With #Halloween approaching, many fans of the horror genre revisit their favorite movies and a whole new slew of fans sample the 'classics' for the first time.
Over the last 50 years, few movies have earned that distinction and place as a 'must see' movie, or impacted popular culture as much as William Friedkin's 1973 masterpiece, The Exorcist.
The harrowing and disturbing portrayal of a pre-teen Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) being possessed by the most vile of demons struck terror into the minds and hearts of movie-goers 44 years ago. Tales of people vomiting, running from the theater or fainting were commonplace... Indeed my own parents first date was this movie, and my dad famously walked out!
With a movie so richly layered, it is however easy to get things wrong, particularly if you've only seen it for the first time, or god forbid seen either the TV show or one of its inferior sequels first, or even the recent stage adaptation which played in the UK.
Here we look at 6 things people often get wrong about the movie...of course SPOILERS are ahead so if you want to avoid them, the power of Christ compels you to leave now!
Damian Karras Never Lost His Faith!
Played by acclaimed playwright and stage actor Jason Miller, Father #Karras is introduced as being at a difficult point in his life and he confesses that he feels he has lost his faith to his boss.
While we don't see the rest of that conversation, we learn enough throughout the rest of the movie to know that #Karras HASN'T actually lost his faith yet, he is simply at a crossroads in his life.
#Karras has not had the traditional path to becoming a Jesuit Priest, having been both a boxer and attended Ivy League schools on the Church's dime. He is valued by them more for his insight into the world of Psychology as for any religious input he can give and to all intents and purposes may as well be "just a shrink".
His mother is sick and he is faced with the realization that while his vocation has provided him with opportunity in his life, he cannot now afford the care she needs as a result. Had he left the priesthood sooner for private practice, he could have made provision.
Many priests have such a crisis of faith during their lives, but it is his interaction with #Regan that shows him almost immediately that his faith is being tested rather than him losing it already. Had he already lost his faith, he would have dismissed Chris' pleas or discussions around an exorcism and would perhaps be stealing whiskey and going to parties like his friend Father Dyer. That he takes her seriously means he takes his vocation seriously still.
Burke Was Not A Predator
The stage play in particular implies that the director of Chris' movie, Burke Dennings has an unhealthy interest in Regan and this leads to his death. Friedkin's movie however goes out of its way to show Dennings as a boorish drunk, haunted by World War II rather than having any sinister leanings towards a 12-year old.
While his behavior at Chris' party would, in the modern era see him receive Mel Gibson style blackballing and be career suicide, there was arguably some subtext to his verbal assault on Karl, the Swiss butler who takes the brunt of his tirade.
As an Englishman of Burke's age in 1973, he would have lived through WWII first hand either as a young man or soldier, losing family or friends, we know little of the character to judge him as a racist other than his language. Reality is however that such horrible attitudes to anyone who might remotely be German were common for many years afterwards among many British people and could often surface in ways that would, today be as unacceptable as Gibson's drunken rants.
Burke's death takes place in Regan's room at the hands of the demon for sure, but there is little in the movie to suggest he was in there for any other reason than to check on Regan, who he was clearly fond of along with her mother.
There's even a conversation where we learn Regan herself, is quite encouraging of a potential relationship between Chris and Burke, so she has no fear or animosity towards him. As we see later, the demon simply kills Burke to amuse itself, knowing the damage it will do to both Regan and her mother, aiding it in its cause to destroy both.
Father Dyer Was More Important Than You Think
While Damien Karras feels he's losing his faith, it is clear that Father Dyer, his best friend has already gone down that path. We first meet him at Chris' party and rather than the stuffy stereotype one would expect from a Jesuit priest, he was an engaging, fun guy to be around, charming Chris and her guests with his piano playing and anecdotes.
While it's not shown who invited him, it's likely he was there as a guest of Chris herself, who may have met him around the campus during filming. More likely though is that he is friends or even potentially seeing Regan's nanny, Sharon, who goes to find him when Karras is dying.
When we next meet him, taking a bottle of whiskey he cheerfully admits stealing to commiserate with Damian, we see that he has pretty much decided the Jesuit life is no longer for him at that point and he may already be looking at "moving on" into a relationship.
Was he a potential suitor for Chris at that party?
The end of the film seems to show that could have been the case although the other possibility though is that Sharon had told Regan about her priest "friend", hence the kiss.
At that point though any relationship for Dyer is moot. Damian's selfless death had renewed his faith and it would appear inspired him to carry on his work, counselling priests like himself who had had their faith tested.
The Demon Did NOT Kill Merrin!
One of the most common things people get wrong is the belief that the demon killed #Merrin. That is not the case at all, as throughout the movie he is clearly taking nitroglycerin pills for a heart condition.
There are tell tale signs early in the movie that Merrin fears not only the demon, which he clearly has knowledge of...but also that his health may not be up to the challenge this time.
Merrin simply has a heart attack, when the strain of taking this demon on alone becomes too much. Had Karras stayed in the room, it's likely he'd have survived, or died shortly after rather than during the exorcism.
Karras Will Go To Heaven...Even As A Suicide!
For many, if you believe in an exorcism, then you also believe that a suicide will send you to hell. In Damian Karras' case however, that is not strictly the case.
When he sees Merrin's body, he is enraged to the point he invites the demon into himself in a final test of his faith and while it lasts barely a few seconds of film, it's clear that his faith IS strong enough and he is able to subdue the demon. He manages this just long enough to make his self-sacrifice, ensuring as best he can, that the demon will die with him.
That he can answer Father Dyer when asked for his contrition, even with a hand squeeze would mean #Karras would be absolved of his "sin" in taking his own life. Indeed, just as #Merrin, he would be seen as a Martyr to the cause of God.
The Medal Is Important!
In the films final moments, Father Dyer approaches Chris as she and Regan leave the house. We've already seen there may be something more there, but she does something that could inadvertently set up future problems.
She hands Damian's medal to him and says he should have it. Of course neither were in the room, when Damian fought the demon, but that medal was a crucial part. It was clearly powerful in some way as it protected him until it came off allowing the demon to enter him. Otherwise he could have just jumped in at any time.
Indeed, Merrin finds a similar talisman in Iraq, so it clearly has power to protect, however it is not the same one that Damian wears, that one belonged to his mother.
The medal is found as almost an afterthought and in her haste to leave, offers it to Damian's best friend, however as his faith has been renewed by his friends sacrifice, he tells her to keep it.
There is of course another more terrifying possibility... Did the demon escape INTO the medal on both occasions? Did Merrin carry the demon back to America with him and now the medal Chris has houses him?
That is very possible and would set up the events of the sequels and TV show!
Want more proof the medal matters? In the making of documentary Fear Of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist, Jason Miller tells the spooky tale of a priest at the Jesuit quarters he was staying in taking him to one side and enlightening him about intervention, and giving him a similar medal for protection. Within days, Miller found said priest had died, yet Miller himself seemed to escape the infamous "curse" linked to the movie!
If you've not watched for a while, take another look at this classic movie and let me know what you think.