In the gnarled and layered universe of the Exorcist franchise, one can detect the sagacious hand of film historian Nat Segaloff, sifting through the metaphysical murk of the original 1973 film, in his new book, The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear (Citadel).
Segaloff, a cinematic prospector, pokes and prods at the film’s viscera: the startling disfigurement of Linda Blair’s innocent visage, Max von Sydow’s doctrinal dance as a Jesuit priest, and that dark seed in 1949 when something foul purportedly vacated a young boy’s soul.
A book burgeoned with such minutiae that it may just exhaust the patience of the average reader, it glistens with Segaloff’s conspicuous ardor for the original picture.
A ghastly episode from 1949, when a Catholic priest in Maryland supposedly unshackled a 14-year-old from the grips of a demonic squatter, wove its way into Blatty’s ink. With the gritty authority of a battle-hardened journalist, director William Friedkin sculpted the film, adding palpable realism. Prequels, sequels, knockoffs — an entire grotesque family grew from this seed, bearing an unsettling authenticity, causing shivers not from poltergeists but from chilling realism.
Segaloff’s tome, The Exorcist Legacy, is a dissection table of the franchise’s effects. It offers a spectral illumination of the film’s genesis and its eternally echoing resonance. More than a mere film of fright, The Exorcist is a philosophical séance, a summoning of the perennial duel between good and evil, a vexing disturbance of the viewers’ most sacred sanctums.
The film is an alchemical broth of faith and disbelief, bubbling through characters like Father Karras and Regan’s stricken mother, Chris. A Pandora’s box without keys, leaving the audience teetering on the abyss between the tangible and the inexplicable. Segaloff’s scholarly autopsy, married to Friedkin’s staunch allegiance to the real, engraves the film’s legacy as a timeless monolith.
Marking the half-century of The Exorcist, The Exorcist Legacy’s probing study peels back the layers, revealing a work that still claws at the psyche, a brooding testament to horror’s ability to sink its teeth into the human condition. It’s a maelstrom of terror and philosophy, a celebration of cinematic atrocity, as unsettling and inquisitive as a shadow lurking just beyond the light. It’s a cultural artefact, a piece of history – a horror, wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful.