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Definition: Exorcist, The from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US horror film released in 1973 and directed by US director William Friedkin, based on a novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. The story tells of a pubescent girl (US actor Linda Blair) who is possessed by the devil which has to be exorcised by a priest (Swedish actor Max von Sydow). The film achieved notoriety partly because it was banned, only appearing on video in the UK in 1999, and partly due to the mythology that grew up around the filming of it, including the alleged deaths of nine crew members.


Summary Article: The Exorcist
from American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations

A novel by William Peter Blatty (1971)

FILM: The Exorcist (Warner 1973). Adaptation by William Peter Blatty. Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Linda Blair (Regan), Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Jason Miller (Fr. Karras), Max von Sydow (Fr. Merrin), Kitty Winn, Lee J. Cobb, Jack MacGowran, William O'Malley.

While a student at the Jesuit Georgetown University in Washington DC, William Peter Blatty heard about a case of exorcism that was performed in St. Louis in 1949. Further research and re-imagining the events with new names and details, Blatty wrote the novel The Exorcist which was an immediate bestseller. While the aged Jesuit Fr. Merrin discovers an ancient relic in Mesopotamia that suggests that a demon has been released, the eleven-year-old girl Regan MacNeil. living in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC, with her actress mother Chris, becomes strangely ill. Soon she is crying out and showing signs that she is possessed by the devil. Doctors seem unable to cure her so Chris calls in the Jesuit priest Fr. Karras who is undergoing anxiety about his faith since his mother died. Karras becomes convinced that only an exorcism can save the child and the bishop assigns Fr. Merrin, recently returned to the States, to the case. The exorcism is grueling and the devil torments both priests physically and mentally, eventually killing Merrin. But Regan is cured and Karras survives with a newfound sense of faith. The mixture of religion, suspense, and horror was unique in its day and The Exorcist opened up the field for many other demonic thrillers to follow, few as well-written and researched as Blatty's novel. The 1973 screen version boasts several fine performances from newcomers, such as child actress Linda Blair who got vocal help from Mercedes McCambridge, and from veterans, as with Max von Sydow's subtle Fr. Merrin. Blatty wrote the tight screenplay, making few changes from his book. Director William Friedkin added many visual effects to the strange physical phenomena that occur in the novel and the concise editing and short flashes of scenes added to the tension and the horror. A few of these have dated with time but The Exorcist is still one of the most frightening and disturbing movies ever made. The film has been followed by sequels, prequels, and rip-offs, none using material from the original bestseller.

© 2012 McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

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