By William Peter Blatty
Anyone who has ever seen a horror movie has seen The Exorcist and is thus familiar with the storyline: Young Regan MacNeil begins acting strangely, almost as if she’s somebody else. Her starlet mother Chris pays for all the best doctors and all the finest medical tests, but they come up empty every time, and Regan’s condition progressively worsens. With no other option, Chris must go against her lack of faith and recruit the help of a secular and skeptical young priest to perform an Exorcism. Yes, we all know the movie, but surprisingly many people haven’t read the source material.
So how does it stack up? Decently enough, to be sure. It’s written rather well (despite the. Sometimes stilted. Descriptive prose.) and is obviously so well researched that it approaches—but doesn’t cross—the line of overkill. The medical and psychological dialogue is detailed and could be boring, but isn’t. The characters are realistic, meaning some of them you like and others you can not stand. Regan was, at first, a picture of sweetness and innocence, while her mother came off frankly as a bit spoiled. Father Damian Karras, suffering his own crisis of faith, is a hell of a guy (and one we can all identify with, despite his sacred profession.) But the real klinker is Officer Kinderman, whose wishy-washy personality and interrogations make him quite possibly the most annoying character in the history of literature.
The discussions of Black Mass and depictions of Regan’s innocence being raped away by the demon Pazuzu (AKA Captain Howdy) leave you antsy and disturbed, and while the movie may offer more immediate shock and long-lasting feelings of general unease, the fact that this book can get under your skin without use of any visuals beyond the written word is a testament of its own effectiveness, and is nothing to be sneezed at.