When The Exorcist made its theatrical debut in 1973, it quickly became one of the most controversial but memorable cinematic events of the decade, maybe even the generation. Apparently, tickets were issued with complimentary barf bags, and ambulances were stationed outside many theaters because the scenes were so intense and grotesque that audience members would puke and/or faint!
I figured if a movie was capable of inducing that kind of response, then to read the book would require a diaper and methadone drip. While I was in need of neither, the book did not disappoint in providing a scare that won’t escape my memory anytime soon.
I was going to wait until Halloween to read it (and write this review), but it was next on my reading list and I hate skipping. Anyway, I typically don’t like to read books if I’ve seen the movie first, but I made an exception given how iconic and timeless the film is.
My only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner.
Overall score: 4.75/5
Summary (No spoilers)
The Exorcist, written by William Blatty, is not a story to be read by the faint of heart, especially if you take religious mythology seriously. From the prologue all the way through the epilogue, the author depicts each and every scene in heart-wrenching and often gruesome detail. The reader may find themselves ensnared by the rhythmic flow of the narrator’s dialogue, hypnotized by ominous tones set by haunting atmospheres neither the characters nor the reader can escape. I was overwhelmed by a desire to turn to the next page, despite my stomach’s objections.
Given the horrors described in the book, one may find themselves wanting to put it down and forget they ever read it. But the author has a way of sucking the reader into the story, so much so that you can taste the stench of the “demon’s room” and feel the projectile vomit smacking against your face.
The plot is fairly simple: girl gets possessed by a malevolent demon, which the priests then try to exorcise. There’s actually a lot that goes on in between, but it all adds to the richness of the story. While this type of tale has been done a trillion times since this one, I’ve yet to come across a novel with as much depth as The Exorcist. It’s the characters that complete the story, tying dreary settings and imagery together with their robust personalities.
A Couple Thoughts
I have to assume the book and movie did not sit well with people in the 70’s. In fact, I read somewhere that the actress who played the possessed little girl received death threats for years because religious people thought she really had the devil within her. I highly doubt people in 2021 would be much kinder to her or the book if released this year, but for reasons beyond religion.
There were many instances when the demon made the girl say and do some truly disgusting things; things that shouldn’t come out of an eleven-year-old’s mouth or be done to her body (you’ll have to read the book or see the movie to know what I’m talking about).
I believe good storytelling comes from honesty and a willingness to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable. I believe in order to paint a realistic picture of a scenario, fiction or not, one must be prepared to offend and explore the vile, grotesque absurdities and depths within human nature. This book does that. It will make readers uncomfortable, but that is why it is so good. The horrific things the demon said and did made the story believable without tip-toeing around truth and possible offense.
In the end, The Exorcist was more than a horror story. It was an examination of our humanity. An assessment of the relationship between good and evil, God and the Devil, love and hatred. How one cannot exist without the other. How imperfection fosters a duality within us, poisoning our once uncontaminated souls; possessed, not by the devil, but by the corruption of mankind.
In conclusion, if you want to get lost in a gripping horror that will challenge your tolerance of fear and violence, this book is for you. Unfortunately, if you are squeamish or easily triggered, this is definitely not for you. However, regardless of your tastes in media, the story is thoroughly entertaining and I’d recommend to anyone who is a horror genre buff or someone looking for a story to get lost in.
Before You Go!
Have you read the book or seen the movie? What are your thoughts on it? Did you like it as much as I did or did you hate it? Be sure to let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below!
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