Monday, October 31, 2011

Horror and Faith

Scott Richert on the film The Exorcist.
October 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of the supernatural thriller The Exorcist. The 1973 film version of the novel, starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair, became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and inspired not only a series of less interesting sequels but dozens of other horror movies in the 1970's and 1980's. For many filmgoers and readers, The Exorcist set the bar for horror and, decades later, still sparks the occasional sleepless night.

Yet the novel's author, William Peter Blatty (who also penned the Academy Award-winning screenplay for the film), has marked the 40th anniversary of the novel's appearance by writing a column for, in which he reveals that "I haven't the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying, scale." Rather, Blatty, the son of devout Lebanese Catholic immigrants, reveals "'The Exorcist's Secret Message": It is "a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story—in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through."

That is not, of course, the way that the novel and the subsequent film have been portrayed by either their fans or their detractors. Indeed, many Christians have accused Blatty of opening up readers and filmgoers to demonic influences—missing not only the point of the novel but misunderstanding Christ's own teaching regarding the principalities and powers of this world. Demons hold no sway over those who are firm in their faith; but they do, in the words of Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, "prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls." By denying their existence, and treating the world of spiritual warfare as a parlor game, we open ourselves to their influence and even, in extreme cases, to possession. (Read entire post.)

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