Ah, The Exorcist... What frightful pleasure it's given down the years in the many and varied forms it’s taken (thus following the fashion of Satan himself, with his legion of names and faces.) I must have been 10 or 11 when some schoolmates and I discovered William Peter Blatty’s bestselling shocker of a novel: we passed it round, taking gleeful turns to read aloud the grossest, most horrendous bits (not all of which I quite ‘understood.’) William Friedkin’s extremely frightening movie version wasn’t nearly so accessible at that time, but I had definitely seen it by the late 1980s, when my brother was studying at Georgetown University and, in the course of a stroll through the neighbourhood, pointed out to me those infamous ‘Exorcist steps.’
Ten years later, in my editorial chair at Faber and Faber, I prepared an edition of Blatty’s screenplay for publication and had a number of chats with Bill Blatty himself, a highly affable and courteous man who always addressed me as ‘Rich’ and seemed very pleased that I was interested in the fortunes of the Georgetown Hoyas college teams. A few years after that, I oversaw a revised edition of Kevin Jackson’s marvellous book of interviews with Paul Schrader, at the point where Paul was putting the final touches on Exorcist: The Beginning, the third official sequel (actually a prequel) to Friedkin’s movie. You may know what happened next: Schrader was removed from his post after screening the film for his studio financier, and Renny Harlin was hired to shoot from scratch a less cerebral, tackier and more effects-heavy version. I confess I still haven’t managed to see Paul’s cut, though it looks terrific, but the Harlin was on telly last week and the low calculation of it was there for all to see.
That said, it's hard to blame the suits for finally trying to do what some Exorcist sequel surely had to do if it was seriously looking for a place in the market: namely, to resurrect the Linda Blair model of the foul-looking, foul-mouthed female demon: as I call her in Ten Bad Dates, ‘a vile goblin who masturbates with a crucifix, knows all your dirty secrets, vomits forth obscene insults like bile, and also vomits forth a good deal of bile.’
The other obvious move was to get more of that Captain Howdy stuff going. Howdy (pictured) is of course the name little Regan MacNeil gives to her ‘imaginary friend’ in the early stages of her possession, and the name Exorcist fans gave cheerfully to the demonic face glimpsed in subliminal flashes during the movie. Warners certainly didn't stint on Howdy in the trailer below for Friedkin's 1973 original, a trailer that apparently had to be suppressed for being too disturbing, to which one could fairly say, too bloody right.