Category Archives: literature

Exorcist III plot points explained

Most of this post is copied, with some revision, from a reply I made to a poster on the imdb Exorcist discussion board at

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A surprising number of viewers seem not to make, or to understand the clear connection between Exorcist III’s demon  with that of the first film and novel (“Pazuzu”, if you will). Some express confusion about who is possessing Damien Karras’ reanimated body – is it a demon? is it Vennamun the Gemini Killer? how does this work? It turns out that, in Exorcist III, Karras’ soul is being held prisoner by The Exorcist’s one and only demon. They are identical personages – as Fr. Merrin would say, “There is only one” – and the resonance between the demonic personality in both films is easily understood when analysed step by step:

At the end of the first story, Fr. Damien Karras is free of the temporary possession he had called upon himself, he has saved Regan from the demon’s oppression and her mother Chris MacNeil from all the horror and anxiety that condition had caused… and Damien Karras is on his way to God and the Communion of Saints … BUT THEN – (and this only according to the Exorcist III plot rewrite)…

The victorious Karras’ ascending soul is somehow, through wicked supernatural mechanisms, caught by the expelled “Pazuzu” and forced back inside the priest’s nearly-dead body … THEN

The vengeful demon places, as controlling agent, the soul of recently-executed serial killer James Vennamun/the Gemini Killer, back inside Karras’ body … THEREBY CAUSING

… The tormented Karras to be trapped inside his old body (except for brief articulate moments when Vennamun and/or the demon go into a state of “dormancy” and Karras utters snatches of prayer and once calls out to police detective Kinderman), while he watches Vennamun use his body as a vehicle and sometimes as the direct tool for a carrying out a new killing spree, this time in Georgetown … THEREBY NECESSITATING

… The rescue of Karras:  The former rescuer of Regan and Chris – has now himself become the subject of rescue by a concerted effort by exorcist Fr. Paul Morning and Karras’ former acquaintance, Detective Bill Kinderman … with all this being ATTESTED TO by Vennamun himself

Vennamun, speaking with Karras’ vocal chords, informs Kinderman that Vennamun has returned precisely because the original demon, who Karras expelled via his act of self-sacrifice, wants revenge on Karras, Karras’ friends, and certain others involved in the original exorcism. Vennamun says, in words to the effect, that the demon, after “being expelled from the body of a child, was not pleased … My Master, one of those Others over there on the other side…the cruel ones” hatched this plot to create a “scandal for all men who seek faith” by returning to earth in a proxy manner through the use of Karras’ body and Vennamun’s tenancy of said body. So:

The explanation, the method, and the crisis are thus perfectly explicated in Vennamun’s dialogue.

Hence, ideally at least, there ought to be no room for confusion on the part of the attentive viewer. Blatty’s rewritten screenplay, which originally contained no Damien Karras and no exorcism, has laid out all these changes quite concisely. Listen to Vennamun’s (convincingly performed by Brad Dourif) explanation and you have the entire plot rationale. It is surprising that so many, viewers cannot, do not, or will not understand this fully explained demonic modus operandi.

[As my imdb correspondent listed, these are the demon’s main motives in this film:]

Exorcist 3:
Revenge on a dead Karras
Destroy Kinderman spiritually
Spread more general ugliness in the world

[My reply:]

I think that your comment is perceptive and true – about Karras (not to mention Dyer and others formerly involved, even tangentially, in the MacNeil case)…but especially of Kinderman.

In the beginning, Kinderman complains to Fr. Dyer about all manner of ugliness in the world, and finds it nearly impossible to find a living, responsible and responsive God behind the mess. Then, at the end, to his own horror and impotent rage, Kinderman finds that the demon has forced the aging detective to make a “statement of belief” in the demon and everything it represents (“… I… believe… in… YOU!, says the wretched Kinderman).

Kinderman’s only solace in all this consists, perhaps only in his finding, against his skeptical instincts, that the supernatural truly does exist and sometimes has commerce with earth. Like Chris MacNeil before him, Kinderman now knows that “the Devil” is real. But also like Chris, Kinderman has been given a tiny gleam of hope: he knows that he and exorcist Fr. Paul Morning have expelled both Vennamun and the demon, and finally sent the now-liberated Damien Karras home to the reward he should rightfully have received at the end of the first novel and film (and which he DID receive before studio tampering forced Blatty to re-conceive the possession method for the film).

Moreover, vis a vis the question of the reality and presence of an actively salvific deity: at the end, Blatty finally steps out from behind the veil he has created – the veil of the absent, non-intervening deity.

For the first time in Blatty’s writing, God is seen to actually intervene in the world/in the present, on behalf of the possessed and those who are trying to aid him:

Just when all looks lost, a beam of divine light shines through Vennamun’s cell window, quickening the unconscious Morning, warming and strengthening him, permitting him to grasp his crucifix and encourage Karras to overthrow the demon/Vennamun: “Fight! Fight him, Damien!”  Morning’s blessed but desperate admonition – against all logic but on behalf of all hope, finally, through God’s present intervening help – gets through to Damien, who responds to it with a strong, rebellious “NOoooo!”, thus momentarily throwing off the demon and Vennamun, giving Kinderman his chance for human intervention. And in those precious seconds, Kinderman compassionately acts on Damien’s plea: “Bill! Shoot me now, Bill – shoot now … We’ve won… now free me.” Which Kinderman does.

Thus, while the demon was partially successful in increasing ugliness and evil in the world, and for nearly psychically shattering Kinderman through that onslaught, still:  With his direct experience of Morning’s courage, Karras’ endurance, and the certain proof that both evil and holy supernatural events are absolutely real, Kinderman is left with a genuine, though battle-scarred, sense of benediction. And that provides a most fitting and moving end to this film, the only authentic Exorcist sequel.


Origins of Lovecraft’s Cosmic Pessimism

Theories abound about the origins of Lovecraft’s cosmic pessimism. One of them sees Lovecraft’s philosophy as wholly negative and appropriates a kind of language of blame, i.e., it assigns Lovecraft’s “depressing” views to unfortunate events in his “twisted, unhappy” childhood. I don’t think this is an accurate view, and I think that there is very little mystery about the origins of Lovecraft’s belief system.

H.P. Lovecraft was a staunch atheist from about the age of six onward, if not earlier, and a bit later he became just as staunch a materialist and science enthusiast. The “Death of God” came early for Lovecraft, and like millions of other modern people, he had his own reaction to it.

His first reaction was a sense of joy and freedom. Joy in the freedom from what he considered deep superstition and mainstream society’s insane over-valuation of the worth of the world and the human species.

His second reaction was a sense of Cosmicism – i.e., the sober consideration of the (probable) infinity of the non-human universe, unconscious of, and unconcerned with, ephemera such as humankind. Quite understandably, Lovecraft’s fiction reflects this conviction – which he saw as borne out by current science knowledge – of Man’s insignificance in the cosmos.

His third reaction was a sense of oppression, of being trapped in time and space, with the Weird Tale being his only means of escape from the matter that bound him. And I would venture the guess that almost all of us at one time or another – both believer and unbeliever alike – do experience a particularly human sense of alienation from the Cosmos-at-large: so Lovecraft was by no means alone in this feeling. But unlike most of us, he acted on it and expressed it in literature, letters, the Weird Tale, and poetry.

His fourth reaction was an attitude of rebellion against these spacetime constraints. His rebellion did not take the form of religion (which seeks to change perceived cosmic underpinnings from Indifferent to Caring), but in a stark atheistic materialism which seized on the apparently bleak reality revealed by physics and evolutionary theory – an atheism that attacked comforting religious ideas and formulated a Man-unfriendly, anti-religious cosmology and created a unique kind of literary pantheon and Anti-Myth mythos.

In all of the above, Lovecraft was only being human, and being true to his own authentic reactions to the new picture of an  indifferent cosmos that was being revealed by biology and physics. Therefore, caution must be exercised in order to avoid putting too much influence on HPL’s “formative years” – his odd, miserable childhood, his absent, young-dying father, his sickly, anxiety-ridden and in later years mentally ill mother, etc. – in an attempt to portray his later adult views as somehow odd or morbid, because derived from his “unhappy childhood”. His adult views, on the contrary, are largely derived from his intellect and scientific knowledge, and not from (the supposed) cryptic horrors of his childhood and youth. It would be better to let HPL speak for himself – as he surely does in his hundreds of voluminous letters and essays.

More on Cosmicism can be found here:


Some flaws in Blatty’s novel, “Legion”

William Peter Blatty wrote a sequel to his smash hit, The Exorcist. Titled Legion, it is the story of supernatural revenge wrought through a “scandal” engineered by the demon of the first novel.

As Fr. Damien Karras is dying at the bottom  of the steps – after inviting the demon to “come into me” and taking it out the window with him – the angry expelled demon slips the spirit of the dead Gemini Killer into Karras’ dying body. Karras himself goes on to his Heavenly reward, leaving a temporarily empty shell. But the demon soon fills the corpse with the Gemini Killer’s spirit, and arranges for the Gemini to continue his life of serial murders via the body of the saintly Karras.

Unlike the film version, in the Legion novel, Karras is truly gone and does not appear as a character at all. Rather, his corpse is being manipulated by the Gemini, who in turn is being supported, behind the scene, by the demon. Blatty brings back as protagonist police detective William F. Kinderman from the first novel, who must get to the bottom of a new series of murders in Georgetown, and who ultimately, and to his horror, identifies the killer as the Gemini’s spirit, now residing in Karras’ resuscitated corpse. During the process, Kinderman meets Dr. Vincent Amfortas, the novel’s “Karras figure” – a deep but tortured soul; and Amfortas’ nemesis at the clinic, the brilliant but petty and spiteful Dr. Temple.

Although I love this novel, nonetheless I feel that it suffers from seeming to have been written in a hurry, containing jagged edges, irrelevant and baffling material, and leaving important questions unanswered. Some of my criticisms follow:

1. Kinderman’s seemingly endless speculations on the (supposed) high probability of Intelligent Design are never really answered or addressed. It is if Blatty wishes to convince the reader that some version of ID is a foregone conclusion, as worked out in the “steel trap” mind of the elderly Jewish detective. For me, it doesn’t work, mainly because Blatty doesn’t give Kinderman sufficient knowledge about what real science really says about natural selection and its relationship to evolution and “deep time”. That is, we only get Kinderman’s naive, scientifically inadequate views, but never the other side. We watch Kinderman convincing himself of ID without having him seriously invoke alternatives, thus preaching to his own choir and giving himself relatively easy answers. This uncritical attitude is far from the sharp thinking of the Kinderman we met in The Exorcist.

2. Was the nasty Dr. Temple really having an affair with Dr. Amfortas’ one true love? If so, this unpleasant little interlude has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the narrative; it doesn’t advance the story; and it only leaves a baffling sense of distaste in the reader’s mind. It doesn’t clarify Temple’s character, and only serves to torment Amfortas, who is already tormented beyond the capacity to endure.

3. What is the purpose, at the very end of the story, of having Kinderman indict Temple of feeding “Patient X”/”Tommy Sunshine” (the Gemini Killer residing in Karras’ body) bits of historical data about the Gemini Killer? The entire point of the novel is that the Gemini Killer is indeed, is in fact, in possession of Damien Karras’ resuscitated corpse. But if Temple was educating Patient X about the Genimi, this weakens the case that Patient X was really harboring the Gemin’s tortured spirit – i.e., he could really have been an innocent with a blank mind which Temple filled with otherwise secret Gemini-data, convincing this innocent that he was really the Gemini. Of course, the actual presence of Karras’ resuscitated body – because of its clear supernatural implications – mitigates against this idea, but the idea is still an unnecessary complication.

This puts an entirely ill-conceived, unnecessary – and show-stopping – doubt into a narrative – and into the reader’s mind – which otherwise points directly toward the Gemini Killer’s reality, the one factor on which the story depends. I simply cannot understand why Blatty threw in this red herring at all, much less threw it into the story’s climax – which, without this element, would have been totally cohesive and coherent in establishing the real presence of the real Gemini as explanatory of the mystery at the narrative’s heart.

4. What becomes of the question of justice – human and divine – when Blatty simply lets the Gemini off the moral hook? By this I mean:

At the end, the Gemini, reconciled to the spirit of his dead twin brother, and depotentiated by the death of his father against whom his crime spree was directed, simply dies passively and gently, implicitly taken, along with his near-angelic brother, to an apparently joyous afterlife … all without having to answer for the murders of Alex Kintry, two priests, nurses, hospital patients, etc.

In his historical life, the Gemini was clearly culpable for committing multiple murders. At his death, he briefly “went to Hell” – but only to be “rescued” by the vengeful demon of The Exorcist – who then sent him back, in Karras’ body, to continue his life of crime. Thus, the Gemini got off “Scot-free” for his mortal crimes, and for posthumous crimes committed via his manipulation of Karras’ body. It’s as if, in some kind of rush not only to pull all the disparate elements together, and to provide a happy ending, Blatty completely overlooked the dark questions of basic morality as applied to the fate of the Gemini Killer – an enthusiastic and unrepentant murderer.

There are other flaws in the Legion novel, but these suffice to illustrate the difference between this story and Blatty’s earlier The Exorcist. If only Blatty had applied the same discipline to Legion that he applied to The Exorcist. A better, more frightening, and more satisfying book would almost certainly have resulted.

“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.

“Exorcist” Eisegesis: Fraudulent Child Molestation Theme

[Note: This is a long post. But please bear with me. I think it is necessary to step up and defend Exorcist author Blatty’s depiction of character Burke Dennings against a scurrilous and completely unjustified indictment.]

A current theory states that The Exorcist’s demonic possession of Regan MacNeil is a metaphor for child molestation. Theorists suggest that Regan was being molested by her mother’s film director, Burke Dennings. This idea is sheer unsupported speculation; moreover, it contradicts author William Peter Blatty’s own text and intent. It is to be found in neither the Blatty novel nor in the Blatty-Friedkin film.

“Reading out” of a text material that really exists in the text is called exegesis. “Reading into” a text material that does not exist in the text is called eisegesis.  Eisegesis is the projection of inappropriate, “foreign” themes onto a narrative.  Exorcist molestation theorists are guilty of eisegesis, and a very sloppy one at that.

Blatty’s own depiction of demonic possession is not metaphoric. It is not symbolic. It is not allegorical, analogical, or poetic. It does not point away from itself toward some other layer, genre, theme, or metaliterary realm. Demonic possession in The Exorcist is its primary catalyst for, and explainer of, the behavior, reactions, decisions, and actions of those who witness it.

In short: Regan’s possession “advertises” only itself, and it is Blatty’s clear intent to depict it as a real, authentic, genuine intrusion into the normal world of a malevolent, discarnate, nonhuman, nonmaterial and “ancient” entity.  It contains not a hint of human intervention,  whether sexual abuse or other.

The Exorcist’s only “child molester” is the demon itself.

Burke Dennings is never enlisted by author Blatty as a potential cause of Regan’s possession. Rather, some such catalysts are suggested: Regan’s isolation and loneliness; her playing with a Ouija board; her father’s absence; her reaction to the onset of early adolescence. In not one of Blatty’s suggested causes is a direct, abusive human element presented.

It could be argued (using sociological principles not greatly widespread when Blatty wrote the novel) that the author should have included a possible molestation scenario as catalyst. However, this idea is a retrojection of current concerns into a decade when such considerations had not yet become “public domain” and common literary themes. So if there is any flaw here, it is not Blatty, it is the times in which he was writing. In any case the essential point here is, of course, that Blatty did not use the molestation theme.

Therefore, Burke Dennings is no more a molester than is any other Exorcist character (one wonders why the domestic Karl is not equally put foward for this role, since the novel shows him in constant proximity to Regan, and emphasises his great physical strength and darkly mysterious taciturnity).

On the contrary, Blatty describes Burke Dennings as a reliable friend of the MacNeils – a man, who when sober, is kind and gentle. (And when Denning is not sober, he does not transform into a child molester; he simply becomes an obnoxious, verbally-not-physically abusive drunk.)   An example of this is that, on Regan’s birthday at the movie set, Dennings has the crew rewarm the lights in order to film Regan cutting her cake.

Throughout the first part of the novel, Regan sees very little of Dennings, since he is usually busy directing and going off on drunks; and when he is at the MacNeil home, he is there to see Chris, not Regan. In fact, other than the dinner party scene (and of course the fatal window push incident) Blatty never puts Regan and Burke together in the same room – not in Regan’s room, in Chris’s study, or in the basement where Regan does her artwork.

Regan’s only objection to “Mr. Dennings” is not that he is molesting her, but that he will supplant her father Howard if Chris marries Burke. Blatty’s narrative strongly implies that this is not even Regan’s own idea, but a whispered doubt supplied to her unconscious by the demon. Even so, Regan does not fear or resent Dennings. In fact, in the context of this scene, she says that Mr. Dennings can come along with her and Chris for her birthday celebration. Clearly, in her own subjective world, separate from demonic rumor-mongering, Regan is comfortable in Burke Dennings’ company.

Regarding the famous dinner party scene, Blatty shows Regan going to bed early after a short introduction to the guests. (One of the guests, a psychic, senses that something is wrong with Regan, but immediately attributes it to Regan’s Ouija-board usage, not to molestation.)

Burke Dennings is at this party, but except for Regan’s brief appearance (in which Burke and Regan have no interaction whatsoever), he is completely separated from her as he moves through the crowd insulting all and sundry as he goes. Ultimately he calls Karl “a Nazi”, whereupon Chris sends Burke to “sleep it off” in her study. And… Dennings does just that – he does not unobtrusively (extremely difficult in a crowded house party) make his way upstairs to molest Regan. He flops down in the study and Chris immediately sends Regan’s tutor Sharon into the study – to watch over Burke until he awakens (and to make sure that he  leaves without disturbing any more guests.)

At this point, Regan is a troubled child, but she is not yet fully possessed. She manifests her disturbance(s) through several strange behaviors, chief among them the acquiring of an imaginary playmate.

As a concretization of Regan’s disturbance – according to the molestation theory – this invisible playmate ought to bear some direct relation to Burke Dennings. But in reality it does no such thing. Instead, the playmate is called “Captain Howdy” – an “in your face,” obvious reference to missing Dad, Howard MacNiel. There is no molester here, no drooling Dennings or creeping Karl:  only the distillation of a lonely child’s abandonment anxiety. (Later it will be shown that the demon is using the “Howdy” identity to manipulate the child’s vulnerability. But suffice it to say that Burke Dennings in Blatty’s narrative is nowhere near the center of Regan’s disturbance.)

Again: The Exorcist’s only “child molester” is the demon itself.

Denning’s lack of criminality or evil intent in the narrative as Blatty wrote it leaves only one baffling question – the primary question the molestation theorists cling to – unanswered: What was Dennings doing in Regan’s room when she broke his neck, turned his head “completely around, facing backward,” and pushed him out her window?

Blatty does not let us know the answer. We can only guess. But from what has preceded, it is clear that, regardless of the reason Dennings went up to Regan’s room, that reason cannot include molestation. We can only theorize that he went upstairs to check on the daughter of his good friend Chris; or that Regan, undergoing a new demonic attack, cried out and Dennings rushed up to assist her;  or that the demon, acting through Regan, deliberately lured Dennings upstairs to his death.

One might suspect, rather, that Dennings died because Blatty’s story called for just this death at just this point in the narrative. Dennings’ death is the causal nexus of much of the subsequent story. Removing Dennings and his death from the narrative would completely depotentiate and unravel The Exorcist’s entire narrative.

Perhaps Dennings died because he “had” to die for authorial purposes and narrational soundness. After making that decision, Blatty only had to devise a way for Regan/the demon to kill Dennings privately, when only she and Dennings were in the house together, with no other potential witnesses.

And that is the most plausible reason for Dennings being alone with Regan in the house and in Regan’s room. Plot device, not molestation, placed these two characters together at the same time and in the same place.

The Exorcist’s only “child molester” remains the demon itself.

Summer Film, Summer Sea

I was never an enthusiast for ocean wading, but after viewing  Steven Spielberg’s Jaws I was definitely phobic –  chiefly, but not solely, about sharks. One summer I was vacationing in Gearhart, Oregon, which was having an “El Nino” wave of unseasonably warm water. The normally chilly Pacific was abnormally tepid – like a lagoon under a tropical summer sky – very unusual for the northern Oregon coast, even in summer. Strangely frequent shark sightings, even of Great Whites, were being reported.

In his short story The Lake, Ray Bradbury writes how water is like a magician who cuts you in half – the solid upper half above the waterline, and the wavey, less solid lower half. I, however, was not to experience that illusion, because the surf that day was such that,  coming to just above my knees, it did not allow my submerged portions visibility. I waded out far enough that the land receded from peripheral vision, so that all I could see was ocean. Visually, I may as well have been all adrift upon this summer sea, and the thought came to me that there was nothing – literally no land – between me and Hawaii.

Then my thoughts turned to the volume and opaqueness of the water I was standing in. Almost anything could be beneath that water, and I would be unable to see it. Old debris… a submerged log, perhaps, that would bump or trip me on the next surge of waves… don’t sharks bump their prey before attacking? What other living creature, naturally equipped with aquatic vision and kinetic skills that I did not have, might be in the water with me – its presence totally undetectable, until it touched me… or a fin broke the surface…?

The water was warm, the day perfect, but I was done. Slowly I turned my back to the indifferent sea, onto which I had projected fears – fears that were mostly the inheritance of one finely-crafted film…

“Legion’s” Phantom Priest

In Legion’s opening credits a man dressed in a cassock (long black robe) of a Catholic priest appears twice as the camera moves down along the dark street;  the original exorcism/MacNeil house appears on the right at the end of the street?

I watched the film several times before I got oriented to the locale – I knew it was Georgetown, but then I finally noticed the MacNeil house on the right. The tree in the yard has grown bigger and there is a dark green fence around the yard, but it’s obviously “the” house, overlooking “the” steps.

Soon after that, I jumped out of my skin when I noticed a dark figure wearing a cassock darting from left to right across the street, then a little later from right to left. You have to look hard and diligently to see the figure, because the large scale “font” used for the credits is so dominating. This scene would work much better without any distracting credits at all.

The chilling thing about this scene is the basic question – here we are approaching the MacNeil house once more, after some fifteen years have elapsed from the original Exorcist novel and the Blatty-Friedkin film. What in the world is a priest doing darting back and forth on this deserted street? Only one answer suggests itself: this person can only be Damien Karras. But what is Karras doing here? Isn’t he dead? What’s going on?

My take on it is that the entire is a dream that the demonically-trapped Karras and the Gemini Killer are sharing – the Gemini’s portion are the supernatural disruptions in the empty church – the “Pazuzu wind” that tears through the church and blasts open the doors; Karras’s part is the memory of  “a rose, and a fall down a long flight of stairs”. In this dream – or psychic metaphor of Karras’s current “lost” condition –  the tormented priest is “haunting” the scene of his partial victory/partial defeat of fifteen years before.

Another interpretation might be that the “darting priest” is a nightmarish reference to the night of Karras’s death when, reanimated by the demon and the Gemini, Killer, he broke free from his cheaply constructed Jesuit coffin. Perhaps he literally – or more plausibly symbolically – “ran mad” in his resuscitated body, now animated – but only tentatively at this early juncture – by the Gemini.

Regardless of the interpretation, I invite all Legion fans who have not yet noticed the running priest to look attentively at the opening credits – you will be rewarded with yet another chilling brush stroke in Blatty’s dark filmic portrait.

(P.S. One other thing is so difficult to see I hesitate to mention it, but just before the opening credits, when the supernatural wind blows through the church, there is a shot from inside the church looking out through the open doors. On the extreme left is a figure standing stock-still that looks like a priest in a cassock. However, this only lasts a nano-second, and it might only be a lighting artifact – as I said, I hesitate to mention it because of its “iffy” quality. But if it’s really there, we can credit Blatty with still another creepy bit.)