The Exorcist Legacy
50 Years of Fear
by Nat Segaloff

Anthony Pomes
5 min readOct 23, 2023

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Reviewer: Anthony Pomes

“Abruptly the man in khaki sagged.
He bowed his head.
He knew.
It was coming.”

— from the “Prologue” in William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist (1971)

I first saw The Exorcist when I was twelve years old. I had a bad case of strep throat and was so uncomfortable and sickly that my parents took pity on me and let me set up with a blanket and pillow on the couch in the living room. That’s where the TV was, so there’s where I wanted to be in my misery. A little after midnight that first night on the couch, I clicked the remote control to a premium cable station called The Movie Channel (TMC). There I saw — to my surprise, and not without a little apprehension — that The Exorcist was about to begin. Everyone else in the house was asleep, and I figured this was my moment to witness the forbidden. I was raised in the Catholic faith, and my mother was very insistent that this movie wasn’t as scary as the book — but that, regardless, neither book nor film would ever again enter our home. Of course, evil found a way that night, through that witching-hour airing of the great 1973 horror classic.

Even as I write this, I can recall how icily terrified I felt as I watched the film all alone that night. I had a pretty high fever, too, so it’s possible that my weakened condition only strengthened the movie’s power over me. After all, the winged demon Pazuzu — named in the 1971 William Peter Blatty bestselling novel, but not named in an Exorcist movie until the strangely contrary John Boorman-directed Exorcist II: The Heretic appear onscreen in 1977 — is referred to in Blatty’s book as a demon whose “dominion was sickness and disease.” The movie lived up to its reputation, in that it scared the hell out of me — or into me. Everyone always talks about the legendary “crucifix scene” or the “projectile vomit scene.” What really scalded my brain, though, was the “blink and you miss it” flash of a murderous demonic white face against a black backdrop that invaded Father Karras’s dreams — not to mention that perversely slow ooze of green vomit that pulsated out queasily from the stretched-open mouth of the possessed young girl Regan MacNeil during the exorcism sequence. Though I was shaken, I also wondered just how all of this horrific stuff in this movie could be made to look like it was actually happening. After all, wasn’t this simply a work of make-believe?

If you also have been haunted and bugged all these years by these same questions, then it’s time for you to read the new book The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear ($28.00 USD, Citadel Press). It is written by one-time movie PR man and film critic Nat Segaloff, whose 1990 book about Exorcist director William Friedkin, Hurricane Billy, covered some of this material. I am pleased to report, though, that this book does a wonderful job of bringing together all manner of fact — and occasional folklore — about this most possessed of demonic movie franchises, in a well-organized and snappily arranged style. All these years later, the Exorcist franchise has again been resurrected by Blumhouse Productions with writer/director David Gordon Green appointed to bring together a new trilogy of sequels (as he did previously in recent years for the Halloween franchise). Whether you are a casual fan of these films or a tortured fanatic (guilty as charged), this vital new book delivers the goods in a way that is expertly researched and always entertaining.

As one might expect, the first film — directed by the late William Friedkin just after winning a Best Director Oscar for the 1971 surprise hit The French Connection — takes up much of this book. This is to be expected, principally because this is where it all began — not just the film, but the intriguing backstory behind what first compelled writer William Peter Blatty to renounce a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter of comedies in favor of a story that he first heard about in 1949 while a student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. More than a desire to create a story about the devil, Blatty felt deeply that he wanted to write something that reinforced the notion of faith in this world. This book tells Blatty’s story wonderfully well, and it will most likely now become the definitive account of how this legendary movie got made in the first place.

A lot can happen in fifty years, though, and that is where Segaloff aims the second half of this book. There is enough here about the still-controversial 1977 sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, to be a book unto itself. In fact, there was a great little mass paperback book about the making of this crazy film published when Boorman’s film first came out — good luck trying to find a copy of it these days on eBay. Exorcist II certainly has its detractors — Friedkin and Blatty among them — but it also has its defenders, including the iconic film critic Paulie Kael and esteemed director Martin Scorsese (along with myself). It is a testament to Segaloff’s skills as a storyteller that he makes such a compelling case for all other sequels in the franchise — five as of this writing, when you add in this year’s sequel The Exorcist: Believer, together with a splendid TV series that sadly only lasted two seasons on the FOX network. There are many who love and even prefer 1990’s The Exorcist III (directed by Blatty himself) to the first film, but not everyone knows that Blatty’s film is based directly on his 1983 sequel novel of sorts called Legion. This book fills a lot of holes in when it comes to the story of these productions. For those uninitiated to this franchise, there is even told here the story of how two different filmmakers — auteur screenwriter/director Paul Schader and action picture master Renny Harlin — were hired, in successive order, to direct what became two vastly different versions of the same “prequel” movie that Morgan Creek Productions tried to turn into box office gold back in the mid-2000s. The result, of course, was more like box office pewter — but the story of these troubled back-to-back productions nevertheless makes for an interesting read.

If you are looking for a solid piece of work that enumerates and celebrates all the many people and places and things that have been a part of this popular series, then look no further than The Exorcist Legacy.

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Anthony Pomes

Anthony Pomes has worked steadily as a freelance writer/editor and frequent ghost writer for more than two decades.