “would have lost”) galls the demon mercilessly – i.e, Merrin’s dying before the demon could kill Regan is a  huge defeat for the demon, not for Merrin.

Karras lost because he was possessed and killed himself.

This is wrong because Karras deliberately invited the demon to possess him. Possession by invitation is not the same thing as (for example, in Regan’s case) possession by sheer victimization. Karras wanted to fight the demon himself, and the demon 0bliged.

That Karras won the fight is obvious because when first possessed, Karras’s features take on the demonic “look” that has haunted Regan throughout her own possession. In this possessed state, Karras advances on Regan – who is now no longer possessed. Friedkin shoots this scene with Regan framed between Karras’ would-be strangler’s hands. Then the shot moves to Karras’s face, as he shouts – in his normal, non-possessed voice – “NO”.

Immediately, the demonic scourge vanishes from Karras’s face, and while Regan is still unpossessed, Karras leaps through the window, taking the demon with him. When Karras impacts at the foot of the steps, it is clear that both he and Regan are now free of the demon.

To underscore this fact, Friedkin shows us Karras making “a good act of contrition” to Dyer, and also shows Regan, once more herself, crying and talking to her mother in her normal voice (this is witnessed by Kinderman as well – as if to cement the objective reality of Regan’s liberation).

Therefore it is clear that Karras won over the demon. In a valid sense, what has happened is “demonicide,” not suicide. Karras has taken on the demon, freed Regan, saved her life… at the cost of his own. To Karras goes the accolade of a self-sacrificial, even Christlike, death. The demon has lost. Human love, and in the novel especially, divine love,  have won. Any doubts about this issue can be removed by Blatty’s own repeated statements that the demon did not win, and he does not want readers and audiences thinking that the demon won.

I’ll try to address other misconceptions about this film as they come to me, but for now I believe the major questions have been dealt with.

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100 thoughts on ““Exorcist” Misconceptions Addressed

  1. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for your comment, but if you listen carefully, you will find that it is the Iraqi museum curator who says, “Evil against evil.” This is how Blatty scripted it, as found on page 288 of “William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist: From Novel to Film” (Bantam, New York: 1974):

    CURATOR (In Arabic): Evil against evil.

  2. uniform

    Very interesting read. One thing I don’t quite understand is following Merrin’s death, when Karras returns to Regan’s room, the demon seems almost giddy. Is the demon pleased with knowing this result would upset Karras, or was it just trying to fool Karras into thinking this was the outcome the demon wanted/made happen?

  3. rennyo01 Post author

    uniform, thanks for your comment. Actually, the demon did not want Merrin to die (this is from the novel) – when Merrin accidentally dies of a heart attack, the demon is furious, yelling at the corpse, “You would have lost”, i.e., he should have lived to see Regan die of being possessed. Instead, Merrin, from the demon’s viewpoint dies too early, before the demon can humiliate him by killing Regan in front of Merrin’s eyes. Therefore, I think the giddy laughter in the film is just to infuriate Karras. In the novel, there is no giddy laughter, but rather one final obscene remark directed to Merrin’s corpse, which infuriates Karras and propels him to attack the demon.

  4. rennyo01 Post author

    Absolutely … Ex II Heretic is non-canon. Blatty had nothing to do with it, and director Boorman announced that he despised the Blatty story and Friedkin film – and set about to destroy its “sacred memory”. Thus the only true Exorcist sequel is Blatty’s own Exorcist III: Legion (although Morgan Creek Studios demanded last-minute re-writes).

    🙂

  5. NDavis

    Pazuzu is a demon do some research please I’m not trying to be rude but I’ve studied a lot of ancient mythology of many cultures and in the christian religion pazuzu or fazuzu is a demon who controls the winds and is also know to protect from other demons.

  6. Steve

    Hi NDavis. I have done research. Pazuzu is NOT a demon in the Christian religion. On the contrary, Pazuzu’s control over the winds and demon-protection is strictly a pagan Middle Eastern belief. Christianity grants no power to demons to protect from other demons or control the weather. Those functions are strictly limited to the Christian God.

  7. Jonathan

    Hello. I hope you keep reading these comments. I’m interested in your idea that the possessing entity is NOT Pazuzu. It is a bit strange to me. I’d like to know what you think about the scene where Regan is hypnotized and has her right hand raised in the same fashion as Pazuzu. I don’t think there would be any reason for the possessing entity to do so. Also, in the prologue, there’s is this kind of “standoff” where Father Merin and the Pazuzu statue are clearly opposed, as if duelling.

    On the other hand, I feel that this “Evil against evil” argument is pretty strong. Anyway, please let me know what are your thoughts!

  8. Steve Bastasch

    Hi, Jonathan. I don’t categorically deny that the demon could be Pazuzu. I just think that that interpretation over-literalizes Blatty’s deliberately multiple-choice portraiture. Blatty never names the demon in the novel, and Merrin doesn’t know its name. And when the film wants us to see the living face of the possessing demon, it doesn’t show a statue, it shows the Eilee Dietz white face. The Dietz face looks nothing like Pazuzu. So my hunch is that the Pazuzu artifacts are symbolic of the demonic, while the Dietz face/.Captain Howdy face is what Friedkin really thins of as being the demon. Concerning Regan’s raised hand during hypnosis, I think that is there to provide resonance with the Pazuzu statue’s gesture, but still the Pazuzu statue is only a statue and therefore only symbolic of the demonic.

  9. Hellequin

    Eh, it’s not that much of a stretch to call Pazuzu a demon. His protection against Lamashtu is more “even evil has standards” than proof of his benevolence.

  10. rennyo01 Post author

    No, it’s not much of a stretch for Pazuzu to be a demon, but I’m going by what Blatty actually wrote. Not even Merrin or Regan know the demon’s name. Regan thinks it’s “Captain Howdy”. Merrin has no name for it except “the demon”.
    Moreover, making Pazuzu into a demon is in my opinion to fall into the Christian prejudice that all gods except the Jewish deity are demons – a mindset that I try to avoid out of fairness to non-Christian religions.

  11. mic

    The Dietz Face is the face of the demon — Friedkin himself states so in his memoir “The Freidkin Connection.” In describing the constriction of the dream sequence he states that he inserted “.. a quick image of the demon’s face.”

    This same passage from Friedkin also causes me to take umbrage with your statement “There is no reason that Karras should be seeing the face of Regan’s ‘imaginary’ (demonic) playmate…” I think you are reading the origin of the image incorrectly. Friedkin states that the purpose of the added imagery (wild dogs, St. Joseph medal, clock, demon face) to the Karras/mother narrative in the dream is so that “… Karras’ dream intermingles with images from Merrin’s life…” So it is not Regan’s imagery Karras is seeing in the dream but rather Merrin’s.

    With this interpretation, the Dietz Face can be correctly identified as the demon’s face by Friedkin himself. And because these images/shots inserted were not part of the dream sequence as written by Blatty but by Friedkin’s own creation during the editing, it gives sole authority of interpretation/meaning to Friedkin alone.

  12. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for stopping by, and for your perceptive comment. I’m sorry that your disagreement with my interpretation caused you to take umbrage. Be that as it may, I am happily informed of what were Friedkin’s intentions. However, no matter how intricately Friedkin planned his subjective imagery, the viewer, even being made aware of this data, is bound to arrive at his/her own conclusions. I’ll grant you Friedkin’s intent, of course. But I am bound to question its theological probity for the simple reason that Friedkin’s apparently thinking that he could literally show the literal face of a wholly non-corporeal entity is wildly naive as well as heavily literal … and carrying his interpretation into the film, in my opinion, cheapens and popularizes the material in a way that seems foreign to the rest of the film’s mood and atmosphere. That is: Okay, Friedkin said it, but as a viewer it disappoints me.

  13. William

    ‘Father Merrin’s archeological dig disturbed the ancient sleep of the demon Pazuzu, who went on to seek vengeance on Merrin via the demonic possession of Regan Macneil.’

    If this isn’t the case, then I’m confused as to how the prologue is relevant other than to introduce us to Merrin. Why is he so horrified when he discovers the amulet and the figurine? And how is this an omen that he will face an ancient enemy? Sorry for all the questions!

  14. rennyo01 Post author

    William, thanks for your comment. However, The demon was not “asleep”. He was active in the world, possessed an African victim twelve years earlier, and knew of Merrin’s whereabouts at the dig and at Woodstock Seminary. You have it right, I think, when you call Merrin’s dire impressions in Iraq an omen. An omen is a premonition or a sense of dread aroused by thoughts and events. In this case, the Pazuzu amulet and large statue act as premonition-carriers. The novel makes it more clear than the film. Merrin knows that Pazuzu is a wild pagan god – bad in the sense that He causes disease, but also good in that he protects pregnant women. He is not a demon in the Christian sense of a fallen angel, but his evil half reminds Merrin of the demon he exorcised in Africa. In the novel, it’s not only the Pazuzu artifacts that arouse in Merrin a sense of foreboding – it’s the entire dig with its remnants of “tortured cosmic stuff” and the waves of extinction that overtake human civilizations. Yes, the prologue does introduce us to Merrin, which gives the novel a roundness, because we know the holiness of the old priest by the time he finally shows up at the MacNeil’s doorstetp

  15. Simone

    Pazuzu is an Asyro – Babylonian deity, that is the exorcist himself that protects a person and home from demons and possession. He is refered to as a “Storm Dragon” found in archeological finds that can also protect prom pestilence, and drought, etc. Anyway, in the movie the Exorcist, in Regans room there is a scene of someone in a very bad-looking costume of someone trying to depict Pazuzu standing behind Regan while she standing with her arms stretched out during the exorcism attempt. They were trying to hint that Pazuzu was demon, an so on.

    There are out of context things in the movie that do ring true of Pazuzu, is inside “Sometimes,” means in an out or visiting, and NOT possessing. Another one is that Pazuzu does not use “vulgar displays of power”…something along the lines of that. And when I think about it, “Evil against Evil could mean a ‘ necessary evil’to get rid of worse and unwanted evil. Pazuzu is also the King over evil (wind) spirits especially.

  16. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for dropping by. Yeah, I also think the “Pazuzu in Regan’s room” scene was badly done. But apparently it wasn’t someone in a costume, it was a model of the statue used in the Prologue in Iraq. Anyway, it looked bad and was not called for – it didn’t happen in the novel…AND if it was really Pazuzu who was possessing Regan, then why did REGAN fawn over it and worship it? Not something you would do if Pazuzu was tormenting you. And it’s not something Pazuzu would do – making an image of himself appear, and then worshiping it!

  17. Nathan Jones

    Hi rennyo01,

    What was Father Merrin’s conception of Pazuzu? Do you think Merrin held the same view of Pazuzu as you do, that he was simply a symbol of the demonic? Would a Catholic priest accept any Neo-Assyrian demons as actual entities and not just ancient mythology?

    Thanks.

  18. rennyo01 Post author

    Nathan, thanks for visiting. I agree with you that a Catholic priest, especially an anthropologist like Merrin, would not put any stock in ancient gods, myths, monsters, demons, etc. So I continue to guess that his view of Pazuzu was that – along with all the other premonitions he was experiencing – the amulet and statue were reminders of the African exorcism some twelve years prior. Yes, Merrin believed in the demon from personal experience – but I don’t think he thought it was literally an ancient Sumerian god. He never calls it by name, which he should have done according to the Roman Ritual, if he knew the demon’s name. But the fact that he only, and consistently, refers to it as “the demon” indicates to me that he thought of the demon as a nameless, faceless, malevolent spirit-entity.

  19. Nathan Jones

    I think it’s interesting to consider the other half of the omen: the medallion. The medallion that is found at the archeological dig is of St. Christopher, a martyr who died in the third century. This saint was considered the patron saint of travelers and was invoked against storms and plagues, much in the same way that the Sumarians may have dreaded Pazuzu’s hand in the storms of the Southwestern winds and invoked him for protection against plagues. Perhaps the connection that Father Merrin drew was that both St. Christopher and Pazuzu were connected to similar effects, that of storms and plagues, and that is why he could reasonably draw the connection that the finding of these two artifacts was indeed no coincidence, but an omen of demonic origins.

    On an unrelated note, I just finished rewatching the film today, and noticed that at the end when Chris stops the car to give Father Dyer back the medallion, Dyer’s voice as he replies to her, “Why don’t you keep it”, sounds really distorted, almost sinister. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think they were trying to imply that the demon had any influence on Dyer, or am I just reading into it too much?

    Nathan

  20. rennyo01 Post author

    Actually, the medallion is St. Joseph. The film plays on the resonance between the discarded St. Joseph medal that Merrin finds at the dig and the St. Joseph medal that Karras is wearing when he “attacks” Regan. Others have mentioned that it is only after the demon has ripped the medal from Karras’ neck that he “can get fully possessed”, as if the medal had been protecting him from full possession in some way. … I see the Dyer giving Karras’ medal to Chris as a way for Chris to continue to cherish Karras’ memory: Chris gets the medal and Dyer and Kinderman extend the priest-detective friendship that had begun with Karras … so the medal and the Karras-Dyer meeting at the house function to provide a sense of Damien as “gone but not forgotten”.

  21. Shahbaz

    In my humble opinion, the entity which possessed Regan was not Pazuzu.

    But it was a demon which worshipped Pazuzu. I say this because in the final exorcism scene where the statue of Pazuzu appears in Regan’s bedroom and the possessed Regan stretched out her arms as if praying or pleading to the statue.
    Also I think the desecration of the Virgin Mary statue in the church (by adding pointed horns and penis, a characteristic of Pazuzu) was done by possessed Regan to honor her god.

    Just my two cents.

  22. rennyo01 Post author

    Shahbaz, thanks for dropping by and for your considered opinions. Yes, that one scene in the filim (not in the novel) where she seems almost to be supplicating Pazuzu via his visionary statue, might very well confirm your theory. It’s always baffled me, but your new interpretation sheds new light on the scene. And good for you interpreting the Mary statue’s…chest additions… as _horns_ ! Shute, I’d never noticed their horn-like appearance. I just thought it was a demonic “breast enhancement”, but yes, they do look like horns. So congrats on your perceptive, original thinking, and thanks for sharing it here. Come back any old time and feel free to toss around your Exorcist ideas.

    🙂

  23. LaydeeTee13

    The primary theme of the Exorist is the battle of good versus evil on earth. If you attempt to interpret it without including Catholicism as the basis for the beliefs and actions of the 2 priests, then your interpretation will make no sense.

    You comment;
    “Moreover, making Pazuzu into a demon is in my opinion to fall into the Christian prejudice that all gods except the Jewish deity are demons – a mindset that I try to avoid out of fairness to non-Christian religions.”.

    First, the Christian faith does NOT believe that “all gods except the Jewish deity are demons…” Demons are specific creatures that were previously angels in heaven but were cast out by God with satan…but that’s an entirely separate discussion. 🙂

    Primarily, you fail to realize that the story is meant to be from the Christian / Catholic mindset of the 2 priests…Father Merrin who has strong faith and has fought demonic forces before…and Father Karras who is going through a personal crisis of his faith and questioning his decision to become a priest.

    Many points identified as confusing make much more sense when thought of from the priests Catholic perspective.

    If the story was told from the perspective of any other religion, and included their religious leaders as characters, no one would be trying to make sense of the symbols and interpret the characters actions from a Christian mindset / viewpoint, but would be trying to understand the religious themes correctly. There’s nothing unfair or prejudiced about acknowledging the Christian religious beliefs behind this story.

    And I do agree that the demon(s) is/are NOT the winner in the end. 🙂

  24. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for dropping by and for your comments. Sorry, but I still believe that Blatty mostly used the trappings and symbols of normative Catholicism as a *foundation* for his tale of supernatural good vs. supernatural evil. This is perhaps why he chose an ancient Sumerian god as Regan’s possession-agent – rather than some familiar “fallen angel” whose name would be familiar with theologians and exorcists.

    It’s also why Blatty depicts Catholicism as much an exorcistic failure as medical science: standard religion and standard science are simply not fit to successfully engage in combat with a truly supernatural being. This is why Blatty portrays the exorcism as failing. It only has the effect of infuriating the demon, but it does not weaken the demon, nor does it drive it out of Regan. Throughout the ritual, the demon always has the upper hand, and, it can be argued, even gains strength from the conflict – it shakes and cracks doors, walls, ceilings, causes a “mini-earthquake” in Regan’s room, it successfully misleads both priests, and it manifests the fake Mary Karras “ghost” personality just to torment Karras.

    The lesson here is that whatever the demon/Captain Howdy/Pazuzu is, “he” is not a familiar and domesticated fallen angel. Rather, “he” is a wildly UNdomesticated entity – an alien, intruding intelligence about whose true nature we know virtually nothing – an alien weed that no known pesticides can eradicate. The only solution is for the “gardener” himself – Damien Karras – to give his life in the eradication process. Where science and religion fail, the lesson teaches, altruistic love prevails. God may or may not be behind this salvific process (although of course the novel strongly hints that Karras found his God and his salvation just before his window-leap),

    We still have a difference of opinion that “pagan” deities are regarded as “Powers”, “unclean spirits”, and demons in traditional Catholic thinking. They were so thought of in the Judaism of Jesus’ time, when Jews thought of the pagan god Beelzebul as Lord of the Flies and king of the demons. The notion that pagan deities are/were demons is foundational to the Patristic (Church Fathers) writings. The presumption seems to be that, because we cannot possibly know the names and identities of all the “fallen angels”, and since all pagan deities are inherently “false” and therefore serve Satan, then by default these deities must be demons, or at least demonic. Even the Christian “heretics”, the Gnostics, reviled what they called “the Powers” (Paul uses this term as well) and “Archons” as supernatural beings who were functionally equivalent to demons, and who stand between suffering, seeking humankind and the True God with whom we desire union..

    Nor do I think that I fail to understand that the story is intended to be understood “to be from the Christian/Catholic mindsets” of the two priests. On the contrary, Merrin doesn’t know who the demon is. Consistently he calls it “the demon” – never “Pazuzu” or the name of some fallen angel or evil, false pagan god. Knowing the demon’s name is a crucial element in exorcism, and the fact that Merrin never uses it simply underscores my point that Merrin’s only knowledge about the demon is that it is evil; it is a “liar”; it will “mix lies with the truth to deceive us”; it wants to make us feel “ugly and animal – that not even God could love us”; and that, concerning its personality, “there is only one”.

    Merrin is as much in the dark as the doctors and Karras. Twelve years earlier in Africa, Merrin had expelled the demon, but we do not know if that was because the Roman Ritual was successful in that case, or because of some spiritual factor within Merrin (just as the outcome of Regan’s exorcism would turn out to be successful … because of a hidden spiritual factor in Karras). But even if the Ritual worked in the African case, it certainly did not in the Georgetown case. So, as pertains to Merrin’s Christian/Catholic mindset, the demon’s actual, undomesticated nature permits the saintly priest no special Christian/Catholic theological advantage, but only the advantage that his piety and experience may afford.

    The same holds true of Karras – yes, he is soaked in the Church and in the priesthood, even though his doubts have almost impelled him out of his faith, vocation, and perhaps salvation. But even so, the issue is not Karras’ “Christian/Catholic mindset” – for the simple reason that this mindset is almost dead within him. It is only rekindled not by the Church and its theology, but by the compassionate outrage that compels him to take the demon out of Regan and into himself, and abduct-and-carry the demon through the window trapped in Karras’ soon-to-be broken body.

    So I maintain that while the story is firmly, wonderfully, grounded in Christianity/Catholicism, it soars, like a multi-storied house or building, higher to the main themes which dwell far above ground-level Christianity … and into the transcendent, Teilhardian, and even quasi-Gnostic realms where Blatty’s best and highest vision resides.

  25. Mary

    I am confused on 2 points. Regan in a trance state, may have caused the church desecration, although I don’t know how she did it undetected. She never seemed to be without adult supervision long enough to pull it off. But what really makes my head spin, no pun intended, was how the Ouija board and the crucifix got into the house to begin with! A demon is not a physical being, and can not create objects out of thin air. Therefore, it needed a human to get those objects in the house for Regan to use. So, who brought the Ouija into the house before the possession even began? And the crucifix! They weren’t religious family. So, who sneaked into her room? After the mother finds it under Regan’s pillow and confronts the staff, Kinderman pays her a visit. She places the crucifix on an end table. The butler is present. Regan once again has the crucifix in the next scene. How did she get it back without someone seeing her? She was in bed. The butler was the only one who was near it after the mother left it on the table. There is no answer to this in the film. The notion seems to be that the demon materialized these things itself. Impossible, since it was not a physical being. Any thoughts?

  26. rennyo01 Post author

    Mary, thanks for dropping by. They were not a religious family, but especially in the novel Karl is very religious. Chances are Karl and Willie had at least one crucifix in their room in the McNeil home and “for God’s blessing” Karl put it under Regan’s pillow.

    The Ouija board had been stored away by the previous house owner and Regan discovered it on her own.

    The crucifix’s reappearance in Regan’s room was either due to Karl being a stubborn guy and he returned it himself. Or it is possible that the demon levitated it back upstairs. As you said, the demon can’t do everything, but we know that it has “poltergeist”/telekinetic powers. Therefore my favorite guess is that the demon floated the crucifix back to Regan’s room when no one was watching. …

    Good question on the church desecrations, and it is not handled very well in the book, either. My guess is that “Regan” snuck over to the nearby church when everyone was asleep. “Back in the day” it was customary for Catholic churches to be open late into the night, or even all night long, so that the devout could come in to pray and/or perform adoration of Jesus’ “Real Presence” in the Eucharist in the tabernacle. Regan/the demon knew this and took advantage of the church schedule and of the fact that everyone at home was asleep.

    …would you have the kindness to let me know if you received this reply…? My screen is looking a little funny and so I’d appreciate a notification – and certainly any more questions or comments you may have.

    Thanks.

    🙂

  27. Mary

    Thank you for taking the time to answer so quickly. I did not know that you replied until just now, when I returned to your blog. I have a couple of others thoughts:
    The director seemed to make a big deal about Pazuzu being the demon. Especially the scene when Merrin and the statue are staring each other down. I didn’t catch, until I read your blog, that Merrin never calls it by name. But, if Pazuzu is irrelevant, then why have that beginning scene at all? Friedkin went out of his way to make it appear that something evil was released during the dig. And since the statue appears during the exorcism, it seems to drive home the idea that Pazuzu is what they are fighting. If that was supposed to be merely a representation of evil only from Merrin’s view, it wasn’t explained very well. Is it better explained in the book? I haven’t re-read the book in over 30 years and can’t remember.
    Also, I seem to remember there being a scene in the book’s end, of Kinderman and Father Dyer conversing. Was that ever filmed? There is no explanation as to why there was no further police involvement. And no press milling about. The film ends with not much fanfare.
    This is really trivial, but when Regan is at what seemed to be a quite prestigious mental health clinic, she is very violent and in restraints. Wouldn’t the clinic been obligated to keep her and not let her mother take her home, since she posed a threat to, at least herself?

  28. rennyo01 Post author

    Hey, Mary, thanks so much for your reply. You wrote,

    “Thank you for taking the time to answer so quickly. I did not know that you replied until just now, when I returned to your blog.”

    You are very welcome. I think you should have received my reply via your email without having to go to the effort of going back to the blog. There is no “Receive reply notifications automatically by email” button to click on my screen. Seems there used to be. That’s why I asked you to reply just to let me know you received my post. Obviously you didn’t, because you didn’t get an email notification and had to go back to the blog. Sorry about this clumsy state of affairs, but I don’t know how to fix it… Anyway:

    The Pazuzu issue is better explained, or partially explained, in the book. I’m not trying to be obscure with this, but in the book it is clear that Merrin’s premonitions are not sparked a living or surviving ancient pagan deity, which is what Pazuzu really is according to ancient literature.

    Rather, Blatty uses Pazuzu as a “projection carrier” for Merrin’s deep fear that he will have to again combat the demon he encountered in Africa. Nowhere does Blatty or Merrin say that the earlier demon was Pazuzu – it remains unnamed. I would ask, what in the world would an ancient Iraqi deity be doing possessing *anyone” – much less someone in Africa? Presumably Pazuzu – even if he was a possessing entity – would not be kicking around outside his “territory” in distant Africa; by the same token, he would not be following Merrin around on his travels, and much less would he be moving into Georgetown. An ancient deity, conceptually, could be viewed as being assigned to a particular territory or nation. But a demon, as defined in Christianity, has no such limitation – it can go wherever it wants. That’s why I don’t think the demon was Pazuzu. The demon in Africa would not be an African god, either, because it clearly was not tied down to Africa, but apparently followed Merrin all over the place, and ended up with him in Iraq, where all the Pazuzu amulets, etc., suddenly reminded Merrin of the power of supernatural evil (pagan gods being deemed as evil in Christianity), and of course the immediate thought that leapt to his mind was his memory of his personal encounter with a demon some 12 years earlier.

    Since “Christian” demons are not territorial, not tied down to particular locales, then I don’t think it true that the Iraqi dig disturbed or liberated some ancient demon. The Exorcist’s demon is constantly active and wakeful, possessing people in Africa, being a “fellow traveler” with Merrin, and finally moving into Washington, DC. The dig did not release any kind of demon. The demon is already free and can move anywhere it wishes. The Exorcist’s demon – whose name even the experienced expert Merrin does not know – is just the nameless demon he had combatted some 12 years before in Africa. Thus, I believe that the burden of proof lies on those who insist that the demon must be Pazuzu – and they are obligated to explain why Merrin does not know the demon’s name.

    Yes, your memory serves you well – the novel has a brief coda where Kinderman and Dyer strike up a new friendship, sort of in memory of Damien Karras – as Blatty wrote, “In forgetting, they were trying to remember [Karras].” And yes, it was filmed, but deleted from the original release. It was restored in the re-release, but the wording had been changed from the novel’s dialogue, and many viewers did not like the change. Some didn’t even get the “in Damien’s memory” meaning of the scene.

    Iirc, the “Barringer Clinic” permitted Chris to take Regan home with her because the Clinic couldn’t do any more for Regan, and all the medications, tubing, intravenous nutrition that she would have received at the Clinic could just as well be administered by Chris, Sharon, and Karl at home.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  29. Mary

    Here is another question I have: Kinderman is watching the house. He sees Karras leave. Then he notices a shadow of someone walking inside Regan’s bedroom. It can’t the mother, because she just let the priest out. Do you think it was one of the servants, Sharon or Regan?
    Thanks again for your time.

  30. rennyo01 Post author

    Hello again Mary. I think it is supposed to be Regan because – to me – the silhouette looks small, slender, and has a “girlish”, rounded top of the head, i.e., a girl’s hair style. This I think is to creep us out because by this time in the story, Regan has been bound with straps. So we are to think either 1) the demon can “make the straps disappear” or 2) more likely with the paranormal agility supposedly gives to the victim, perhaps Regan can, like Houdini, wriggle out of her straps at will, and then wriggle back into them with no one the wiser. Iirc, this identical scene is also in the book, but Blatty doesn’t explain it, either. At least these are my best guesses. The question is, if the demon can neutralize the straps, why didn’t it just break loose and wreak havoc on the priests and the rest of the household? My only theory is that the demon does seem forced to go into dormant periods, when it retreats and perhaps gathers its strength; also the many drugs Regan was taking would knock her out for long periods of time and make it impossible for the demon to operate his “comatose” victim. So on this theory, perhaps the demon found getting free of the straps a prodigious effort, only to be done rarely and with great caution.

    Thanks again for your comments. They give me cheer, because they permit me to talk about one of my very favorite religiously-themed movies. If you observe, I wish you a very happy Fourth of July.

  31. Mary

    Hi again,
    I am curious what you think about that new Exorcist series coming to Fox T.V in the fall.

  32. rennyo01 Post author

    Hi again, Mary –

    Actually I don’t get TV so of course I’m not watching it. Saw some ads on YouTube and I wasn’t impressed. Not a big fan of Geena Davis, and the girl who is the apparent target is college age – just too old, I would think, to have the vulnerability of Regan/Blair. Have you been watching it, and if so, do you like it…?

  33. Mary

    I think it starts next month. I don’t plan on watching. I think it’s a bit late in the day for a remake/tie in. The 2nd film by John Goodman was a waste of time. The 3rd film that Blatty did, however, I very much enjoyed. I had no desire to see the 4th. There is a wonderful segment on YouTube about the origin of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Worth watching!

  34. rennyo01 Post author

    Yeah, I think your instincts on the TV show are right… Agreed – Ex III is the only true Exorcist sequel, and I, too, really like it. I’ll check out the You Tube vid about Tubular Bells – thanks for the heads-up! Have a great week.

    bastasch 8647

  35. ANT

    Ok, just watched the original version in the theater in super huge HD. I think the crucifix on Regan’s bed was placed there by Burk, and also why he is killed in a gruesome manner. It is found when she comes home and shuts the open window, but before she knows he has died.

  36. ANT

    You are mistaken I believe on a few interpretations as well.
    The Amulet….I believe the medallion found at the dig site was meant to link the priests’ contemporary battle of “good vs evil” to the past and show that it has been this way since the first civilizations; and that specifically another priest/christian fought this demon in times past. That ancient evil is what possesses Regan not because they dug it up, but because evil has always been around doing bad things.
    The museum curator says “evil against evil” when Merrin is fingering the Christian amulet not because Pazuzu fought Lamashtu (too obscure) but because the curator is Muslim and would see Christian saints as false idols or “evil”. Pazuzu nor Lamashtu is ever named nor would an audience have any idea who they were or their significance, but the Western audience, especially Catholics, would understand that it is a amulet depicting a Saint as that is clearly shown. The curator is thus acknowledging that the Christian amulet, from another time period, and the small statue in the same place signifies a battle between the too deities, but since he is Muslim and does not acknowledge either deity, he refers to them both as evil.
    Merrin recognizes the small statue as evil since he had seen evil before, and the clock stopping was an omen, possibly symbolizing several things; the evil’s power, that evil is timeless, that it’s time for Merrin to fight evil again or possibly that it’s Merrin’s last fight and his time is up, etc., etc.
    You are both wrong and right that it is not Pazuzu that possesses Regan. Friedkin has said that it IS the demon represented at the dig site that possesses her, but I believe it is never named by Merrin or mentioned in the film because he see’s it as being timeless, old like God; just as the words and pronunciations and spellings for God/Jehovah/Jesus/Yeshwa have changed throughout history – whatever name Man gave it in ancient times is meaningless, it is and always has been.
    Look up Friedkin’s and Blatty’s multiple commentaries and documentaries on the subject and most of the questions above are answered plainly. Both are religious and saw the film and book as an affirmation of their faith.

  37. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for stopping by. You wrote: “The museum curator says “evil against evil” when Merrin is fingering the Christian amulet”, which is incorrect, because Merrin is not handling the St. Joseph medal, but rather the Pazuzu amulet. As a Muslim who rejects Pagan charms, the curator is remarking on the irony that Pagans thought that they could combat evil by evil means, in this case Pazuzu and his representative amulet.

    But agreed on most of the other things you said. But my point that the possessing demon being Pazuzu still stands because:
    1. Pazuzu in Christian and Jewish theology is not a demon, nor is “he” an entity that possesses anyone. Jesus never exorcises Pazuzu or the Devil, either. Every exorcism does represent a moral defeat for Beelzebul, but Jesus never casts out Beelezebul or Pazuzu.
    2. The simple reason that Merrin never calls the demon by name indicates that he doesn’t know its name. The Roman Ritual specifies that if possible the exorcist must find out the demon’s name because that gives a certain power over the demon. That Merrin never mentions the demon’s name strongly suggests that he doesn’t know it.

    Thanks again, and please visit the blog any time you want to.

  38. rennyo01 Post author

    You wrote: “I think the crucifix on Regan’s bed was placed there by Burke, and also why he is killed in a gruesome manner.” Not likely, because Burke is not Catholic and would have no reason to be in possession of a crucifix to begin with. The most likely culprit is Karl, who is Catholic. Burke was killed in a gruesome manner because the demon wanted to “put the message out there” that a sinister, witchcraft-like force was loose in the area, and to cast suspicion on Karras (who had the requisite knowledge about Satanism from his research) and onto Regan (who had, in the novel, been reading her Mom’s borrowed book about the occult and possession).

    You wrote: ” It is found when she comes home and shuts the open window, but before she knows he has died”, which is incorrect, because Chris finds the crucifix much later, in broad daylight, when she happens to fluff Regan’s pillow, and then confronts Karl and Sharon if they’re the ones who placed it there. Earlier, when Chris comes back at night and closes the open window, there is nothing amiss except the open window itself.

  39. Demian

    I have a question, when the demon takes Karras body and he sees his mother face on the window, what does that mean? is it the spirit of Karras helping him to overcome the demon just for a moment ?

  40. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for stopping by. You know, I don’t care for that scene very much. It was a “restored” footage scene that was only put into the director’s cut. I
    I don’t know what it means. Maybe, like you say, it’s Karras’ unconscious trying to help him out by giving him a picture of Mary Karras. That’s my best guess, too!

  41. Mary

    Hey,
    Did you ever get to watch that piece with Tubular Bells I told you about on YouTube? I forgot to mention the name is called Exit Music. It is really worth a watch!
    Also, I just saw that alternative ending where Father Dyer meets up with Kinderman and they walk off arm in arm. I thought Kinderman quoting from Casablanca was a nice way to end it. I thought it was better than the lackluster ending they decided on. I was never satisfied with it.
    Cheers!

  42. rennyo01 Post author

    Hi, Mary –

    Sorry, I seem to have lost the link to the you tube Tubular Bells piece, would you mind telling me again where to find it…?
    Yes, I enjoyed the “new” ending in the director’s cut…but a lot of people don’t “get” that it is a reframing of the Karras-Kinderman joking dialogue from earlier in the story, meant to express that what had begun with Karras was going to continue with Dyer. It’s more emotionally satisfying than the original ending with Dyer just walking away from the steps…

  43. Mary

    Go to YouTube. It is entitled, A Musical History Of Death, Exit Music by Tom Allen. It is DEFINITELY worth watching! Enjoy!

  44. rennyo01 Post author

    Mary, I just watched the you tube video – very cleverly done – thanks again for the heads-up!

  45. rennyo01 Post author

    Absolutely spot-on clever and professional presentation. The planning behind it was a little boggling!

  46. Steve

    My take on the Pazuzu statue in the bedroom scene is that it is not worship that the demon is performing in front of the statue, but suffering. Pazuzu is a deity known to fight demons, and when his statue appears in front of the demon, the demon is howling as if in pain. If the demon had been worshipping, my take is that he would have been silent and in kneeling position. You dont start screeching in front of something you are worshipping, thus what is happening is the demon is railing against Pazuzu’s presence, and suffering from it.

    It could well be that Pazuzu had invited himself to ally with the priests efforts and make the demon suffer – an attack from two different angles on the demon. If true, this could have implications for the films opening. The part where Merrin faces the statue might well be taken as two allies meeting each other – and agreeing a wordless pact to fight what is coming. It could even be that Merrin himself does not recognise this at the time.

  47. Steve

    A further point to support my view is that the demon’s objective was to kill Regan in front of Merrin. Once Merrin dies, the objective should then logically be to kill her in front of Karras. But instead the demon takes up Karras’ offer and here is why I think that was.

    The demon up until the appearance of Pazuzu, was winning the battle. I believe Pazuzu’s appearance was a turning point and made the demon lose hope. This is why I think the demon readily accepted Karras’ offer and vacates Regan’s soul, which was to be his prize. This switching of bodies was basically an admittance of defeat, due to the losing of hope that he could win. I think Pazuzu had convinced the demon that it wasn’t going to win, and that is why I think the demon abandonded his goal of killing Regan, and vacated her soul at the first opportunity, which was Karras’ offer to it.

    Long story short, Pazuzu’s appearance had weakened the demon at the point where it had been at its strongest and most cocky. This would have left to a massive loss of confidence in itself. The demon was convinced from that moment onwards that it was on borrowed time and took the first available route out.

    It took the threat of Pazuzu to drive the demon out, but it took the priest to dispose of it. They were working in tandem, whether the priest knew it, or even wanted it.

  48. Steve

    And lastly, lets also not forget “evil against evil”. I believe there was some significance in that line for my theory.

  49. Steve

    A yet further thought which might explain the presence of a catholic medallion in the presence of a pagan amulet. I dont think the medallion was there to anull the presence of the pagan amulet. I think both of those items were placed in the hole as a suggestion of protectionism – the human need for protection…….an icon of Pazuzu, a protectorate of the old world, placed in a hole with an icon of St Joseph, who represents the modern church, the protector of the new world. I think both of these items were there for protection against demons, not that the medallion was placed to cancel out the “evil” amulet. The presence of these items in close proximity in a hole, the presence of the priest in front of the statue meaning the same thing – It sets up the movies premise, that both of these entities are unwitting allies in the fight against true evil.

  50. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for the interesting ideas. I think that they might be applicable to the film. But in the novel Merrin does take the Pazuzu statue, along with many other omens, to be premonitions of evil. But if as you say, the opposite is true, then St. Joseph, Pazuzu, and Merrin could indeed be acting as unwitting allies. One remaining question would be – why are the Christian medal and the Pagan amulet placed together in one spot – what makes that particular spot appropriate for such a placement…?

  51. rennyo01 Post author

    You wrote, “Lets also not forget that Pazuzu is a protector of pregnant women, so he has a soft spot for children.”

    Good point – something that is never considered by many of those who insist that Pazuzu is the possessing entity – by nature, he should be kind to kids and not be possessing them!

  52. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for sharing you interesting “take” on Pazuzu and other Exorcist issues. I can tell you’ve spent time and energy on interpreting this continually fascinating story!

  53. Mary

    Hi again.
    Something else. Beatty said he based the relationship between Regan and her mother by watching Shirley MacLaine and her daughter. Someone told me recently that it wasn’t just their mother-daughter interactions, but Blatty also based the urinating on the rug sequence from an actual incident which happened during one of MacLaine’s parties where her daughter did the same. That was supposedly what she was the most upset with Blatty about when he revealed that he used them as models for Regan and Chris.
    Did you ever hear of this?

  54. rennyo01 Post author

    Hi, Mary … Yes, I’ve heard that, but I’ve also heard that both Blatty and MacLaine repudiated it. My impression is that MacLaine was mostly upset simply about the invasion of privacy in making red-headed entertainer-actress Chris MacNeil and her equally red-headed daughter much too similar to the actual people. That’s really all I know about it.

  55. Steve

    You wrote – Thanks for the interesting ideas. I think that they might be applicable to the film. But in the novel Merrin does take the Pazuzu statue, along with many other omens, to be premonitions of evil. But if as you say, the opposite is true, then St. Joseph, Pazuzu, and Merrin could indeed be acting as unwitting allies

    Hi, thanks for the replies. I definitely need to read the novel as my above posts only refer to what I got from the movie. I may be forced to re-evaluate once I’ve read the book and am looking forward to it. A further thought in reply to what you wrote about Merrin’s take on things. If you think about it, Merrin has the right to be just as confused about what was happening as any of us are. He may well even have thought that he was fighting Pazuzu as the possessing demon – there is nothing to say that anyone in the movie understood what was happening and just who it was they were fighting, and who they weren’t, and they didn’t have the luxury of time to think and analyse like we do here. So if the story is told through Merrin;s eyes, we may well be given the same impression’s he was working to.

    What I’m trying to get at is that there may have been ignorance on the part of the characters as to what exactly was going on, and there definitely would have been confusion. To Merrin, evil is evil. But I’ve done enough reading about Pazuzu to know that he was beyond simple black and white concepts, and existed in the grey areas in between, like most of us in the real world are forced to.

    Put yourself in their shoes in an imaginary analogy. You are confronted by a man who wishes you harm (the possessing demon). Then along comes another man, equally as rough looking (Pazuzu) and an almighty fight ensues between the three of you. You dont have time to stop and ask whether the third man is fighting against you or what his motives are, you’re already in the fight and just have to fight.

    Meanwhile, from the third man’s perspective (pazuzu), he saw you being attacked and came to your aid, The fact that you didn’t have the time, or wider picture, to tell that he was there to help wouldn’t have been anyone’s fault.

    It all depends from which perspective the story is being told. Is it being told by Merrin? Or by Pazuzu, because in either case you get a different story based on differing perspectives. Or are we just given the basic facts and left to decide for ourselves what is going on?

    I’ve been watching this movie since I was a kid and only just started thinking about these things. I wanted to thank you also for providing the area for discussion and for sharing your original ideas which were what got me thinking in the first place.

  56. rennyo01 Post author

    You’re very welcome, and thanks for stopping by the blog. Yes, it would be a very different scenario if Pazuzu showed up, as you said, and the characters just wouldn’t have the time or the inclination to ask what the third party’s motivations might be, and it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault for not recognizing that he came into the fight specifically to help you. In that scenario, confusion would reign, and you would have no idea that Big P showed up to help you – talk about his anonymity being a heroic refusal to take any credit!

  57. Steve

    Sorry to do this, I wanted to just leave one post but I’ve just had a further thought as to why ignorance may have played a part in the film.

    It seems to me that Merrin may be obsessed with Pazuzu, and may have convinced himself that every fight he fought against demons was against Pazuzu. But it stands to reason, that if you’re going to spend your life poking around in the world of demons, then you’re going to come up against some – and they’re not all going to be pazuzu. Digging around in the demonic world looking for a fight is a bit like poking a hornets nest with a stick, You;re going to rile up all sorts of stuff. I’m beginning to wonder if Merrin was suffering from an obssession, and that through his eyes, all these things he stirs up are pazuzu, when it could just be that he poked a hornets nest, and even recieves help from the very same entity he was spoiling for a fight with.

    For me, it all depends on perspective. How can we know for sure what is in Merrin’s head, and how can we know for sure that what is in his head is the actual reality of the situation, as opposed to just his perception of it?

    I really do need to read the novel.

  58. rennyo01 Post author

    Yes, the novel will give you all the information that Blatty has on Merrin – of course, it doesn’t tell everything. From the novel I get the idea that Merrin is not a “professional” exorcist – he doesn’t try to stir up hornets’ nests of demons. He, like Karras, is a Jesuit who has a vocation in the secular world as well – Karras in psychiatry, Merrin in paleontology. I get the idea from the book that Merrin was in some African backwater doing an archaeological project when he encountered a possession victim. Probably being the only priest in the area, he went ahead with an exorcism, again, probably, after seeking permission from the nearest bishop. This is a similar situation as occurs with Karras, who is doing his priestly-psychiatric “thing”, when a possession victim is brought to his attention. Neither man is a professional exorcist. The only difference is that Merrin has had an experience with it twelve years earlier

    So Blatty’s story takes up twelve years later, when a-or-the demon comes into play. We don’t know its name, but Blatty does make clear that it is the demon from the African exorcism because the demon is quite familiar with Merrin and his “sins”, and even tells Merrin, “THIS TIME, YOU’RE GOING TO LOSE”. “This time” in contrast to “last time”.

    So rather than multiplying demons unnecessarily, it’s simpler and more plausible to view the Georgetown demon as being the same entity as the African demon – who has come back for a grudge match with the saintly old priest-paleontologist.

  59. Steve

    Hi, Yes maybe I was doing Merrin a dis-service by assuming that he was poking around in their world. I’m about a quarter of the way through the novel and I now see I was perhaps judging Merrin unfairly. He wasn’t looking for a fight, the fight came to him, so thanks for setting me on the right path.

    I’ve found something really interesting. Doing as much reading on pazuzu as I have just lately, I am now familiar with his arch rival, Lamashtu and it was while reading up on this vile creature that I happened across something which, if I was a less cynical person, I’d say is a major clue as to who/what possessed Regan, and why it bought Pazuzu into play.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamashtu

    Pay particular attention to her Sumerian name “Dimme”.

    Do you think Blatty could have given Damien this nickname as a mischievous clue that links back to the invading demon? Because if Regan had been possessed by Lamashtu (and she hates children so it makes more sense for her to be the culprit than it does for Pazuzu), this would also explain what Pazuzu was doing there……which was royally kicking the ass of his favourite bullseye right out of the body of Regan and back to hell.

    Just something to ponder, it could be something and it could just be a stretch of the imagination. It jumped right out at me when I wiki’d Lamashtu and saw that.

  60. Steve

    P.S If there is any truth in that link at all, it would have several implications for specific scenes.
    Perhaps its the viewer who is ignorant, and not Merrin. One has to assume that Merrin is also familiar with Lamashtu, perhaps he knew all along that it was Lamashtu that he’d had a premonition of, and perhaps this is what gave him the impulse to visit Pazuzu. Was he there because he knew who the real threat was? Was he asking for help from the one entity he knew hated this threat? I wish I knew what had been in Merrin’s head at that moment. Perhaps it is me who is the ignorant one. It wouldn’t be the first time 😉

  61. Steve

    I finished the novel last night. It only raises more questions and doesn’t have any answers for me. I feel like Kinderman, looking for the details, and knowing I’m not going to find any. In the end, like him, I’m going to have to conclude that it doesn’t matter who the invading demon was, doesn’t matter what Pazuzu’s role was if he even had a role or not. Maybe he even was the invader. To be honest, I dont think I care anymore. What matters is that Damien got rid of the stinking beast – that’s the only way I can think of it that has any kind of satisfaction at all, because looking for anything else ends up in no satisfaction and only questions.

    I do still think the “dimme” link is interesting though. I’d love to ask Blatty about it.

    Time to move on I think, but once again, thanks for a brilliant blog, and a great discussion. I really enjoyed trying to get my teeth into the details, and probably showed a lot of ignorance along the way. I know for a fact that I definitely owe Fr Merrin an apology!

    I was going to watch pt III next but I dont think I will. I dont like the thought of Damien’s soul continuing to suffer, He’s suffered enough for now. Take care.

  62. Doctor Sleep

    Steve, your theory blew my mind! It might not be true, but it totally works with the film!

    I love the exorcist (both the book and the film) and every time I watch the film more questions arise. Now, the sentence “Evil against Evil” has way more sense! Thanks for sharing such an interesting theory!

  63. rennyo01 Post author

    Steve, thanks for sharing your interesting ideas. I’m glad that you read the book, which does tend to fill in some of the film’s gaps. Have a great week.

  64. dur777ga

    Wow! The theory of Pazuzu being a protector is very interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way. I definitely assumed that Pazuzu was the invading entity. One thing I disagree with is that the scene with the statue during the exorcism could not have been a tribute to Pazuzu. To me, it looked as if the demon was pupating the girl’s body in a grotesque praise dance. I saw it as a moment of triumph and the manifestation of the statue (although done in a silly way), as an illustration of the demon’s growing power and further manifestation on the physical plane.

  65. rennyo01 Post author

    Yes, that could be…however, since not even Merrin knows the demon’s identity – he can only refer to it as “the demon”, and doesn’t call it “Pazuzu”, I take this scene to be a case of Friedkin overreacting. The scene doesn’t exist in the novel.

  66. Newhouse75

    I’m sorry, but during the possession, when Regen is reaching her hands out you see the profile of pazuzu next you her. End of debate

  67. rennyo01 Post author

    Not the end of the debate. That scene was inserted into the story by the director. It does not exist in the book. Moreover, it’s a vision/hallucination manifesting to Regan, Karras, and Merrin. Had Chris or Karl or Sharon came into the room at that point, chances are they would not have seen it. Friedkin unwisely took it upon himself to “up the shock” by having the Pazuzu statue appear during the exorcism.

    More importantly, Merrin – the story’s only expert – does not know the demon’s name. He can only refer to it as “the demon”. The Roman Ritual instructs the exorcist to find out the demon’s name, much as Jesus asked the possessed Gadarene man’s demon its name, the idea being that knowing the name gives the exorcist power over the demon. Had Merrin known the demon’s name, Blatty, with his expertise on the subject, would have had Merrin use the device during the exorcism. But he does not do so.

    Those who insist that the possessing entity is Pazuzu need to explain why the chief exorcist, who has had experience with the entity, doesn’t know its name. To me that’s an insurmountable obstacle, so for me the debate ends there. Unlike the Captain Howdy faces, the Pazuzu statue in Regan’s room is inconsistent with the demon’s essential unknowability. The clumsily inserted scene unfortunately reifies an issue that Blatty kept subtle and mysterious.

  68. Mary

    Hi again,
    Please refresh my memory. Is the archeology dig in the book? Does Merrin find that amulet? Is Pazuzu ever mentioned in the book? The scene where Merrin stands face to face with that large Pazuzu statue on the cliff with the wind whipping around them, is that in the book?

  69. rennyo01 Post author

    Hi,
    The dig is in the novel and mentions the discovery of Pazuzu architecture/sculpture. Merrin finds many artifacts, Pazuzu relics among them, but Pazuzu is not mentioned in the book except as an ancient Middle Eastern deity whose domain was sickness and who operated in the southwest wind. He never shows up again in the exorcism or in Regan’s clay sculpture that Kinderman finds at the bottom of the steps (it’s not a Pauzu head – it’s a toy turtle or hippo). The novel doesn’t mention much about Pazuzu’s positive side as a protector of pregnant women – he’s mostly sinister in the novel. The novel doesn’t have the literal Pazuzu statue-Merrin facedown – that was Friedkin’s imaginative crystallization of the premonitions and omens that Merrin was experiencing.

  70. Mary

    Okay, so why did Blatty write such a confusing screenplay? If those were Friendkin’s ideas, I wonder if Blatty had any say so. I would have argued about making Pazuzu important, if he wasn’t in the novel.

  71. rennyo01 Post author

    I really don’t know that answer, sorry. I do know that Friedkin actually banned Blatty from the set because Blatty was acting anxious, argumentative, and critical. Same thing happened with Deliverance – John Boorman banned James Dickey from the set for much the same reasons. Probably Blatty didn’t even know the extent of Friedkin’s tampering with the screenplay. Blatty’s use of ancient Middle Eastern folkloric/demonological belief was very subtle in the novel, but Freidkin tended to solidify or reify it for cinematic purposes. I really think the literalism of showing the Pazuzu statue in Regan’s room would have gone against Blatty’s implicit intentions…

  72. rennyo01 Post author

    I addressed my reply to Mary, who wrote to me:
    ==========
    Mary

    October 27, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Okay, so why did Blatty write such a confusing screenplay? If those were Friendkin’s ideas, I wonder if Blatty had any say so. I would have argued about making Pazuzu important, if he wasn’t in the novel.
    ============
    I
    can’t explain how you got my reply to Mary’s post.

    A technical issue may have messed it up, since obviously I do not wish to talk to you at all, and you do not wish to talk to me, and so in the future I will do everything to prevent it, which should make both of us happy.

  73. rennyo01 Post author

    Also, you wrote:
    You started sending me messages as mary(conveniently when I wouldn’t respond to you as Renny)

    I NEVER posted anything to anyone except as Rennyo01. The only explanation is a WordPress glitch, for which I am not responsible.

  74. JCCland

    Thanks for the awesome blog. It has really enhanced the movie for me.I feel like Merrin facing the Pazuzu statue in Iraq is reminding Merrin that there is still evil in the world to “protect against” and it is timeless. Finding the Pazuzu and St. Joseph amulet just show that we all have our religious ideas on what can protect us, but ultimately it is pure love that defeats the demon. It wasn’t a Sumerian god or a Catholic Symbol that defeated the demon, It was Karris making the ultimate sacrifice (like Christ). Also, having done some research I think it is clear the demon that possessed Regan is not Pazuzu, that is unless Blatty just randomly picked an evil looking ancient deity out of the encyclopedia, because it definitely does not fit his M.O..

  75. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for your generous words and for visiting the blog. Yes, that Iraq prologue underscores all the points you make about the world’s evil, as well as its good (like the St. Joseph medal Merrin finds and the other one that Karras is wearing)…

  76. Mario Geraci

    I really enjoyed this article and the all of the following comments.I am also convinced convinced that pazuzu isnt necessarily the entity in control of the young girl regan, something i suspected for a long time but the film had put me in conflict especially the exorcism scene where the statue appears to the priests and Regan seems to almost be calling on it. there is a point in the exorcism ritual where the priests demand the possessing entity name itself and I always took that scene as a sort of visceral representation of that announcement “the power of Christ” compelling it in sorts to announce itself to command its presence so it could be cast.
    Thats how I always took that scene to be, but as you stated it does not exist in the book as it names itself no one or nowonmai( i am no one backwards of course) to me this adds a more sinister even lovecraftian sort of element to the possessing entity , its nameless and formless and of the void looking to manifest itself.we are really not meant to know who or what it is or what its part of , pazuzu i think was more an aesthetic representation by the possessing entity to sort of reveal itself I guess. The less one knows the better the story too.
    I think in all honesty pazuzu as you said also represents a warning to Merrin that something has been ‘excavated’ in a place in the world that was and still is a hotbed of evils.
    My questions being, has Blatty ever explcitly stated in any interview or try to discredit the idea that the possessing entity is pazuzu,or do you think he’s soimply made a choice not to be clear for the sake of discussion?
    Ive watched the show as well, aside a few ideas here and there that seem Blatty esque the show is hideous hokey and misses everything (as did most of the sequels do) important. they’ve even named the demon once again pazuzu in the penultimate episode. it makes exorcist 2 look like casablanca.
    As far as the true exorcist sequel points ,I believe blatty himself stated not only legion to be the true sequel ( though I feel the film sequel exorcist 3 feels incomplete more like a postscript to the original, still good though) and his book/film the ninth configuration is also the other ‘true seque’ to the exorcist and I highly recommend it
    . The st christopher medal is featured as is one of the main characters , Captain Cutshaw , was the astronaut regan claims “is gonna die up there” in the original exorcist before she urinates on the floor.
    Cutshaw winds up in this institution for military personnel after suffering a nervouse breakdown before a mission.
    anyhow i ramble. thank you again for this great article, i will certainly refer to it if this ever comes up in discussion
    mario

  77. rennyo01 Post author

    Mario, thank you for your comments and your kind words. Blatty, when asked an off-the-cuff question as to the demon’s identity, said that he “guessed” it was Pazuzu. However, I doubt his reply had much thought behind it, considering how allegorical he made the Merrin v. the demon story and how open to interpretation it is. Not to mention that Merrin seems not to know the demon’s name, and that the Bible never mentions a demon named “Pazuzu”. That’s why I stick with the demon’s anonymity. … Thanks too for your views on the TV show – “makes Exorcist II look like Casablanca” – very funny, and that’s what I’ve heard about it, too!

  78. Cherann80

    This blog was very insightful! As someone who has seen the movie a dozen times and recently read the novel twice, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with this story. The movie left me with so many unanswered questions, and thankfully the novel provided some answers. Still, there were many questions I had lingering in my noggin.
    Why was Dennings up in Reagan’s room that evening? Was it to check up on her? Was he just bored and started wandering around the house? This has always puzzled me.
    Is it just coincidence that Merrin fought the demon in Africa 12 years earlier and Regan is turning 12? I kind of think there’s a significance there, like maybe when the demon was first exorcised by Merrin it fled and found Regan and formed an attachment to her but laid dormant: regaining it’s strength for another possession. Just a thought.
    Where do you think the name Captain Howdy came from? In the novel, Chris thinks it might be a play on her father’s name. It’s just one of those things I keep wondering about.
    I appreciate your insight on this. I very much enjoyed this blog and reading all the comments. Thank you. 😊

  79. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for dropping by, and for the kind works. I think some of the questions need to be left as questions, since neither Blatty’s novel nor his screenplay/Friedkin’s film give any solid advice. Denning’s presence in Regan’s room is not explained, but since Blatty never invokes it as a meaningful event, it functions as a plot device to make known (especially to witchcraft expert Damien Karras) the demon’s presence and behavior (murdering in a supposedly witchcraft-like manner). That’s my best theory.

    Same with the demon finding Regan. Regan was 12; the first exorcism therefore would have occurred around the time of her birth, so perhaps the demon was in some sense aware of her existence, and then became active as Captain Howdy once Merrin realized that he would soon be facing the demon again. So in that sense, the demon could have been “dormant”, i.e., passively watching Merrin and Regan until the time was ripe to strike. Probably Captain Howdy’s origins are the result of the demon playing on Regan’s insecurities around the absence of her father, Howard (“Howdy”). She loved and missed her dad, and the demon knew it and exploited it as a weakness.

  80. Daniel

    Hi … this is totally fascinating …. I first saw the movie and read the book in junior high … I have always seen the main concept as good versus evil period … In the deleted scene where Merrin and Karras are talking about why her …Merrin hits the nail on the head when he says something to the effect of “to see ourselves as animal and ugly … to reject the possibility that God could love us” … I feel that scene should not have been deleted. The other item I would like to mention is the “name” of the demon … yes I am aware of the Rules set down in the Ritulae Romanum but Jesus said “i give you power to cast out devils in my name” … he didn’t say oh wait but first ask them their name. That is a rule made up by the Catholic Church. To me it doesn’t really matter which demon it is .. it is evil and needs to be exorcised pure and simple. I do understand where the name part could come from though. Being that half of my family is Jewish I understand that to know a name is to have power over something/one. That is why YHWH is used or “The Lord” etc. Perhaps that is where the Ritual derives that “rule” … well these are my thoughts for now. By the way I did enjoy Exorcist: The Beginning. Dominion was too “Star Trekky” at the end. And enjoyed Exorcist III: Legion though as many have criticized it seemed that the Exorcism scene was thrown in at the last … but Colleen Dewhurst’s voice scared me more than Mercedes McCambridge’s lol. Thanks in advance for reading and have a blessed day.

  81. rennyo01 Post author

    Hi Daniel – thanks for dropping by. It’s always nice to meet another Exorcist enthusiast!

    Per getting the demon’s name: I think the Roman Ritual is biblical in that it follows Jesus’ example in what is probably the NT’s most notable exorcism, i.e., the Gadarene demoniac, where Jesus demands to know the demon’s name…which of course is “Legion”, thus giving Blatty a rich field from which to choose his sequel’s title and theme.

    I agree that Friedkin must have been nuts to cut the stairway scene between Merrin and Karras – it forms the heart of the “rationale” for possession, and it’s clearly true. In the book and the film, the demon does use Regan’s body as a vehicle for attack just about everybody who comes into its presence, including doctors. And in the process the demon succeeds in making the witnesses feel very ugly and unlovable. And scared.

    I, too, love Exorcist III, even with its tacked on Fr. Paul Morning and exorcism. It “felt like” The Exorcist because Blatty brought the demon back in, whereas it was only lurking n the corners in the novel, and because he was able to get Damien/Jason Miller back for the Karras/Gemini role.

    Nice meeting you!

  82. Daniel

    I remember the NT reference you mention … I have always considered it generic … “call us Legion for we are many” … to me that isn’t a demon’s name because it refers to a “Legion” or “army” …. And this makes sense in the context of Jesus saying “when a demon leaves it invites seven (?) WORSE demons to take it’s place” or something to that effect … so after the Exorcism in Africa “Legion” returned to D.C. with some friends … Merrin says “there is only one” but that kinda contradicts Jesus’ words in the NT. I also remember the different voices on the tape recording as if the “Legion” were having a conversation. Just some more thoughts … could be wrong but something seems to fit.

  83. rennyo01 Post author

    Yes, “legion” could stand for many demons, but I was just saying that the Roman Ritual is biblical in that it emulates Jesus’ own example.

    It’s hard to reconcile Merrin’s “There is only one” with the demonic chatter that Karras records. Maybe Merrin was correct if he was thinking of the apparently single demon he encountered 12 years earlier in Africa. By the time THAT demon possessed Regan, perhaps others hooked on and “joined the party”. Oh – don’t know if you noticed (it was pointed out to me) but on the left of the stairway where Karras is pictured dying, there is graffiti that says “PIGS”, which some think is a reference to the herd of swine in the Gadarene story. I don’t know if it was there already or if Friedkin’s crew painted it on…

  84. Derek Marusarz

    When Fr. Karras is told to get out by Fr. Merrin, Regan is under restraint. When Fr. Karras returns to find Fr. Merrin dead from a heart attack/failure, Regan is out of her straps, the sheets are off the bed, and she is sitting on one of the bed corners. What must/could have transpired in Regan’s bedroom between the time Fr. Karras leaves and returns to the room for that to have happened? Maybe he just died and then she freed herself? It may not be a big deal, but somehow that has always intrigued me.

  85. Derek Marusarz

    Incidentally, as a Christian, my favorite part is the “commands you” litany. Max von Sydow delivers it with such conviction and I find it spiritually uplifting. Especially his tone of voice when he says “The blood of the martyrs commands you.” To me he is saying nothing short of “you can have your “fun” tormenting people now, but in the end, you will lose and don’t you forget it.”

  86. Mary

    I always going or granted the restraints broke. There was an earlier closeup of the demon breaking the wrist straps during the exorcism. Also, I was told that earlier, when Kinderman is sitting in his car, looking up towards Regan’s bedroom, he sees a shadowy silhouette walking around, that was supposed to be Regan. If that is true, then the demon was able to get out of the restraints at will.

  87. rennyo01 Post author

    Good thinking there… I suppose it may have been a convenient thing for Friedkin to already have Regan out of the straps – so that Karras would be able to “attack” here without any messy undoing of the straps – just a cinematic way to avoid a lengthier “fight scene”. OR… yes, she could have broken the straps and killed Merrin, but as we already know that Merrin’s heart is weak, to me it’s pretty plain that he just keeled over…

  88. rennyo01 Post author

    Yes, all those liturgical commands are stirring, heroic language, the kind that is seldom used in films about supernatural evil. One of my favorites is when Merrin tells the demon that he knows he’s a sinner, but it is God Himself – not the merely human Merrin – who commands the demon to leave. In the book, Merrin had carried the sin of pride, and this particular line shows that God is in control despite Merrin’s personal failings.

  89. Jar

    What do you suppose is the significance of Karras repeatedly asking the demon to prove its power? The demon knows Karras’s mother died, and Karras asks it her maiden name. The demon telekinetically opens a drawer, and Karras asks it to do it again. And what would you say it means that the demon failed/refused these follow-up tests?

  90. rennyo01 Post author

    I think the demon’s prime conceit is to confuse everyone. Merrin tells Karras that the demon is a liar, and deceit involves lying. It wants to lead Karras along. First it opens the drawer to get Karras’s interest going. Then it refuses his request to open it again. This could indicate to Karras that Regan is really possessed; on the other hand, he could also think it’s mere paranormal, not demonic, activity. Had the demon repeated the event, Karras would have a much firmer idea that the demon was real and in control of psychic energy. But the demon’s refusal confuses and frustrates Karras. So my hunch is that the demon was not failing to repeat the event, but deliberately refused to do so, in order to hint to Karras that the demon didn’t really have the consistent power to do such things. Karras: “Did you do that?” Demon: “Uh-huhhhh…” Karras: “Do it again.” Demon: “Later, perhaps.” Karras: “No, now! [we can hear his frustration]”. Same thing when Karras asks the demon for Mary Karras’s maiden name. Karras: “What is it? … What is it?” and gets a face-full of vomit as an “answer”. Here, too, the demon is leading Karras on, just to the point of confirmation of a genuine possession – but then the demon turns it around by spitting on Karras in the most repulsive way possible.

    So, I see such events as exemplifying the demon’s utter contempt for human beings and Karras in particular.

    Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for your question.

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