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William Peter Blatty

Review: The Exorcist

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

by Gregory Dean Way

Two priests chant “The power of Christ compels you!” as the possessed child floats in the air above her bed. The shot is a static one, both visually and behaviorally, one of the few inert moments in a film full of forward energy: The child remains rigid, resistant to the droning incantation. Paradoxically, it is at this most static moment that The Exorcist hints at truly coming alive as a worthwhile experience, by suggesting the agony of endurance that its symbolic battle of good against evil requires. However, one’s hopeful expectations go unfulfilled: The child gravitates downward far too soon; the potential for truly subjective, protracted participation by the viewer in the elemental confrontation of this two-hour picture is cast aside (one suspects because of the filmmakers’ fear of an impatient, negative viewer response to unfamiliar, nonlinear film experience). That The Exorcist should cast aside (i.e., spend so little time developing) one of its thematically most significant moments, yet sum to overkill its moments of more cretinously comprehensible shock, is a telling comment on the locus of Friedkin and Blatty’s concerns.

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Review: The Exorcist

[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]

The situation is hopeless. The film became a box-office phenomenon the day it opened. The public said Yes and the candyass critics said No and the frothing-at-the-mouth daily reviewers scuttled to assure the public it was right. You just know what those snits at the little film magazines are going to say. They’re going to say No. Big deal. If you’re so smart why ain’t you rich? All right, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I thought it wasn’t a very good movie.

I read The Exorcist during a summer more disengaged than most, a time when I didn’t have very much to do and felt guilty about not doing it. A discerning friend later observed that the book seemed to him “one of the finest trash novels ever,” and while it had never occurred to me to invoke the stern god of Literature, I knew he was quite right. As narrative, it belonged firmly in the couldn’t-put-it-down class, and no one had to feel ashamed of succumbing to its spell. The film, written for the screen and produced by the man who’d so cozily chilled the summertime reader’s blood, had every right to exert the same spell. But it doesn’t.

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Summer of ’90: The Exorcist III

“Georgetown 1990”: A college rowing team trains on the Potomac. Suited-up runners pass by. A tired movie way of introducing life at a big-city university. It’s been done a hundred times to code Harvard. But stay with it. Just a few minutes in, our skepticism about the racing shell turns sour in our mouths as we hear the details of a brutal serial killing, its victim a young boy, crucified on a pair of rowing oars. And that’s not the worst of it.

It’s 20 years after the events of The Exorcist, and, as it turns out, after the grim reign of a monster dubbed the Gemini Killer. Following the college athletics and campus atmospherics of the opening shots, we’re introduced—at first visually only—to Jesuit teacher Joe Dyer (Ed Flanders) and Detective Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott), linked for us both to 1970 and to each other in a photograph we see on Kinderman’s desk.

A church is invaded by a howling wind. Statuary eyes open wide. Something very ancient and evil has returned.

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