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The Exorcist, Directed by William Friedkin

Warner Bros., December 26, 1973 (US)

Screenplay: William Peter Blatty, based on his novel

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair

I was just a child on the night its presence burrowed deep under my skin. I’d say uninvited, but the choice was mine to kneel in front of the living room television, tempting the entity to emerge. Commercial interruption and edits for air should have provided a network-sanctioned layer of protection. Viewer discretion, on the other hand, ministered no safeguard whatsoever.

Daring to sit opposite the screen was like the meddling stooge inside a darkened room with eyes penetrating a mirror and warm breath repeating, “I believe in Bloody Mary. I believe in Bloody Mary.” Either act provoked a raging spirit to awaken. Whether an apparition reached out with a bloody hand brandishing a knife to slash the person standing before it or a jackal from hell lunged through the set to slaughter the tempter’s mind, walking away unscathed was improbable.

Inherent dangers associated with viewing the film were well-documented in the media, as well as spread through frightful lore. People fainted in their seats. Janitors mopped up vomit in theatre aisles after screenings, and exit doors required replacement because crazed crowds damaged hinges in a mad dash to escape evil unleashed. My tender age prevented me from experiencing the initial spectacle en masse. I faced the phenomena later, alone, in the deceitful comfort of home, held spellbound to the semi-reflective glass of a television cabinet from which satanic forces claimed another opportunity to snatch a host.

Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair): Mother, what’s wrong with me?

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn): It’s just like the doctor said. It’s nerves, and that’s all. Okay? You just take your pills, and you’ll be fine, really. Okay?

Even with explicit language and ghastly scenes excised, I was vulnerable to the taking. Changes in behavior came subtly at first. Restlessness plagued my days. I stared longer than usual at the wooden crucifix hiding a vile of holy water that hung on my parents’ bedroom wall. My hands clasped together tighter during prayer. Also, sounds of gibberish, otherwise ignored, communicated threatening languages spoken from fiery hollows below. God meant more to me than ever before.

Father Lankester Merrin, Father Damien Karras (Max von Sydow, Jason Miller): The power of Christ compels you!

Chilling flashbacks soon abused my thoughts in school, at catechism, and during sleep. There was no shaking the thing inside that caused my skin to shiver and tremble, even under the most scorching sun. It fused with my being, refusing withdrawal.

Father Merrin, Father Karras: The power of Christ compels you!

The battle continued endlessly with me condemned to wicked dreams that I could own my nightmares once again. Time made this much certain: Ridding me of the unwanted guest would require drastic measures. I considered a blessing using the holy water in the cross that my parents kept, except I feared the liquid might scorch my skin, freezing the idea cold. No. An unorthodox solution levitated above the rest as my only hope; I needed to confront the fiend head-on, in an attempt to convince myself that its power was unreal, a figment of an impressionable young mind.

For the return appointment, I sat as an adult many years later in a theatre showing an unedited and uncensored version of the devil that dominated my psyche. Every obscenity and nauseating depiction gained access to my senses without a hint of duplicity since the first cut. My confrontation only roused the visitor to defend its right for control with greater ferocity.

Father Merrin, Father Karras: The power of Christ compels you!

Options are running out for a chance at salvation. Each punishing day, my desperation grows. Please, God, help me! Get it out.

Chris: And, uh, how do you go about getting an exorcism?

Father Karras: I beg your pardon?

Chris: If, um … if a person’s, you know … possessed by a-a demon or something? How do they-how do they get an exorcism?

Bring me peace, Heavenly Father. Otherwise, we die as one.