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Revisiting The Exorcist: The Forbidden Pleasures of Resistant Reading

Portions of this paper were delivered at the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association conference, under the title “The Exorcist at Forty: The Forbidden Pleasures of Resistant Reading.”

The death of William Peter Blatty in January of this year was met with a flurry of tributes, none of which failed to acknowledge his most famous work, The Exorcist; master of horror Stephen King went so far as to call the 1971 best-seller “the great horror novel of our time.”1 But Blatty’s novel was recognized as an important contribution to the genre long before the author’s death. Writing in 1990, Noël Carroll called The Exorcist “a book that quite conceivably can lay claim to being the inaugural work of the present cycle of horror fiction.”2 William Friedkin’s 1973 film adaptation, which Blatty wrote and produced, continues to top lists of “best” and/or “scariest” horror films to this day. As Danel Olsen noted in 2011, “Tellingly, when contemporary reviewers need to fete a new dark film […] they need only chant six magic words: ‘Most terrifying film since The Exorcist.’”3 The film has spawned two sequels, two prequels, and countless imitations, all of which are invariably contrasted—unfavorably—with Friedkin’s original. The novel was also adapted for the stage by Agnes of God playwright John Pielmeier in 2012, and a television series “inspired by” the book currently airs on the Fox network.

What is it that has made The Exorcist such a huge cultural phenomenon? According to Carroll, the novel’s “blockbuster” status derives at least in part from the fact that it “aspires to be more than mere horror” by addressing such serious issues as religious faith and the existence of evil in the modern world.4 Rumors that the novel was based on a true story—Blatty cited as his initial inspiration a 1949 case of alleged possession in Cottage City, Maryland—likely contributed to its popularity as well.5 As for the film, Paul Wells contends, “The Exorcist remains important in that it drew the horror genre into mainstream commercial cinema and found a major audience which were not merely horror fans.”6 Indeed, a partial reason for the film’s success undoubtedly lies in the fact that Friedkin, a former documentary filmmaker, avoided many of the usual horror clichés in favor of a more “realistic,” dramatic style. Blatty’s own explanation was somewhat loftier:

[T]his novel is an affirmation that there is a final justice in the universe; […] that there is a high degree of probability […] that there is an intelligence, a creator whom C.S. Lewis famously alluded to as “the love that made the world.”7

In other words, as Nick Cull observes, “[Blatty] wrote The Exorcist and produced it as a motion picture to scare a new generation of Americans back into church. [….] He called his novel ‘an apostolic work.’”8But as much as Blatty wanted to emphasize the religious significance of the literal possession story, this explanation does not seem adequate to account for the impact the novel and, especially, the film have had on such a wide audience, one that presumably includes plenty of nonbelievers. I contend that The Exorcist, like most great gothic narratives, resonates with audiences largely because of its uncanny subtext, or more accurately, its multiple potential subtexts—the unsettling, implicit (and at times perhaps unintentional) themes readers discern “beneath the surface” of the story. This paper will explore ways in which both the novel and the film have touched various nerves in our culture, many of which have little to do with Blatty’s intended religious message, and even less to do with an actual fear of demonic possession.

Most scholarly work on The Exorcist has focused in one way or another on what could be called, in Freudian terms, “the return of the repressed,”9 suggesting, in short, that what is most interesting and most disturbing about the story is the way it taps into real-world fears and anxieties of its audience members, playing them out in exaggerated and horrific ways. One perhaps obvious example is the anxiety that every parent experiences at some point over a sick child, the terror and helplessness one feels when no medicine or remedy will alleviate the child’s suffering. More frequent, however, are arguments like that of Cull, who asserts, “The theme of a young girl’s transformation into a demon-possessed beast played with America’s growing fear of its youth” (my emphasis).10 Similarly, Gary Hoppenstand claims that Blatty’s novel, along with Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and Thomas Tryon’s The Other (1971), established “important images of the child that defined the social mores of the era.” The figure of the “bad” child was not an entirely new phenomenon in horror. But as Hoppenstand explains, the monstrous children in Tryon’s and Blatty’s novels, in particular, reflected concerns over what many saw as an alarming increase in adolescent drug use, sexual activity, and other rebellious and anti-social behavior in the late nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies.11 Certainly, images of the twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil urinating on the living room carpet during her mother’s dinner party, knocking her mother across the room, and spewing obscenities at doctors and priests seem to bear out this reading. The theme is further underscored by the fact that Regan’s mother, movie star Chris MacNeil, is simultaneously at work on a film that includes a scene of a student rebellion on a college campus.12 As Stephen King contends,

[The Exorcist] is a film about explosive social change, a finely honed focusing point for that entire youth explosion that took place in the late sixties and early seventies. It was a movie for all those parents who felt, in a kind of agony and terror, that they were losing their children and could not understand why or how it was happening.13

Indeed, even today one would be hard pressed to find a parent of an adolescent who has not at some point identified with Chris as she desperately cries, “I know that thing upstairs is not my daughter!14

It has also been argued that The Exorcist addresses anxieties about changes in the structure of the family. For Hoppenstand, the possessed Regan “functions as a type of moral symbol warning of the dire consequences of an evolving family structure that places more emphasis on parental identity—such things as career success and personal fulfillment—than on the child’s emotional stability.”15 Likewise, Cull contends that “Blatty’s story clearly reflects contemporary fears over the breakdown of the family. Regan is the child of a ‘broken marriage.’ Her mother is caught up in her career and alternates neglect with cloying over-compensation. [….] Beyond this,” Cull argues, “The Exorcist plays on the guilt of women moving into the work-place.”16 This reading is certainly suggested by the film, but it is made even more explicit in the novel, when the demon taunts Chris during the climactic exorcism scene, “It is you who have done it! Yes, you with your career before anything, your career before your husband, before her…”17 In a similar vein, Michael Arnzen asserts that after “usurping the role of male breadwinner and operating outside the strictures of the nuclear family,” Chris is “put back in her place, progressively forced by the film’s narrative to adopt the role of domestic mother.”18 Meanwhile, as represented by the Catholic priests and, to a lesser extent, Detective Kinderman, “male culture is empowered as the restorer of balance in the home and family, even if at a far remove” by the film’s conclusion.19

What all of these interpretations suggest, of course, is that The Exorcist is at heart a deeply conservative text. Calum Waddell, in fact, calls the film “perhaps the most explicitly conservative terror title of its generation.”20 King has proposed that, in many if not most cases,

[The] horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit; that its main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands.21

Thus for King, the conclusion of The Exorcist is satisfying precisely because “this disturbing crack between our normal world and a chaos where demons are allowed to prey on innocent children is finally closed at the end of the film.” As King contends,

When [Ellen] Burstyn leads the pallid but obviously okay Linda Blair to the car in the film’s final scene, we understand that the nightmare is over. Steady state has been restored. We have watched for the mutant and repulsed it. Equilibrium never felt so good.22

King does not seem much interested in questioning the appropriateness of that “normal world” or “steady state.” This puts him at odds with the late Robin Wood, who, less approvingly, placed The Exorcist in the category of “reactionary” horror, those films in which any implicit critique of traditional values is ultimately repressed. For Wood, what culture tends to repress is, in the horror film, typically presented in the form of the “monster” as something to be feared precisely because it threatens “normality.” And what is repressed in American culture? According to Wood, among other things, women, children, other cultures, and deviation from ideological or sexual norms. Thus for Wood, in a horror film, “the ‘happy ending’ (when it exists) typically signif [ies] the restoration of repression.”23 Moreover, as Wood suggests,

To identify what is repressed with “evil incarnate” (a metaphysical, rather than a social, definition) is automatically to suggest that there is nothing to be done but strive to keep it repressed. Films in which the “monster” is identified as the devil clearly occupy a privileged place in this group.24

By positing the possessed Regan’s rebellion against “normality” as “evil”—a rebellion that includes the release of sexuality as well as challenges to traditional authority figures—the text rather simplistically reaffirms the “rightness” of the church, the conventional family, and patriarchy—institutions which, for Wood, ought to be questioned and critiqued. Moreover, as Waddell notes, “[T]he evil is signified at the movie’s, admittedly well-orchestrated, Iraq-set opening as, somewhat predictably, and conservatively, ‘foreign,’” another detail that arguably places The Exorcist in the “reactionary” camp.25 It has been speculated that this “reactionary” quality is precisely what accounted for the film’s initial popularity. As Michael Dempsey asserts in an early review, “The movie ruthlessly manipulates the most primitive fears and prejudices of the audience. Reactionaries who want to return to that old-time religion can have their beleaguered beliefs shored up by this circus of horrors.”26

But I suspect that the lasting appeal of The Exorcist is not quite that simple. As Wood acknowledges, the horror genre by definition is “never free from ambiguity,” and “even the devil can be presented with varying degrees of (deliberate or inadvertent) sympathy and fascination.”27 According to Wood, “Central to the effect and fascination of horror films is their fulfillment of our nightmare wish to smash the norms that oppress us and which our moral conditioning teaches us to revere.”28 And it is our “fascination” with this “nightmare wish” to which I shall now turn. It seems that a large part of The Exorcist’s impact—what people tend to respond to, remember, and perhaps take the most pleasure in—are the shocking, transgressive words and deeds of the possessed Regan. Granted, the literal “meaning” of the text may lie in the way these threatening elements are explained as “evil” and ultimately vanquished. But I suggest that much of the pleasure and power of The Exorcist—and a partial explanation for its now-legendary status—can be located in those portions of the story in which the demon takes center stage, presenting a transgressive challenge to established institutions and effecting a release of “forbidden” desire in readers/viewers.

William Veeder’s discussion of the appeal of the gothic is helpful in this regard. In “The Nurture of the Gothic, or How Can a Text Be Both Popular and Subversive?” Veeder explains,

Through its thematic and representational insistence upon outré desires, gothic acts as a counterdiscursive formation that fosters pleasure in terms of both psyche and society by the release of repressed affects and by the exploration of foreclosed topics.29

In other words, much of the power of the gothic lies in our enjoyment of precisely those elements of the text that are identified as “bad” at the manifest level (i.e., what is readily visible on the “surface” or literal level of the narrative). Veeder acknowledges that “most gothic texts allow us to read them as […] an indictment of outré behavior and an affirmation of orthodoxy. Victor Frankenstein, The Wielands, Captain Ahab, Carmilla, Dr. Jekyll, Dorian Gray, Count Dracula, Thomas Sutpen are all exterminated.”30 Though Veeder does not mention The Exorcist, we could reasonably add to this list the demon (Pazuzu in the novel, unnamed in the film), who is clearly labeled in the text as a manifestation of “evil,” is ultimately expelled from Regan and, after briefly possessing Father Damien Karras, presumably disappears at the moment of the priest’s death. But, as Veeder suggests, “To take pleasure in stopping here, however, to enjoy a unilateral satisfaction in the defeat of evil and madness, is to refuse many of the pleasures of reading.” According to Veeder, “gothic texts provide us readers with pleasures as multiple and intense as our desires. The pleasure of gothic involves, therefore, the adaptation of textual materials to readerly needs.”31 That is to say, gothic narratives are enjoyable in part because they lend themselves to multiple interpretations that vary according to readerly interests. One could, of course, argue that this is true of all literary texts, but Veeder asserts that the gothic does it in a more “hyperintense fashion” than other genres because it so often includes ambiguous textual features to which readers are invited to respond according to their own sometimes unconventional desires.32

This notion may become clearer if we consider what outré desires and repressed affects are represented, and what foreclosed topics are specifically explored in The Exorcist. One issue raised in both novel and film (although perhaps inadvertently) concerns gender politics: the possessed Regan can be interpreted as a grotesque representation of female power. Barbara Creed, for example, suggests that Regan “becomes the castrating girl/woman, a figure designed to strike terror into the hearts of men.”33 It is notable that when Regan becomes violent, although she does strike her mother at one point, her victims are primarily men in positions of authority, or at least potential authority: she spits in the face of internist Dr. Klein and strikes him as he attempts to examine her;34 she squeezes the testicles of a neuropsychiatrist who hypnotizes her;35 and she murders film director Burke Dennings, whom she suspects (incorrectly) of being Chris’ love interest—and hence a potential stepfather.36 Moreover, both Father Merrin and Father Karras are killed during the attempted exorcism.37 While Regan’s superior physical strength, deep voice, explicit language, and defiance of authority are clearly presented at the manifest level as threats to be feared, they might at the same time be experienced as somewhat liberating if read as a symbolic representation of rebellion against repressive institutions. In Veeder’s terms, responses will vary according to “readerly needs.” Readers/viewers who align themselves—consciously or not—with traditional institutions such as the conventional family and the church might take the most pleasure in seeing this transgressive behavior squelched and Regan safely returned to the status of demure, obedient little girl. And this is no doubt what Blatty intends; near the end of both the novel and the film, though Regan is said to have no recollection of her ordeal, she spontaneously kisses Father Dyer upon noticing his Roman collar, as if to express her gratitude to the church for “curing” her.38 But others might—again, consciously or not—take the most pleasure in watching the possessed Regan lash out against any and all forms of repression and orthodoxy. I suspect that for many of us, it is both, since our desires—our “readerly needs—are complex. As Creed contends,

The Exorcist is not unlike a “ritual” of purification in that it permits the spectator to wallow vicariously in normally taboo forms of behavior before restoring order. This, of course, is a central appeal of the horror film; what is different about The Exorcist is its graphic association of the monstrous with the feminine body.39

In fact, for Creed, “the theme of spiritual decline […] is secondary to the film’s exploration of female monstrousness and the inability of the male to control the woman whose perversity is expressed through her rebellious body.”40 Along with transgressive speech and violent resistance to authority, Creed notes how often Regan’s “monstrousness” is presented in the form of a rather aggressive (unladylike?) flaunting of bodily functions, including bile, blood, spit, urine, vomit, and feces. As Creed explains, by failing to hide or police those aspects of the body ordinarily deemed improper or unclean, “[t]he possessed female subject is one who refuses to take up her proper place in the symbolic order.”41 And for some, it may be Regan’s very perversity, her refusal of her “proper place,” that accounts for much of the story’s fascination and pleasure. As Creed asserts, “Horror emerges from the fact that woman has broken with her proper feminine role.” Yet at the same time, the possessed Regan “remains a strongly ambiguous figure. Regan’s carnivalesque display of her body reminds us quite clearly of the immense appeal of the abject” (my emphasis).42

It is also worth noting how much of this transgression is presented in sexual terms. Creed notes the scene in which Regan pulls her mother’s face to her crotch and commands, “Lick me! Lick me! Lick me!”43 For Creed, implicit in such scenes is the assumption that “the family home […] is built on a foundation of repressed sexual desires, including those which flow between mother and daughter.”44 But this is only one among many suggestions that what is unleashed by Regan’s possession has something to do with sexuality. Early in the novel, Regan suggestively questions the nature of her mother’s relationship with Dennings;45 a short while later, Regan calls her father a “cocksucker” on the telephone46 and exposes herself to the doctors, shouting, “Fuck me! Fuck me!”47 The desecrations found in the church, presumably committed by Regan, are likewise sexual in nature: a statue of Mary is “painted like a harlot,” and a card left on the altar describes in Latin “an imagined homosexual encounter involving the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.”48 The possessed Regan invites Father Karras to “go at it” with her49 and taunts him with lewd descriptions of sexual acts involving his mother;50 as the final taunt during the exorcism scene, she calls Karras a “homosexual.”51 In the film, the dialogue is altered, but the overall effect is similar: she calls Father Merrin a “motherfucking worthless cocksucker”; she tells Karras his “mother sucks cocks in hell”; she invites the priests to have anal sex with her and with each other.52 While the explicit language might be shocking, the irreverence shown to traditional authority figures might be perversely appealing to some; there could also be some transgressive pleasure in indulging imaginatively in some of our culture’s “unthinkables.” (Doubters are urged to conduct a simple experiment: ask someone to quote a favorite line from The Exorcist.) Of course, on reflection, the realities referred to are not unthinkable at all: sexual desire exists, some of it in unorthodox forms; adolescent girls are not entirely innocent or ignorant about sexual matters; and Catholic priests are not entirely asexual beings—nor, obviously, are their mothers. Thus one might wonder why, in a story that aims to explore the nature of evil, talking about sex, even unorthodox sex, is presented as among the most terrifying things a demon can do. I would argue that our reactions to these words have less to do with the presumed speech habits of demons than with what our culture attempts to repress. As Wood reminds us, among those realities traditionally repressed is “sexual energy itself,” but in particular homosexuality, bisexuality, female sexuality, and the sexuality of children, all of which are, in the horror film, likely to resurface in the form of the monstrous “other.”53 And again, the extent to which we either find this “otherness” alluring or derive satisfaction from seeing it destroyed will depend, as Veeder suggests, on our own desires. Granted, this ambiguity may not be conscious or intentional on the author’s part: in this case, it appears that Blatty and Friedkin are asking us to accept the possessed Regan’s speech and behavior as clear manifestations of evil, as we shall see below. But that need not prevent us from reading against the grain of the text and taking some subversive pleasure in the defiance of cultural taboos.

Even the infamous scene in which Regan masturbates with a crucifix could be said to have its own kind of ambiguity. While Blatty calls the film version of the scene “the most shocking piece of footage I have ever seen,”54 he concedes, “A large section of the audience probably came because something that shocking and vulgar could be seen on the American screen,” adding, “Bill Friedkin always said that would be the case; that they would come to see the little girl masturbate with the crucifix.” Although this possibility was for Blatty “terribly depressing,”55 it does suggest that there is something about the spectacle that interests viewers; the scene was, and remains, one of the most remembered and talked-about in the film. Perhaps we can only speculate as to why this is so, but the creators’ own comments are revealing. Blatty explains the “necessity” of including the scene in both novel and film as follows: “What on earth would drive [Chris] to [consult a priest]? What is the worst possible thing I could think of?”56 (One might reasonably wonder why this is considered worse than the murder of Burke Dennings, which happens shortly before.) Perhaps most telling are Friedkin’s comments in 1998:

You bring together in one frame two extremely disparate elements that are never seen together in anyone’s conscious mind, and that’s the crucifix and the vagina. And yes, it is a kind of a blasphemous image, but we decided early on to retain it because this is what it means to be demonically possessed. There’s the crucifix that represents something, and there’s the vagina that represents something else. They are at opposite ends of the mode of consciousness that people have.57

Friedkin does not elaborate on what these “somethings” are, but I am struck by his assumption that “the vagina” is automatically associated “in anyone’s conscious mind” with something evil, diametrically opposed to a symbol of Christianity. Of course, this association goes back at least as far as biblical times, but it is reasserted time and again in horror narratives. As Carol Clover reminds us, “[W]here Satan is, in the world of horror, female genitals are likely to be nearby.”58 The misogynistic implications of this association have been explored elsewhere by Clover and others, but Friedkin seems content to accept the “blasphemous image” as an unambiguous sign of evil. The more the artists attempt to explain the horror, the more I for one am tempted to interrogate their terms, to ask why, in the late Twentieth Century, the female body and female sexuality are uncritically accepted, at least by some, as synonymous with “evil.” This is not to suggest that the scene isn’t disturbing, but some reflection on why it is disturbing can tell us something about the values our culture has such a stake in and tends to want reaffirmed. Perhaps for viewers, a desire either to reassert these values or to question them will determine the degree to which they find the scene either repulsive or fascinating (or both).59

But there are other ambiguous elements in The Exorcist that invite the kind of resistant reading that Veeder suggests increases the outré pleasures of the gothic. One example involves the plot-level question of whether or not Regan’s possession is authentic. There are plenty of clues in both the novel and the film to suggest that Regan’s transformation is the result of some kind of mental illness or hysteria, possibly brought on by ambivalent feelings about her parents’ divorce, resentment over Chris’ emphasis on her career and her friendship with Dennings, and other factors, combined with the onset of puberty.60 While these explanations are, at the manifest level, ultimately revealed to be red herrings, possibly even part of the demon’s strategy to sow doubt and confusion,61 much of this material is persuasive. In fact, the psychological explanation is what Karras, a psychiatrist as well as a priest, believes for most of the story, until well into the climactic exorcism scene. Initially convinced that there is “no way” Regan is actually possessed,62 Karras considers exorcism only because he believes it “could work” as a form of “counteracting suggestion.” 63Even as Karras requests the Bishop’s permission to perform the ritual, we are told in the novel, “He still did not dare believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment; pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.”64 This point is not quite as clear in the film: when the Bishop asks if he is “convinced that it’s genuine,” Karras simply responds, “I don’t know. Not really, I suppose. But I have made a prudent judgment that it meets the conditions set down in the Ritual,” leaving the audience to speculate about his motives.65 Interestingly, in a 1974 interview, Friedkin states,

I am not convinced that the possession was real. It was surprising to me how many people were willing to say it was possession and suspend their disbelief. I made the film in a way that it could very definitely not be possession. There are very clear-cut things in the movie that indicate that what you are seeing is always from someone’s point of view and from someone in an extremely heightened state of mind [….] There are several explanations which the film leaves open.66

Much of the open-endedness to which Friedkin refers was accomplished in the editing room, from which Blatty was allegedly barred during the final stages.67 The finished film’s ambiguities—concerning, for example, the cause and purpose of Regan’s possession, the precise nature of Karras’ faith crisis and, especially, Karras’ ultimate fate (as discussed below)—always bothered Blatty, who has claimed that the film, while “highly effective, […] lacked a spiritual center. You proceeded from shock to shock without a clear purpose.”68 But I would argue that these ambiguities are part of the power of the text. Not only do they open up more possibilities for uncanny subtextual readings, but they also create pleasure by allowing for what Tzvetan Todorov called “fantastic hesitation” between psychological and supernatural explanations.69 Our sustained uncertainty about the actual cause of Regan’s transformation, for example, places The Exorcist—at least up until its final moments—in the company of other great works of the fantastic such as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Another sort of ambiguity—one not often discussed—is created by the fact that in both the novel and the film, the ritual of exorcism, strictly speaking, does not work. Merrin dies in the attempt, and Regan’s ordeal ends only when Karras challenges the demon to enter him instead, at which point he throws himself through the window and down the steps to his death, presumably taking the demon with him.70 Karras’ Christ-like sacrifice—for a child who is essentially a stranger—does imply that he has in some way finally regained his faith. In the film this point is subtly underscored by the dying Karras’ nonverbal request for Father Dyer to “hear” his final confession. In the novel Blatty is somewhat more explicit:

[Dyer] pulled back his head and saw [Karras’] eyes filled with peace; and with something else: something mysteriously like joy at the end of heart’s longing. The eyes were still staring. But at nothing in this world. Nothing here.71

Even so, the fact that Regan is delivered not through the efficacy of official church ritual, but through the apparent suicide of a priest whose attempt to perform the ritual has failed, might cast some doubt on Blatty’s ostensible thesis about the rightness of the institutional church and its power to defeat evil. From a Catholic perspective, such doubt could be seen as counterdiscursive in itself, again potentially enhancing the outré pleasure of the text for those who desire it. Moreover, we are given glimpses of other evils from time to time: alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, the neglect of the sick and the elderly and, as suggested by the page of references that precedes the novel’s prologue, organized crime, torture, war, and genocide. Yet there is little indication that any of these real-world problems are addressed or solved by the story of Regan’s possession and exorcism. In fact, all of these evils can be attributed to the choices of human beings, rendering a supernatural explanation unnecessary. Add to all of this Chris’ statement at the end of the novel that “as far as God goes” she is still “a nonbeliever”72 and the film’s final shot of Father Dyer’s pained, puzzled expression as he gazes down the steps at the site of his friend’s mysterious death, and we have enough ambiguity to make The Exorcist a more open-ended—and hence more powerful and pleasure-producing—text than the reactionary tract or orthodox “sermon” it is often assumed to be—and was perhaps consciously intended to be.

But do intentions even matter? Those of us familiar with the concept of the “intentional fallacy” might be inclined to regard authorial statements of intention as ultimately irrelevant; at the very least, we know that our range of interpretations need not be limited by what the authors have to say. Yet at the same time, it is intriguing to see how much energy Blatty and Friedkin have put into clarifying their intentions over a forty-year period. When discussing The Exorcist in interviews, both have tended to insist on a rather literal reading, in stark opposition to what I and others find most interesting about the story. For example, on the issue of socio-political subtext, and generational conflict in particular, Friedkin states in 1991, “I don’t think the mood of the times had anything whatsoever to do with the success of The Exorcist…In fact, I’m not aware of any far-reaching social problems that The Exorcist deals with.”73 On the subject of gender-based readings, specifically those that address the fear of female maturation, Blatty asserts in 2008, “It’s so preposterous that I never know what to say about it. It’s really not worth discussing—or encouraging the ridiculous people who come up with these things.”74 In fact, Blatty claimed that he only made Regan a girl to protect the identity of the boy whose case had allegedly inspired the novel.75 Of course, one cannot and perhaps should not expect a novelist or a filmmaker to think like a literary critic. Nevertheless, I find it surprising to think that, in the early nineteen-seventies, Blatty would have seen no additional significance to Regan’s being female. For some of us, comments like these confirm that the intentional fallacy is indeed a fallacy. They also confirm for me that there was clearly a kind of “political unconscious” at work in the creation of The Exorcist, the artists’ disavowals notwithstanding.

Of course, this is not an especially surprising or radical claim; artists and audiences can and do disagree on the “meanings” of texts. But what is striking in the case of The Exorcist is, again, the lengths to which its creators have gone in their attempts to manage audience responses, not only in interviews, but also in DVD commentaries and even revised editions of the texts themselves. A case in point involves the 1998 release of The Exorcist: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition on DVD, which includes a feature-length voice-over commentary by Friedkin. Despite having stated in 1974 that he deliberately left the question of Regan’s possession open to multiple interpretations, even asserting, “I don’t feel [the film] has a religious message for anyone,”76 Friedkin now repeatedly emphasizes that The Exorcist was “based on a true story” and “deals with the battle of good and evil.” His commentary focuses almost exclusively on the literal plot, explaining, “All of the horror, all of the torture and punishment of the little girl are all there to test the faith of this one priest.” Regarding the question of who “wins” in the end—good (the priests) or evil (the demon)—Friedkin now states,

Most people take out of The Exorcist what they bring to it. If you believe that the world is a dark and evil place, then The Exorcist will reinforce that. But if you believe that there is a force for good that combats and eventually triumphs over evil, then you’ll be taking out of the film what we tried to put into it.77

He reiterates this point, with minor variations, a few times during the commentary. Friedkin’s eventual willingness to make such an assertion appears to have come, at least in part, from ongoing conversations with Blatty, who had expressed dissatisfaction with what he saw as a lack of clarity in the film. Blatty was especially disappointed that “so many in the audience misinterpreted the ending of the film—thinking that the demon won.”78 After having insisted for years that he preferred the more ambiguous nature of the film he had directed, Friedkin apparently had a change of heart.

These conversations with Blatty eventually led Friedkin to consider re-cutting the film for theatrical re-release, with the aim of hewing more closely to Blatty’s original vision. The revised version would restore a few scenes that had originally ended up on the cutting-room floor, some of which Blatty had always believed were essential in clarifying the film’s message. After viewing the footage together, Blatty recalls Friedkin saying, “You know, Bill, after 25 years I finally realize what you were trying to do with this picture.” Blatty’s explanation is that Friedkin had “matured”; Friedkin concurs, “I am not the same guy now that first directed that film back in the 70s.”79 The eventual result was the release in 2000 of The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, which includes approximately twelve minutes of restored footage. Kermode80 and Arnzen81 have discussed this added material in some detail. But I shall briefly mention just two scenes, both of which were restored in response to Blatty’s longstanding concern that audiences had “misinterpreted” the original film.

The first concerns the final encounter between Chris MacNeil and Father Dyer. In Blatty’s novel, the question of whether or not Regan’s ordeal has altered Chris’ position on religion is left somewhat open-ended. She tells Dyer, “As far as God goes, I am a nonbeliever. Still am.” Yet moments later, after Dyer asks, “[T]hen how do you account for all the good in the world?” she replies, “Yeah…yeah […] that’s a point.” Then Blatty tells us,

The sadness and shock of Karras’ death settled down on her mood like a melancholy haze. Yet through it, she saw a speckled point of light, and tried to focus on it…82

This passage has no real equivalent in the 1973 film; instead, Chris simply hands Karras’ St. Joseph medal to Dyer, saying, “I thought you’d like to keep this.”83 The 2000 version restores just a few seconds to that scene, as Dyer presses the medal back into Chris’ hand and asks, “Why don’t you keep it?”84 Like the “speckled point of light” she sees in the novel, Chris’ acceptance of the medal presumably signifies the possible beginning of some kind of faith or spiritual awareness. For Blatty, who had always been concerned that “many people […] interpret The Exorcist as a downer,” this moment undoubtedly directs viewers toward the more “positive spiritual message” he hoped the film would have.85 As Arnzen notes, “The restored footage […] clearly emphasizes that all is right with the family now that Chris has a token of the church to take with her as she maternally protects her child.” Yet from Arnzen’s perspective, the subtext is not so benign: “There is a strong patriarchal message at work here which seeks to entrench conservative familial ideology by substituting the church for the absent male parent.”86

A similar point can be made about the addition of a more “upbeat” final scene, a brief conversation between Father Dyer and Detective Kinderman (again, taken almost verbatim from the novel) that suggests a new friendship will be born out of the tragedy of Karras’ death. Of this scene, Blatty states,

I like it because I think it lets the audience know that despite everything that’s happened, everything’s alright now. If it wasn’t for the fact that so many in the audience misinterpreted the ending of the film—thinking that the demon won—I wouldn’t have pushed so hard for that scene to be added in the 2000 expanded version.87

But as Arnzen asserts,

[W]hat the restored footage also ideologically suggests is that the enlightened male sphere of the church (Dyer/Karras) and state (Kinderman) can keep transgressions of the domestic family home at bay if they work together […] What was repressed in the original version was a male desire for control over a single mother’s home, whether as an unconscious response to the rise of feminism in the early 1970s or the post-1960s increase in the “sin” of divorce in American culture. [….] The new ending confirms [this idea] with the powerful narrative device of full closure.88

It is clear that Blatty felt this sense of closure was missing from the 1973 film. As he told Friedkin in 1998, he wanted “a new ending that would allow the audience to feel, ‘The good guys won, […] God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.’”89 Where Blatty and Arnzen differ, of course, is in their notions of who the “good guys” are and what it means to say that “all is right with the world.” Recalling Robin Wood’s assertion that the “happy ending” in a horror film typically signifies “the restoration of repression,” Arnzen contends that in this case, “the ‘restoration of repression’ through a happy ending is precisely what TVYNS achieves.”90 I tend to agree with Arnzen’s analysis, but my chief concern is not that I disapprove of the conservative ideology the added scenes reinforce (although I do). I believe that these traditional ideas about family, marriage, and church are already present in the 1973 film for those who desire to see them. My discomfort with the restored footage is that it represents an attempt to close off alternate interpretations that might challenge and complicate those ideas. Of course, that was apparently Blatty’s wish (and perhaps the more “mature” Friedkin’s as well). But as I have tried to show throughout this paper, it is the complexity and open-endedness of The Exorcist—its gaps, indeterminacies, and seeming contradictions—that account for much of its appeal; in attempting to clear up ambiguities and steer viewers toward a more “correct” interpretation, The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen risks diminishing the power and pleasure of the original film.91

Also added to the 2000 version are computer-generated images of the demon that now appear mysteriously on walls, doors, and even kitchen appliances, as if to establish once and for all that the supernatural explanation is “real.” But these moments come much too early in the film, before any of the characters even begin to suspect a case of possession. This again has the effect of prematurely foreclosing alternate interpretations and, for me, decreasing the pleasure of prolonged uncertainty (or “fantastic hesitation,” to use Todorov’s term), so skillfully sustained in the 1973 film, as in the novel.

In 2011, Blatty published a revised “Fortieth Anniversary Edition” of the novel, claiming, “This is the version I would like to be remembered for.”92 In addition to several minor stylistic revisions, Blatty altered a few scenes and added some material, again with the apparent aim of clarifying his intentions. One notable example centers on the possibility of a new spiritual awareness for Chris. Her conversation with Father Dyer about good and evil is left mostly intact, but Chris’ assertion that she is still “a nonbeliever” is deleted. In addition, Blatty inserts a passage that more or less parallels the restored scene from the film, in which Dyer asks Chris if she’d like to keep Karras’ medal. Her acceptance of the medal (“Thanks, Father. Yeah. Yeah, I would”) is followed by another new exchange: Dyer wishes Chris, “Safe journey home,” and we are told, “It would only be later that she would wonder what he actually meant by ‘home.’”93 Like the restored footage in the 2000 version of the film, the alterations seem designed to promote a more “positive” spiritual message.

Another change involves the description of Karras’ death. As we have seen, Blatty was always bothered by what he saw as the film audience’s “misinterpretation” of the ending. Specifically, he confessed to having felt “indignation about how so many ‘dense’ filmgoers thought the demon took Karras out the window, making the ending seem to be a ‘downer.’”94 For Blatty, it was crucial to understand that it is Karras who takes the demon out of the window to avoid harming Regan:

[I]f the audience doesn’t fully comprehend that the demon is using Karras to try and kill the girl, they’ll be completely lost. They won’t understand that his death is actually a sacrifice of heroism, a final act of love to protect the young girl.95

This always seemed clear enough to me in the original novel: before Karras crashes through the window, Chris hears him shout, “No! I won’t let you hurt them! You’re not going to hurt them! You’re coming with…”96 Apparently, Blatty’s frustration over the film persuaded him that it was necessary to make Karras’ sacrifice more explicit in the novel as well. In the revised version, immediately after Karras challenges the demon, “Leave the girl and take me!”, Blatty adds a passage that describes Karras “as if pushing against some unseen resistance […] reaching out to clutch the throat of a screaming Regan MacNeil.”97 Later, after Chris has told Dyer what happened, we are told, “[Dyer] was thinking of Karras’ puzzling shout of ‘No!’ and then the sound of running steps overhead before his leap through the window.”98 Finally, as Karras dies on the steps, his eyes, which in the 1971 novel “[s]eemed to glow with an elation. Some plea. Something urgent,”99 now “[s]eemed to glow with an elation. Of completion. Of something like triumph.”100 Clearly, Blatty sought with these changes to erase any trace of confusion as to who “wins” in this battle between good and evil. And this, of course, was his prerogative, despite my own preference for the subtler and arguably more “open” ending of the original novel. Yet it is hard not to see the author’s longstanding desire to “correct” his audience as somewhat obsessive. Arnzen posits that the changes made for The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen “manifest the artist’s desire to pin down meaning via revision, as an attempt to master the inherent uncertainties of interpretation, via repetition”—a desire Arnzen characterizes as a kind of “repetition compulsion.”101 Blatty’s meticulous revisions for the Fortieth Anniversary Edition of his novel seem to reflect a similar impulse.

Finally, the revised edition includes an entirely new scene in which a mysterious priest suddenly appears in Karras’ room. It is implied, somewhat heavy-handedly, that the stranger may be an emissary from the devil, or even the devil himself. “Father Lucas” (Lucifer?) has red hair, smokes continually, and uses crutches due to an injury sustained “in a fall.” “Oh well, that’s the world we’ve inherited,” he sighs.102 Claiming that he has been sent by the university president to “counsel” Karras out of concern for his “health and […] emotional stability,” Lucas tries to convince him that it was he (Karras) who committed the chapel desecrations out of an unconscious rebellion against the Church. After warning Karras to call off his investigation and “Stay away from the MacNeils!” the priest disappears as mysteriously as he came. Karras assumes he has been dreaming until he notices a fresh cigarette butt in the ashtray—Lucas’ brand, not his own—apparently confirming that the diabolical visitation was “real.”[^103] The scene hardly seems necessary, though it might shed a bit more light on Karras’ lingering doubts and distressed mental state. Yet the tell-tale cigarette butt, like the computer-generated images of the demon in The Version You’ve Never Seen, seems to indicate a concern with establishing certainty where continued uncertainty would likely be more effective. At the very least, the placement of the scene seems premature, given that at this point in the narrative Karras is far from convinced that supernatural forces are at work.

As is clear by now, I prefer Blatty’s 1971 version of the novel and Friedkin’s 1973 version of the film. But perhaps it is wisest, despite my preferences and those of the artists, not to insist on any one version as “correct” or “definitive.” Rather, we might see the various iterations of The Exorcist as adaptations or competing interpretations, pieces in an ongoing and open-ended conversation about the meanings and implications of the story. Without a doubt, William Peter Blatty would object to much of what I have said in this paper; perhaps William Friedkin would as well. As Blatty insisted repeatedly, he intended (consciously, at least, if we are to take him at his word) to present a story about faith, about good ultimately triumphing over evil, and he was dismissive of alternate interpretations. To be fair, I believe that he left us with a gripping, moving tale that does succeed on that level to a large extent. But is this enough to explain the horror, the fascination, the lasting cultural impact of The Exorcist? For those of us who wish to open ourselves up to the multiple, contradictory, and subversive pleasures of the gothic, I submit that he left us with a great deal more.

  1. “Exorcist Author William Peter Blatty Dies at 89,” Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2017, accessed January 15, 2017. ↩︎

  2. Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (New York: Routledge, 1990), 103. ↩︎

  3. Danel Olson, “Editor’s Preface,” in Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 13. ↩︎

  4. Carroll, 103. ↩︎

  5. William Baer, “A Conversation with William Peter Blatty,” in Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 36. For background on the 1949 Cottage City case and its connections to Blatty’s novel, see Mark Kermode, The Exorcist, 11-19. Although the “true story “ connection was played up in the initial publicity for the film, and again by Friedkin in the commentaries that accompany both the 1998 and 2000 DVD releases, Blatty asserted in 2011 that “the perception that the novel was based on a true story […] was—and is—totally false.” Blatty concedes that “the 1949 case was the novel’s inspiration,” but clarifies that “the only facts I had at hand were the classic symptoms of possession that had somehow remained an identical constant in every culture and in every part of the world going back to ancient Egyptian times” (“Blatty on Revisiting His Most Famous Work,” 2). ↩︎

  6. Paul Wells, The Horror Genre: From Beelzebub to Blair Witch (London: Wallflower, 2000), 84. ↩︎

  7. “The Exorcist Author William Peter Blatty on Revisiting His Most Famous Work,” Huffington Post, October 4, 2011, accessed October 10, 2011. ↩︎

  8. Nick Cull, “The Exorcist,” History Today 50, no. 5 (2000): 47. ↩︎

  9. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 17, ed. and transl. James Stratchey et al (London: Hogarth, 1955), 217-256. ↩︎

  10. Cull, 48. ↩︎

  11. Gary Hoppenstand, “Exorcising the Devil Babies: Images of Children and Adolescents in the Best-Selling Horror Novel,” in Images of the Child, ed. Harry Eiss (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994), 37. ↩︎

  12. William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), 19. ↩︎

  13. Stephen King, Danse Macabre (New York: Berkley Books, 1983), 169. ↩︎

  14. Blatty, The Exorcist, 240. ↩︎

  15. Hoppenstand, 38. ↩︎

  16. Cull, 49. ↩︎

  17. Blatty, The Exorcist, 349. ↩︎

  18. Michael A. Arnzen, “Familial Ideology in The Exorcist,” in Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 265. ↩︎

  19. Ibid., 269. ↩︎

  20. Calum Waddell, “Exorcising the Liberal,” in Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 133. ↩︎

  21. King, 395. ↩︎

  22. Ibid., 396. ↩︎

  23. Robin Wood, “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” in Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film, ed. Barry Keith Grant and Christopher Sharrett (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1984), 169-170. ↩︎

  24. Ibid., 193. ↩︎

  25. Waddell, 134; for discussion of the Iraq-set prologue and its implications regarding American fear of the Arab world, see Cull, 50. ↩︎

  26. Michael Dempsey, “The Exorcist,” Film Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1974): 61. ↩︎

  27. Wood, 192-193. ↩︎

  28. Ibid., 177. ↩︎

  29. William Veeder, “The Nurture of the Gothic, or How Can a Text Be Both Popular and Subversive?” in American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998), 28. ↩︎

  30. Ibid., 30. ↩︎

  31. Ibid. ↩︎

  32. Ibid., 30-31. Veeder discusses puns, unreliable narrators, open-ended denouements, veiled sexual references, carnivalesque features, and grotesque hybridization as examples of ambiguous textual elements common to the gothic (28-37). ↩︎

  33. Barbara Creed, “Woman as Abject Monster,” In Studies in The Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 209. ↩︎

  34. Blatty, The Exorcist, 104, 122. ↩︎

  35. Ibid., 142. ↩︎

  36. Ibid., 43, 134. ↩︎

  37. Ibid, 370, 374. ↩︎

  38. Ibid, 384. ↩︎

  39. Creed, 205. ↩︎

  40. Ibid., 200. ↩︎

  41. Ibid., 207. ↩︎

  42. Ibid., 212. ↩︎

  43. Blatty, The Exorcist, 215. ↩︎

  44. Ibid., 202. ↩︎

  45. Ibid., 43. ↩︎

  46. Ibid., 106. ↩︎

  47. Ibid., 122. ↩︎

  48. Ibid., 101. ↩︎

  49. Ibid., 232. ↩︎

  50. Ibid., 268. ↩︎

  51. Ibid., 371. ↩︎

  52. The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition), directed by William Friedkin (1998; Burbank, CA: Warner, 1998), DVD. ↩︎

  53. Wood, 166-167. ↩︎

  54. The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition). ↩︎

  55. Mark Kermode, The Exorcist (Revised 2nd Edition), (London: British Film Institute, 2003), 65. ↩︎

  56. The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition). ↩︎

  57. Ibid. ↩︎

  58. Carol J. Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 76. ↩︎

  59. Incidentally, Blatty’s novel makes it entirely clear that Regan is masturbating with the crucifix (215-216); in the film, Regan looks more like she is stabbing herself. This leads me to wonder if the filmmakers felt the scene would somehow be more palatable with an implied emphasis on violence rather than sex. To my knowledge, Friedkin has not commented on this point. ↩︎

  60. Blatty, The Exorcist, 224, 245, 251, 286. ↩︎

  61. Ibid., 267. ↩︎

  62. Ibid., 253. ↩︎

  63. Ibid., 291. ↩︎

  64. Ibid., 313. ↩︎

  65. The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition). ↩︎

  66. William Crouch, “An Interview with William Friedkin,” in Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 72. ↩︎

  67. Kermode, 77-78. ↩︎

  68. Ibid., 96. ↩︎

  69. Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, trans. R. Howard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), 25. ↩︎

  70. Blatty, The Exorcist, 370-372. ↩︎

  71. Ibid., 372. ↩︎

  72. Ibid., 382. ↩︎

  73. Kermode, 35. ↩︎

  74. Baer, 59. ↩︎

  75. Ibid., 40. ↩︎

  76. Crouch, 73. ↩︎

  77. The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition). ↩︎

  78. Baer, 59. ↩︎

  79. Kermode, 95-96. ↩︎

  80. Kermode, 96-113. ↩︎

  81. Michael A. Arnzen, “’There Is Only One’: The Restoration of the Repressed in The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen,” in Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, ed. Danel Olson (Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011), 349-373. ↩︎

  82. Blatty, The Exorcist, 382. ↩︎

  83. The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition). ↩︎

  84. The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, directed by William Friedkin (2000; Burbank, CA: Warner, 2000), DVD. ↩︎

  85. Kermode, 117. ↩︎

  86. Arnzen, “There Is Only One,” 363. ↩︎

  87. Baer, 59. ↩︎

  88. Arnzen, “There Is Only One,” 363-364. ↩︎

  89. Kermode, 117. ↩︎

  90. Arnzen, “There Is Only One,” 361. ↩︎

  91. That Friedkin seems intent on foreclosing alternate readings is even more apparent in the new commentary that accompanies the DVD release of The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen. In addition to insisting repeatedly that the story is “based on fact,” Friedkin states, “Ladies and gentlemen, the story is very consciously a parable of Christianity, Christianity being an eternal struggle of goodness over evil.” Moreover, he asserts, “There is no doubt in my mind, or in the mind of William Peter Blatty, who created this story, that this is a story where goodness triumphs over evil.” ↩︎

  92. “Blatty on Revisiting His Most Famous Work.” ↩︎

  93. William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist: Fortieth Anniversary Edition (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), 376. ↩︎

  94. “Blatty on Revisiting His Most Famous Work.” ↩︎

  95. Baer, 56. ↩︎

  96. Blatty, The Exorcist, 372. ↩︎

  97. Blatty, The Exorcist, Fortieth Anniversary Edition, 365. ↩︎

  98. Ibid., 374-375. ↩︎

  99. Blatty, The Exorcist, 373. ↩︎

  100. Blatty, The Exorcist, Fortieth Anniversary Edition, 367. ↩︎

  101. Arnzen, “There Is Only One,” 359. ↩︎

  102. Blatty, The Exorcist, Fortieth Anniversary Edition, 303. ↩︎


Arnzen, Michael A. “Familial Ideology in The Exorcist.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, edited by Danel Olson, 261-274. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Arnzen, Michael A.“’There Is Only One’: The Restoration of the Repressed in The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, edited by Danel Olson, 349-373. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Baer, William. “A Conversation with William Peter Blatty.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, edited by Danel Olson, 35-60. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

Blatty, William Peter.The Exorcist (Fortieth Anniversary Edition). New York: Harper Collins, 2011.

Carroll, Noël. The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Creed, Barbara. “Woman as Abject Monster.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, edited by Danel Olson, 195-212. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Crouch, William. “An Interview with William Friedkin.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist. Ed. Danel Olson, 61-82. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Cull, Nick. “The Exorcist.” History Today 50, no. 5 (2000): 46-51.

Dempsey, Michael. “The Exorcist.” Film Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1974): 61-62.

The Exorcist (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition). Directed by William Friedkin, 1973. Burbank, CA: Warner, 1998. DVD.

The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen. Directed by William Friedkin, 1973, 2000. Burbank, CA: Warner, 2000. DVD.

“Exorcist Author William Peter Blatty Dies at 89.” Los Angeles Times. January 13, 2017. Accessed January 17, 2017. (

“The Exorcist Author William Peter Blatty on Revisiting His Most Famous Work.” Huffington Post, October 4, 2011. Accessed October 10, 2011. http://www.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” In Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 17, edited and translated by James Stratchey et al, 217-256. London: Hogarth, 1955.

Hoppenstand, Gary. “Exorcising the Devil Babies: Images of Children and Adolescents in the Best-Selling Horror Novel.” In Images of the Child, edited by Harry Eiss, 34-58. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994.

Kermode, Mark. The Exorcist (Revised 2 nd Edition). London: British Film Institute, 2003. King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkley Books, 1983.

Olson, Danel. “Editor’s Preface.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, edited by Danel Olson, 11-13. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Translated by R. Howard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973.

Veeder, William. “The Nurture of the Gothic, or How Can a Text Be Both Popular and Subversive?” In American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, edited by Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy, 20-39. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998.

Waddell, Calum. “Exorcising the Liberal.” In Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist, edited by Danel Olson, 125-138. Lakewood: Centipede Press, 2011.

Wells, Paul. The Horror Genre: From Beelzebub to Blair Witch. London: Wallflower, 2000.

Wood, Robin. “An Introduction to the American Horror Film.” In Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film, edited by Barry Keith Grant and Christopher Sharrett, 164-2000. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1984.

About the Author: 

Brian Patrick Riley received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Notre Dame. He is an associate professor of English at Anne Arundel Community College, where he teaches American Literature, Introduction to Literature and Composition, and developmental English. His interests include nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, twentieth-century drama, the gothic, the grotesque, film, and adaptation studies.

Volume 2, Issue 1

Also in this issue

Heroes of the Louisiana Oral Tradition

Luc Guglielmi
Kennesaw State University

Waking the Dreamer: Link’s Awakening, Fantasy Utopias, and the Ethics of Suffering

Patrick Thomas Henry
The University of North Dakota

‘[T]hey, Like the Child, Are Not Free’: An Ethical Defense of the Ones Who Remain in Omelas

Paul Firenze
Wentworth Institution of Technology
From the Editors

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