Category Archives: The Exorcist

“Exorcist”: Iraq Prologue: Its Purpose

The prologue in Iraq – featured in both Blatty’s (R.I.P.) novel and Friedkin’s film – connects with the rest of the story because it introduces the viewer, from the first frame, to the theme of “the Demonic”, and to “the exorcist”, Fr. Lankester Merrin.

Merrin’s ongoing fearful reaction to the stone Pazuzu amulet, and the large Pazuzu statue on the hill, describe his inner state. Since they convey and produce fear, we immediately know that there is “something special” that accrues to them – something which is evil. The museum curator acknowledges this when he says of the amulet, “evil against evil”. As a Muslim, he probably believes that Paganism and its charms and idols are evil. But Merrin – as the story will tell us – is familiar with an even more universal evil, namely a demon he expelled some twelve years earlier.

The sense of evil and omen is not limited to the statuary at the dig. It is present in the over-loud street noises as Merrin takes tea; in staring Arabs; in the nitro that we see him taking. He is old and has a bad heart. When the clock stops in the curator’s office, it means more than a classic paranormal event presaging death: in a real sense, it hints at the stopping of Merrin’s own “ticker”, which happens at the story’s climax.

Merrin also runs across evil in the form of human weakness and illness: he sees an Iraqi leading a blind or lame partner by the hand; then he encounters a blacksmith afflicted with blindness in one eye.

The omens and premonitions continue: along his way he is nearly run over by a droshky whose passenger is an old, sick-looking woman. Just before this, we see that he is being watched by a silent man in a tower. Omens and premonitions.

What had started as a standard archeological dig has now become a projection-carrier for Merrin’s fears, specifically as the novel says, in the certainty that “soon he would face an ancient enemy”. The very air of Iraq itself now reminds Merrin of the kinds of feelings he had in the African exorcism twelve years before.  The atmosphere has become, in Jungian terms, a projection carrier for the elderly cleric.

Finally, the old priest confronts the Pazuzu statue, but not without first encountering rifle-toting guards. As he ascends the hill, the camera shows a single Arab staring at Merrin, while the soundtrack presents the sound of tumbling rocks (will Merrin “loose his footing”?).

Then, as he faces the Pazuzu statue by the light of the setting sun, a demonic wind whips up to the tune of the frenzied growling of fighting dogs, while the soundtrack mixes a guttural “MERRIN!” into their cacophony.

That’s how Merrin and the Iraq prologue tie into the rest of the story. Once we see the old priest from the prologue walking in the American woods, and then arrive at the MacNeil house, we realize that the story is coming full circle and that now Merrin will indeed face “the ancient enemy”.

One misconception accrues to the prologue, namely, the notion that the archaeological dig somehow disturbed and released a sleeping or dormant demon. This explanation doesn’t really work, because  the demon is not confined to any time and place – it is a non-material spirit entity not dependent on territorial or geographical roots. It is free to travel, to scrutinize potential victims, to go about the world in its own dark odyssey. Merrin first met it twelve years earlier in Africa – but who knows where it had been in earlier centuries and in different locales? Since its exorcism, it has been keeping tabs on Merrin, and Merrin, as the prologue shows, is psychically linked to the demon. He intuits its re-emergence into the world and into his life while he’s excavating.

But the excavation itself is not a causal element in Regan’s possession. The novel explains that the demon strongly desired a grudge match with Merrin because it did not like losing that time before, in Africa. It had  finally located another target in the person of Regan MacNeil. Merrin sensed that something was brewing again, and went back to the States where he began working on another book, passing the time before the ultimate encounter. Events then conspire to convey the bishop’s message to Merrin, based on Damien Karras’s exorcism request. And we know how the story goes from there.

A Few Exorcist III Misconceptions Addressed

As most fans realize, the Exorcist III movie went through several iterations, some at writer-director William P. Blatty’s, and some at Morgan Creek Studios’, hand. Therefore there has been considerable controversy about the finished film – as well as a  “director’s cut” recently released by Scream Factory.  A fair amount of confusion abounds, and it may be helpful to examine some of the issues.

Damien Karras died at the end of the original story and film – so why is he back in Exorcist III?

In Exorcist III’s initiating novel, Legion, Karras himself is not back. Instead, the vengeful demon from the original story has planted the soul of executed serial killer James Vennamun (“the Gemini Killer”) into Karras’ dying body. Actor Brad Dourif played Karras’ resuscitated corpse as animated by the Gemini.

However, Morgan Creek demanded that Blatty rewrite/reshoot the film to include an exorcist and exorcism. Nicol Williamson played the exorcist, Fr. Paul Morning. In the meantime, Jason Miller, who had played Karras in the original film, became available for playing the Karras part in Exorcist III.

Blatty decided on the solution: he would make the real Karras occupy the reanimated corpse along with the Gemini’s soul. This made Karras, the former rescuer of Regan MacNeil, himself the object of rescue, in which Detective William Kinderman and Fr. Paul Morning join forces. This change also had the effect of “upping the ante”, because now Karras is actually present, and needs to be freed from the grip of the demon and the Gemini.

That is why Karras is back in the story, and why Jason Miller is back as the real Karras, whose ascending soul was captured by the demon at the end of the original story and replaced into his dying body.

Who attacked Nurse Amy Keating in the hospital corridor?

In this classic scene of horror cinema, Keating is ambushed by a surgical-shears-wielding figure draped in white cloths. Contrary to one opinion, this figure is not the Gemini, and much less is it the decapitated Christ statue, come to incomprehensible life, that is shown earlier in the film.  Rather, it is merely one of the hospital patients whom the Gemini possesses and uses to kill and mutilate during his Georgetown crime spree.

Is Karras possessed, and if so, by whom?

Karras is not possessed. He is imprisoned in his old body and forced to intimately witness what the Gemini, with whom he is paired inside that body, does “with this body – with this body in particular”. As the Gemini explains, the demon, who Karras “expelled from the body of a child”, has arranged “a scandal for all men who seek faith”, the scandal being that the saintly priest has been forced to return as an unwilling agent of the demon-and-Gemini. Moreover, the demon directs Vennamun to kill Karras’ old friends and associates who were somehow involved in the Regan MacNeil case; and the demon also permits Vennamun to continue his crime spree from fifteen years earlier, in which he killed victims whose names started with the letter “K” (in revenge against his hateful father, Karl Vennamun). To all this horror, Karras is present, and impotent.

Although Karras is not possessed – (again, he is only a kind of prisoner under duress) – nonetheless, he is trapped in his body and needs to be liberated and sent heavenward as he was at the end of the original story. In addition, the demon, who is pulling the strings behind the scenes, needs to be overcome, and the Gemini/Vennamun needs to be expelled. Hence, Fr. Morning begins an exorcism to vanquish the demon, expel the Gemini, and liberate Karras. Shortly after, Kinderman arrives on the scene and contributes his own efforts toward this goal.

Other issues remain, but they will wait for later.

 

Exorcist III film, Legion novel

In my view, Wiilaim Peter Blatty’s novel Legion is at least as confused as his Exorcist III film, which is based on Legion-(cum-rewrite).

For example, the Legion novel contains page after page filled with extended internal  dialogue of police detective William Kinderman about theology, evolution, crime, evil, and various problems of life – and they slow the narrative flow to a crawl. Kinderman’s theological speculations are show-stoppers. Too much time is devoted to them, they slow down the action, and worse, the author uses them as best he can to coerce the reader into embracing an uncritical Creationist/ID position. Kinderman is revealed to be – despite his nice words about science – a closet Creationist-mystic, as well as a type of heretical quasi-Gnostic.

The Gnostic material actually does work rather well, as it dovetails somewhat with Fr. Lankester Merrin’s earlier speculations in the Exorcist novel, and it serves as a resilient springboard for Blatty’s cosmic speculations about “the Angel”; the Gemini Twins (reified in the novel as James and Thomas Vennamun); and even the “Gnostic” theme of the divine twins (the God who permits a co-eternal divine “companion” to take on a new, personal destiny in the form of the cosmos/ matter/Satan/the Angel; the intense, depressed, dying Dr. Vincent Amfortas and his wisecracking Doppelganger, and even Fr. Joe Dyer with his semi-legendary “brother Eddy”.

But the Creationist/ID material is just bombastic and embarrassing, at least to anyone who is normatively or even nominally familiar with biology, physics, and evolutionary theory. In Christian philosophy, “Evolution” as well as “Creation” must be seen to derive from the same Divine source – but from what we now know about the world, it seems obvious that evolution would in this Christian view, be seen as the material means by which “the Creator” chose to develop – to “create” – life on Earth. Thus, Kinderman’s theology is, sadly – because it opts for the pre-scientific view – stuck at a level of childish, pre-critical Creationist/ID naivete – except for the few occasions when he waxes blissful about evolutionary mystic priest Teilhard de Chardin (who formed an important basis for Blatty’s Merrin character).

Moreover, Legion seems to me to be a book written in a hurry, containing frustrating loose ends and plot quirks, for example: now, in an inexplicably updated history, Kinderman and Karras had been “best friends”; the language lab technician from the original story who discovered Regan’s “backward English” has now become a black female, etc.).

And there is a puzzlingly disturbing bit where Dr. Amfortas’ Doppelganger tells the dying doctor that the (lost by death)  love of Amfortas’ life, “Annie”, had carried on an affair with the book’s worst human villain, the malicious Dr. Temple…thus dealing the mostly sympathetic Amfortas a huge psychic wound within hours of his death – an authorial cruelty crafted for no understandable reason at all.

Another inconsistency:  Kinderman accuses Dr. Temple of deliberately hypnotising and otherwise psychologically interfering with James Vennamun – it turns out that Temple was the chief medical officer investigating Vennamun’s decades-old original crime spree, with Blatty weirdly casting Temple, years later, as a possible information-feeder to the mysterious “Patient X” (who really is James Vennamun/the Gemini Killer), which creates the bizarre effect of casting Temple as a culprit who implanted the idea of being the Gemini Killer in the patient’s mind. This is an unnecessary distraction, and it corrodes Blatty’s main point that Vennamun/the Gemini is the real serial killer, placed by the vengeful demon into Karras’ resuscitated body to create a “scandal” by which the body of the saintly priest will continue the Gemini’s murder sprees.  But of course, it is a given that the vengeful demon and the Gemini Killer do not need any oustside, suggestive help from Dr. Temple or anyone else – so to suggest such a thing may indeed have transpired – particularly so close to the story’s climax – casts doubt on Blatty’s main thesis that the vengeful demon has been the sole source of using Vennamun’s soul-in-Karras’-body to exact revenge on Karras’ old friends. Why on earth would Blatty cast this – or any – doubt in the reader’s mind (a doubt, which if true, risks invalidating the novel’s narrative flow and its very meaning) – and this so close to the story’s end?

Finally, at the graveside where Karras’ body is being re-interred, Kinderman says “goodbye to the man who might have been Damien Karras“. What a blatantly inept thing to write! Why? Because Blatty has already established via the Gemini’s dialogue that Damien Karras – consistent with the first novel’s and film’s ending – has gone on to his reward. Only his resuscitated body is present, as a vehicle for the Gemini (with the vengeful demon of course lurking close by behind the scenes).  DAMIEN KARRAS – AS KARRAS, AS THE SOUL OF KARRAS – is long gone away to Heaven. Only the reaminated shell remains, as a vehicle of incarnaton for the Gemini.

Hence, there is no room whatsoever for the notion that the re-interred corpse “might” have been Karras. It was never Karras –  the body did not hold Karras’ soul – not after Karras’ original, real death in The Exorcist and later in the Legion’s takeover by the Gemini.  The demon-manipulated Vennamun/the Gemini is the only occupant of Karras’ reanimated body (the studio rewrite would destroy and radically alter this original dynamic).

From Vennamun’s own explanations, Kinderman, by the time he is standing by Karras’ grave, should have known that the recently dead body (dead for the second time) was only a reanimated shell that contained only Vennamun, not Karras; and Blatty, by insinuating some doubt about the matter both for Kinderman and for the reader – again, within just a few pages of story’s end, after the climax – seems to have committed a really irresponsible, goofy – and even disrespectful – gaffe. There can be no doubt that the re-buried corpse, although it was Karras’ body in the story, ever held Karras’ soul, which had already passed on to its heavenly reward. The body was not animated by Damien Karras during the Georgetown crime spree and Kinderman’s involvement therein: the body was animated only by Vennamun/the Gemini Killer, with the vengeful demon from the original story pulling the strings.

And so… this long-winded post has attempted to justify why I think Legion’s pages and pages of Creationist speculation are scientifically embarrassing, as well as too lengthy and preachy; and why I think that the other listed  flaws may perhaps derive  from Blatty apparently writing the book in far too much of a hurry.

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

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070047/board/thread/256573859?p=2

=  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =

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.

Exorcist III’s Exorcism

Author William Peter Blatty wrote the novel Legion as a summation of his ideas for a screenplay for a sequel to his novel, The Exorcist. He filmed the story in a way that very closely paralleled the book. However, on viewing the film, the distributor, Morgan Creek Studios told Blatty that if the film was to be a real sequel to the first film and novel, it must contain an exorcist and an exorcism: they demanded a re-write. The understandably disgruntled Blatty went back to the drawing board, and crafted a new story in which the saintly soul of Fr. Damien Karras had been captured by the vengeful demon (“Pazuzu”, if you will) of the original story, and plunged back into his nearly-dead body – along with the recently-executed soul of serial murderer James Vennamun/”the Gemini Killer”. Jason Miller, who had originated the role of Damien Karras, had become available, and Blatty recast him in the role, along with Brad Dourif. The combination of the two very well presented and explicated the notion of Karras’ resuscitated body carrying both the tormented Karras and the venomous Vennamun (with the vengeful demon itself emerging during the film’s climax). All that was left was to invent an exorcism scene and cast an exorcist, who was eventually played by veteran actor Nicol Williamson in the new part of Fr. Paul Morning. The remainder of this post addresses Blatty’s choice in this matter.

By way of preface, it is of course obvious that Morgan Creek Studios should have more or less left Blatty’s version alone. But they didn’t, citing the unmarketability of a possession film – “an Exorcist film!” – without an exorcism, and Blatty dealt with it as best he could under the circumstances. In my analysis, Blatty did an admirable job, given the unpleasant new conditions under which he was forced to re-write his film.

1. It is important to consider that it was not the studio that added the character of Fr. Paul Morning – or the exorcism scene – to the script. The studio only demanded that Blatty rewrite it to include an exorcism. Morning was entirely Baltty’s own creation. And, to my way of thinking, a fine creation it was.

2. For instance, consider Blatty’s poetic, wordless introduction of Morning. First, the camera shows the Georgetown campus area where Morning is living. Doing this immediately returns us to the neighborhood of the Friedkin film, with Dahlgren Chapel (in front of which Karras and Kinderman strolled, talking murder and movies); the beautiful fountain in front of the chapel; and, viewed through Morning’s open window, the residence where Karras was living and where Kinderman parted company with him , making the “you look like Sal Mineo” joke. Thus, Blatty’s camera work deftly places us back in “Exorcist territory” in just two simple shots.

3. The camera lingers briefly on simple personal and religious objects in Morning’s room which indicate his own simplicity and piety – an immaculately kept sink, a small figurine of the angel vanquishing evil; a Rosary on a desk; a photo of what is probably an infant Morning with his parents; an injured bird on the window sill that Morning has been kindly attending to.

4. The bird’s sudden silence lures the Breviary-meditating Morning to the window. Blatty’s camera – as did Friedkin’s when following Merrin from behind as he approached the one-eyed blacksmith – also follows Morning’s shadow from behind as it reveals a wall plaque reading, What We Give To The Poor Is What We Take With Us When We Die – a reference to the original novel, where Karras carries in his wallet a “holy card” featuring the identical words. All of this has unfolded in silence, except for the birdsong, without any utterances from Morning.

5. Morning finds that the bird has gone silent – in death. No sooner does he notice this, than his crucifix falls off the wall “by itself”. Frowning, Morning approaches the crucifix, only to find it mysteriously bleeding. The the sky darkens, the room is plunged into shadow, and “the demon wind” – so familiar from the Friedkin film – begins to howl through the room. Like Merrin, Morning stands stalwart, facing this new surge of the demonic, courageous and alone. This is pure Blatty; pure “Exorcist”.

6. Later, Morning prays alone in a chapel, which includes the line, “men of violence seek my life…”  Morning simply repeats the grim phrase…“My life…” and we realize that he is certain that he, like Merrin before him, “will soon face an ancient enemy”. And the next time we see him, he enters the Gemini’s den in the violent psychopath ward, to do just that.

7. Blatty’s solution to the studio-demanded exorcism was, for many, much too over the top, but it needs to be borne in mind that his style of presentation is completely different from Friekin’s. Friedkin had an entire film to create demonic manifestations and a violent climax in which they were finally put to an end. Not so Blatty, who had to do a hurried rewrite and create his own exorcism scene – and confine it to a period of about five minutes.

As mentioned, Blatty’s style differed from Friedkin’s gritty, documentary “take”. Instead, Blatty focused on the psycho-spiritual-symbolic aspects, which is why he has lightning bolts chew up Cell Eleven’s floor, a symbolic crucified Karras surrounded by tormenting demons rising up through the shattered concrete, Morning, and then Kinderman, “crucified” repectively to the ceiling and the wall, hissing slithering venomous serpents, and hell-fire.

Taken literally, it might seem ridiculous.  But taken metaphorically but as real (real to Morning and Kinderman) visualizations of the demonic and of Karras’ torture, they function well. I suspect that most audiences – expecting a “real-world” set of physical effects – missed this allegorical-symbolic-visionary aspect and therefore found the exorcism not only unnecessary, but embarrassingly garish. However, the opposite is true when consideration is given to the fact that immediately after Karras – with Morning’s and Kinderman’s assistance – throws off the vengeful demon and the Gemini, Cell Eleven returns to normal: all the snakes, broken concrete, and pyrotechnics were real, but mental, phenomena, not physical events – which underscores their metaphoric/symbolic truth, if not their actual, “external world” factuality.

So: yes, the film should not have included Morning and the exorcism at all. But:

Fact: it does so for the simple, stark reason that the studio demanded it.

Fact: Blatty rewrote the script because he was so instructed/coerced, but I, for one, applaud his imagination in working it out on screen, and on his creation of a wonderful new exorcist-figure in the person of Fr. Paul Morning, who is a kind of “silent knight of the Cross” who gladly sacrifices his life (“My life…”) for Damien Karras.

Karras, the hero and rescuer of the first film and novel, has now become the object of rescue, and Morning and Kinderman become his rescuers. To me, that schema – although an unnecessary result of an unexpected, last-minute and perhaps unfair studio demand – falls well within the parameters of Blatty’s already well-established “demon possession and its conquest through redemptive suffering” narrative, and –  even as a post-production appendix – fulfils all requirements for belonging in the “canon”.

Why “The Exorcist’s” Exorcism Failed

William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist certainly is structured around and bolstered by a Catholic point of view. Blatty knows his Catholic stuff. But Blatty himself is something of a speculative theologian, at least in his fiction. In “real life”, on the other hand, Blatty seems to much more conservative, protesting Georgetown University’s invitations to speakers whose values are doctrinally opposed to Catholicism; and waxing devoutly eloquent over Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. However, it is with Blatty the novelist, not Blatty the citizen and churchgoer, that this post will consider.

For example, in shaping Merrin’s character, Blatty went far beyond anything that his partial-inspiration Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ever said. For Teilhard, the cosmos will eventually evolve into a superconscious “Omega Point” that is really nothing less than the Cosmic Christ of Saints Paul and John. But Blatty adds-on to the Teilhardian view the Jungian consideration that perhaps matter and Spirit are two sides of a single coin, an “Otherness” that can be experienced but not fully intellectually known or defined. None of this is classical, standard Catholic dogma or philosophy.

But Blatty goes even further in his novel Legion, which delves into Gnostic territory with the ideas of a Primal God from which a secondary Being splits off in order to experience physical and ultimately human life, incarnating in and as man – a Being Which turns out to be Satan; who turns out to be “the Angel” – not as a typical demon/fallen angel, but “fallen” by virtue of its primordial mutually-agreed-to separation from God and sinning-living-struggling its way back into the divine sphere of its original unification with God.

And in Legion Blatty writes about the possibility that everyone might possess two souls (perhaps this may be a reification of the novel’s prior suggestion that God has a God-part and an incarnating-struggling secondary part?). And he broaches the amoral notion that JamesVennamun/”Patient X”-“Tommy Sunlight”/the Gemini Killer pretty much gets off Scot-free for his murder-spree sins… while poor deluded, brain-tumor-suffering Dr. Vincent Amfortas is “righteously” tormented by his Doppelganger/”higher self” who hints that he will have a long stay in Purgatory. Dyads, human and divine: again, not standard Catholic theological fare. Thus it bears emphasising:

Definitely these ideas are not standard Catholicism, and some of them even flirt with heterodoxy if not heresy. Therefore it is clear – at least as a writer of creative, fantastic fiction – that Blatty is not an orthodox Roman Catholic. And this trait features in The Exorcist. His own exorcist, Merrin, is a quasi-Gnostic mystic with notions that are, to say the least, “dystonic” to normative Catholic doctrine. Thus we might logically suspect that Merrin’s Catholicism would be more or less spiced with Blatty’s own speculative theology. And it seems that this is the case not only with Merrin, but also with Blatty’s demon, who may or may not be Pazuzu, the ancient Middle Eastern god. In any case, whatever the demon’s name – if it does, after all even have a knowable name – it functions outside of the Catholic “pantheon” of demons-as-fallen angels and servants-of-Satan.

I certainly dismiss as implausible the notion that the exorcism was obviously having at least some negative effect on the demon and I think that the usual examples invoked in support of this idea, e.g.,

the demon’s fury (but the demon is always furious);

the demon’s “fear and loathing” of real holy water (but this is very easily seen as just another “gotcha” trick by the demon);

the demon’s viciously angry use of a crucifix in assaulting Regan (the demon not only has no fear of this most holy Catholic sacramental, but freely uses it to further torment its chief victim);

the demon’s slow abandonment of  its “miracle” of levitating Regan  – coincident with, but not necessarily consequent to – the priests’ command, “the Power of Christ compels you”;

… are at best weak and stretched much too tautly to be taken seriously.

The one clear fact in the stories’ (novel and film) entire exorcistic process is that the demon was not yielding to the rituals, and in fact,  was becoming even stronger and more confident as the agonizing moments and incidents continued:

… manifesting a Pazuzu-statue vision;

causing the full head spin hallucination;

creating the “Mary Karras on Regan’s bed” hallucination;
causing a mini-earthquake and …
the door-ceiling-and Sustagen bottle shattering;

wreaking physical havoc with chairs, bureaus, drawer, and other furniture and objects;

breaking Regan’s medical straps;

levitating Regan herself;

… So, finally, as noted:

the demon’s ever-increasing confidence that it will kill Regan – predicting and promising that she will not survive the rigors of her various demon-induced conditions together with the rigors of the exorcism. Thus,

All through the exorcism’s course, it is a matter of the demon growing stronger as the priests and Regan at best only hold their own.

This is proof positive that the exorcism was not weakening the demon, and more importantly, that the demon was only growing stronger spiritually and paranormally. The exorcism’s only observable effects are to infuriate the demon and make it even more arrogant and confident of its ultimate victory.

If the exorcism was at all effective, then it might be true, as some ritual-supporters maintain, that “Well … some things from the ritual did at least seem to affect the demon”… but this is only true in a negative sense – i.e., the ritual only infuriated the demon, giving it time and space to become stronger, not weaker, and encouraged the demon in its vaulting power and pride.

Even when Regan’s breathing becomes irregular and she is weak and sweating with fever, this is Regan’s weakness, not the demon’s – when, at this point, Regan is physically at her lowest ebb, the demon’s level of power and maliciousness remains the same – producing a vision of Mary Karras and duplicating her voice so explicitly that Mary’s son, exorcist Damien Karras, nearly cracks. So it’s a definite case of: Regan?  – weak, close to death’s door. The demon? – stronger and more determined than ever.

Therefore, to conclude:

The exorcism was not working; and this is perhaps not so surprising, because this demon is a representation not of  standard “Catholic demons” who could be weakened and driven out by traditional Catholic rites. Nor is this demon an ancient Sumerian god – and it is not so treated by expert archaeologist-and-Pazuzu-artifact-unearther Fr. Lankester Merrin.

On the contrary, this demon is a unique Blattian creation, imbued with all the startling, unexpected and alien attributes that Blatty’s theological speculations led to and supported. The demon is an anonymous, alien, malevolent force bent only on seduction, torment, and death, not a standard “Christian” fallen angel.

The Postponed Redemption of Damien Karras, S.J.

William Peter Blatty’s original Exorcist novel heavily implied that Fr. Karras regained his faith and attained his redemption; and that he, Christ-like, sacrificed his life for the possessed child, Regan MacNeil. A beautiful parable. However, Blatty violated this principle in the film, Exorcist III.

Originally written without demonic possession and without an exorcism, Blatty’s original Exorcist III screenplay – based on his novel, Legion – was deemed incomplete by Morgan Creek Studios, which told Blatty to rewrite the story to include an exorcist and an exorcism.

Shortly after this, Jason Miller, who played Karras in the original Blatty-Friedkin film, became available for the project. Blatty hit on the idea of Miller returning, again in the role of Karras. Blatty achieved this through the idea of having the vengeful demon capture Karras’ soul “on its way to Heaven”, and then stuffing it back into Karras’ body along with the soul of James Vennamun, the Gemini Killer. In this new scenario, an exorcism was required,  1) to put a stop Vennamun’s killing spree and 2) to save Karras from the demon’s grip. This was Blatty’s solution to the studio’s demands.

In one way it’s a poor solution because Karras belonged in, and deserved to go to, Heaven. Taking seriously the premise that the demon prevented Karras’ immediate Heavenly reward falsifies the original premise that Karras went straight to his reward. Blatty went on record very early after the release of The Exorcist that “I don’t want people to think that the Devil won” … but in a sense that’s exactly Exorcist III’s scenario: Karras did initially defeat the demon by taking it out of Regan’s body, but then the demon thwarted Karras’ victory by nabbing his spirit and encasing it in his body, which together the demon and the Gemini Killer gradually resuscitate/heal over a twelve-year period. So Exorcist III is a cheat of the original story.

But in another way, Exorcist III “ups the ante” because instead of just the Gemini Killer inhabiting Karras’ resuscitated corpse (as in the novel Legion), Karras himself is now the endangered soul who must be saved. So we now have the Gemini Killer to hate, but we also – again, for a second time, in a second film – have Damien Karras to cheer for, as the story becomes a tale of the efforts of Detective Wiliam Kinderman and Fr. Paul Morning to solve both problems. Additionally, it was a great asset of the film to have a return of Miller himself as Karras, for even the briefest time. But of course, in a just world ruled by a just God, Blatty’s original destiny for Karras as Heaven-bound is the only morally acceptable solution.

Moreover, all along, it helps to understand the fact that Karras didn’t “get possessed”. Unlike Regan (and assumptively most other possession victims), Karras wasn’t the demon’s passive victim. Rather, he deliberately challenged the demon to a personal fight – which Karras did win, despite Exorcist III’s flawed screenplay. Certainly, in a just universe, Karras would not be punished by capture by the demon or by being taken to Hell, but rewarded. Some say he would go to Hell because he committed suicide, but of course that’s a phenomenally misinformed notion. Clearly, Karras gave his life for Regan, much as a soldier might throw him/herself on a grenade to save the lives of comrades. In a just universe, Hell is simply not designed to hold such noble souls. Come to think of it, in a just universe, Hell probably should not exist in the first place.