Episode 31. The Power of Christ Compels You: The Exorcist (1973)

exorcist
Keep a crucifix close and put some pea soup on the stove because Alex and Andrea are confronting their demons to talk about The Exorcist and why the scariest things are sometimes the most personal.

REQUIRED READING

The Exorcist. Dir William Friedkin, 1973.

EXTRA CREDIT

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.

The 1949 Washington Post piece on an exorcism in Mt. Rainier. The news article that inspired Blatty to write the best-selling novel.

History Today article on The Exorcist. Nick Cull explores how the smash-hit horror film exploited all the issues that most worried Americans in the early 1970s.

Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection by Barbara Creed. Creed’s seminal paper which explores the female body as a site of trauma and terror.

I Was There Too – The Exorcist with Eileen Dietz. Matt Gourley’s fun and informative podcast focuses on interviews with actors who were there for the great moments of cinema history. In this episode he interviews Linda Blair’s body and stunt double who was also the face of Captain Howdy, Eileen Dietz, who gives a personal account of the shooting of the film.

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror by Jason Zinoman. The New York Times writer describes playwright Harold Pinter’s influence on The Exorcist’s original theatrical cut.

COURSE NOTES

 Intro song: Nail Ballet from Nightmare Picture Theatre, courtesy of James Zirco Fisher.
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15 thoughts on “Episode 31. The Power of Christ Compels You: The Exorcist (1973)

  1. Chris Mosher says:

    Great podcast,I listened at work today and the first thing I have done now that I am home is to put the movie on. I dont’t know if either of you have ever seen The Ninth Configuration, William Blatty’s directorial debut but it’s actually surprisingly funny. The dvd i watched back in the early 2000’s had one of the best commentaries I have listened to and he talked about his experiences with The Exorcist one and three.

  2. Excellent episode. For me the most terrifying theme of The Exorcist is its questioning of a rational scientific world view: when our science and technology fails to find a solution we must consider the supernatural as something real. Hope you cover The Exorcist II, possibly the worse sequel ever made, yet there’s something glorious about it!

    • Chillerpop says:

      Funny you should mention Heretic. For I am madly in love with that glorious mess. https://chillerpop.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/exorcist2theheretic/

    • Stacy Livitsanis says:

      “…when our science and technology fails to find a solution we must consider the supernatural as something real.” That might work in a fantasy movie like The Exorcist, where the supernatural exists, but thankfully in reality medical science usually ignores this credulous appeal to superstition and tries to find actual causes and remedies for the very real mental problems (and sometimes just normal behaviour) disgracefully labelled as ‘demonic possession’. That ‘science’ doesn’t come up with perfect solutions is hardly reason to discard it and look to irrational and demonstrably harmful beliefs for answers. http://whatstheharm.net/exorcisms.html

      Unless I’ve completely misunderstood your comment and you meant that what’s terrifying about The Exorcist is the idea that in the face of a bewildering situation people would fully abandon reason and look to irrational superstition for answers? Because that I do find terrifying.

  3. Tim McGregor says:

    Great show, ladies. I laughed my ass off at the possession in progress during the podcast. I’m not sure why, but Andrea being possessed by the devil seemed completely plausible. ‘The Exorcist’ is a huge topic but you guys parsed it out well. Insightful, funny and wholly inappropriate when my daughters overheard it. Whoops! Kudos. Next month’s episode sounds wicked.

  4. Antonis says:

    I came pretty late to the Exorcist party. I had seen a few bits here and there. Then last year I listened to the audiobook and in preparation of this podcast finally watched the whole film.
    And I have to say it the film never really impressed or scared me. It might be because the film is over forty years old and i’m only twenty. But then again, I love old horror movies. A few weeks ago I watched Night of the Living Dead and that had a stronger impact on me.
    I think the film didn’t click with me for two reasons.
    For starters it’s so similar to the book which I loved but the film didn’t really add anything new to the story. Of course that makes sense when you know that William Peter Blatty wrote the screen pay but it’s an important fact to remember when analyzing the themes in the film.
    Secondly a lot of horror websites call The Exorcist the scariest film ever made but I feel like that has more the do with the hype around the film when it came out then the actually film.
    But I certainly respect it. Anyway another great podcast! I look forward to the next one!

  5. Andrew says:

    Greetings from Texas, Ladies –
    So happy that you devoted an entire episode to one of my favorite movies. I remember this movie scaring the everloving doodoo out of me when I saw it as a 9 year old. That, coupled with my Catholic upbringing, gave me issues for years to come…I had trouble sleeping with the lights off well into my teenage years thanks to this film. Because of your podcast (and a crummy day at work) I decided to revisit the film last night and, unfortunately, discovered that the film no longer scares me one bit. I suppose I’ve seen it way too many times, but now Reagan’s scenes just crack me up. I still love it to pieces, however, and was able to really drink in the masterfully subtle/understated direction of William Friedkin. Contrasting this fantastic imagery with the mundane and realistically photographed scenes of normal day-to-day life really heightens the creepiness factor…and makes it seem all the more plausible. I wondered if you ladies were familiar with the story of Paul Bateman, who plays the moustachioed X-ray assistant in the hospital scenes. He provided real-life inspiration for one of Friedkin’s later films, ‘Cruising’, about a serial killer targeting New York’s gay leather scene. Bateman claimed to have been commiting murders at the time during which ‘The Exorcist’ was being filmed! I believe he was only convicted of one murder, in the end, however. Just one more way in which ‘The Exorcist’ is “cursed”…
    Happy Halloween, Ladies – and thanks for all that you do!
    – Andrew

  6. Katie says:

    I hate being the human embodiment of #Actually but, I just came across this piece today that confirms the implication that Reagan is masturbating with the crucifix…

    ““She sat down with her mother, and I said, ‘Linda, do you know anything about The Exorcist?’” Friedkin recalled. “She said, ‘Yeah, I read the book. It’s about a little girl who gets possessed by the devil and then does a whole bunch of bad things.’

    “I said, ‘Like what? What kind of things does she do?’” he said, testing her.

    She told him: “‘Well, she hits her mother across her face. And she pushes a man out her bedroom window. And she masturbates with a crucifix.’”

    This was the moment in the story that caused more angst than any other, and remains a deeply controversial part of the movie (even though the scene is shot from behind, so a stand-in could be used.)

    “I look over and her mother is smiling,” Friedkin says. “I asked, ‘Do you know what that means?’ She said, ‘Yes, it’s like jerking off, isn’t it?’”

    When the director took a deep breath and asked if she even knew what that meant, she replied: “’Sure. Don’t you?’”

    (Source: http://www.ew.com/article/2012/10/31/the-exorcist-10-creepy-details/5)

    Also I just discovered your podcast today and LOVE IT! Thank you for being amazing female voices in this podcast genre- they are few and far between.

    • Andrea says:

      Thanks, Katie! I’m unconvinced though… I wish that interviewer asked Friedkin if a possessed boy slamming his penis in a door would also be considered “masturbating”!

  7. Another great episode this month, and I was particularly interested in the discussion about Father Karras regaining his faith not as a result of proof of God, but in his conflict with Satan.

    This actually reminded me of a quote from George Clooney in From Dusk Til Dawn. Now bear with me here as I know that these are very different flicks, but they both touch on the idea of finding one’s faith through the presence of supernatural evil. As Seth, Clooney makes a compelling point about the vampires threatening their group in order to help Harvey Keitel’s Jacob regain his faith and by extension his power as a preacher: “And if there is a hell, and those sons of bitches are from it, then there has got to be a heaven… Jacob, there’s gotta be.”

    Now, it’s feasible that Father Karras and Seth are wrong. The presence of vampires or demons does not alone prove the existence of God or heaven. But damned if it doesn’t open the door pretty wide to the possibility. Now, hopefully I’ll be able to keep this information at least in the back of my mind in the event that I do get possessed or attacked by a vampire.

  8. Stacy Livitsanis says:

    “Exorcism is a brutal, heinous, medieval torture ritual justified only by ignorance. Its roots as a religious rite are irrelevant; a crime is still a crime. In this century, we have the means to actually help sick people. Do not condone the primitive obscenity that is exorcism.” From Skeptoid – The Exorcism of Anneliese (https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4248)

    Instead of being able to let go and enjoy it as a horror movie, I increasingly find it hard to watch The Exorcist and not be constantly reminded that this superstitious nonsense is something that happens in real-life — that kills children — and people honestly believe this crap is real. Unlike you guys, the older I get the more disgusted and offended I am by faith and religion and see them as blights on humanity, the sooner they’re abandoned the better.

    Andrea said, “Religious intolerance is kind of in vogue right now. It’s popular, when it’s actually kind of really outrageous that it should be, because it is religious intolerance, even if it’s aimed at one of the bigger religions of the world.” Setting aside the question of why religions deserve to be tolerated when they don’t contribute anything worthwhile to the world that cannot be achieved just as well or better through purely secular means and in fact contribute demonstrable harm, I wonder what more does an institution have to do to earn your ire if child rape-enabling isn’t enough to invite condemnation? The Catholic Church has been responsible for vastly more real pain and suffering than anything any demon in a movie has ever done.

    “If you are an atheist like me and Alex, it’s almost a position of privilege. If you don’t believe in god it’s because you never needed god to explain something so heavy, or inexplicable or dark or something that’s happened to you.” I have been unable to craft a response to this comment that doesn’t include several swear words.

    “It’s impossible to film ‘goodness’, really, and if it were possible we probably wouldn’t watch it, because we would find it boring. Evil is so much more interesting.” I completely disagree. Of course you can film ‘goodness’. Any moment in a movie where a character performs a selfless, noble act is filming ‘goodness’. A random example off the top of my head: in Die Hard With a Vengeance (of all things), Charlie the bomb disposal guy is working on disarming a large bomb in a school which will go off in minutes. The school has been emptied but turns out there are still children inside. Upon learning this, Charlie decides to stay put and keep working on the bomb, even though his death is certain. This is a more noble act than anything Bruce Willis does in the film, and I found it genuinely moving. Doesn’t have to be as grand as a self-sacrifice, but moments like that, of basic decency common to humanity, are moments of goodness. They’re not boring. I look forward to seeing them in movies more often.

    Don’t get me wrong guys, I love your show and your analysis of film is always fascinating and makes me envious of your critical faculties, but seeing the very real harm magical thinking does in the world, I can’t help but get riled up about the topic, especially when highly intelligent people give it a free pass when it deserves nothing less than ridicule.

    • Euphoric says:

      I bet everyone is being really nice in not telling you this but: nobody cares about the whole atheism thing. This is a podcast about MOVIES and this is the comment section of such podcast about movies. People like you go on preaching all over the internet and by this point you’re worse than baptists or whatever they are called, why don’t you go to those websites where they bash religious people and get your smarter-than-thou fix of the day and then come back and comment about movies instead of lecturing people about the dangers of believing whatever they want.

  9. Abby Prohofsky says:

    I’ve only just discovered your podcast, and I really love listening to what you have to say. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, but I do disagree with you on one point. You said that you believe that this could take place in any Abrahamic religion, and while I can’t speak for Islam, I really don’t think this movie would work in a Jewish context. The Jewish understanding of evil, while there’s a lot of debate, is rather different from the Christian one. In Judaism, evil inclinations are an integral part of human nature, not necessarily an outside force. It is our job to avoid those impulses and chose to be good people. This is different from the Christian idea that the only path to redemption is to be granted it by God. Christian faiths have a general consensus on an afterlife divided into Heaven, Hell, and sometimes purgatory. In contrast, Judaism places far less emphasis on an afterlife and has no such theological agreement on if one even exists. Demonology is prevalent in Christian theology but almost entirely absent in Judaism.
    I know my experience may not be representative, but as a Jew who was raised Catholic there are some very noticeable theological differences. Overall, I think these distinctions are significant in the context of The Exorcist.
    Sorry about how lengthy and inarticulate this comment ended up being. Keep up the good work!

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