About a year ago, I decided to re-read the Exorcist and was reminded what a creepfest the book is compared to the movie. And the movie is (or used to be) pretty damn creepy. One of the most influential movies of my life.
I remember the kids in the neighborhood, those who'd seen the movie on beta (yeah, we had beta tapes before VHS back then), finding it tucked away in their parents' hiding spot. Or maybe an older brother digging it out to terrify their younger siblings, or stumbling upon it one day looking for their father's Playboys.
In any case, it was one of those taboo things, a bucket list item for kids of the 70s and 80s. You just had to see it.
Growing up Catholic, there was nothing that terrified me more than the thought of being possessed by the Devil. Watching Regan go through this on screen just about scarred me for life. I was shocked at the sheer balls of the demon to come right out and challenge the priests. Priests. People they told me were superheroes on Earth, God's elite, and here was this demon cursing at them, puking on them, and jamming crosses...oh, never mind where she was jamming crosses.
It was the ultimate rebellion. Horrifying, petrifying, gross rebellion. Rebellion of such Biblical proportions that you could finally get a good picture of what it must have been like when Lucifer went to war with God, if you believe in such things. The demon (Pazuzu, by the way) dripped with such vile resentment and hatred.
I'd read the book a couple of times in my life, but it didn't dawn on me until now, upon this latest re-reading and after having learned so much as an author in my own right, what a crushing writer this guy was. Prose that was simple but sucked me in. Lines that sent shivers up my spine, and I don't really get shivers that often anymore. Goofy, over the top characters who seemed like character actors in a play.
This guy could build effortless tension, although his humor often fell flat with me.
Before and after The Exorcist, Blatty wrote a few other titles, some well received while others wallowed in poor reviews. Legion was probably his next best work, although judging this author by his books alone is probably not fair considering he excelled at screenplays and was a fair director and producer.
I highly recommend reading The Exorcist and Legion if you want a good demonic tale that isn't anything like the Urban Fantasy books we read today.