The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear by Nat Segaloff
Publisher : Citadel (25 July 2023)
Language : English
Hardcover : 304 pages
ISBN-10 : 0806541946
I was an obsessive teenage horror fan who grew up in the UK during the eighties and by this point The Exorcist had near mythical status due to the fact that it was almost impossible to watch. After being briefly being available in the early days of home video it was withdrawn and shoe-horned into the Video Nasty censorship banned bucket which made classics such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Driller Killer unavailable for many years. Considering the number of Oscars this flick was nominated for and money it banked, along with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, it was undoubtedly the most famous film the British general public could not watch unless they had a pirate copy on VHS (where I finally saw it).
Nat Segaloff’s The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear takes a very deep and comprehensive dive into this culturally significant and iconic horror film (the director and writer of the novel both argued it was not horror!) which also covers all the sequels and recent television spin-off. This is very specialised stuff which is aimed at horror film fans, cinema history buffs, and those who have an interest in the wider franchise development.
About 50% of the 304 pages deal with the original film and the second half the much lesser successful sequels. I enjoyed the fact that Segaloff spent plenty of time looking at the entire franchise, especially considering the majority of the spinoffs are considered a failure, but still makes lots of fascinating observations into the lengths the studio went into keeping the series alive. I found having action director Renny Harlin reshoot 90% of acclaimed art house director Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist as Exorcist: the Beginning particularly fascinating. Schrader later watches Harlin’s film with Exorcist author William Peter Blatty on the cinema, with the former laughing at what became of his film and the latter screaming, both because it was so rubbish! The book is loaded with amusing and thoughtful anecdotes but subject knowledge is required to appreciate many of them, particularly regarding what the book calls ‘The Two Bills’ Friedkin and Blatty.
Even for a truly comprehensive look into The Exorcist mythology there is probably too much information for casual readers and the multiple synopsises of the sequels seemed unnecessary and came across as padding. I lost track of the alternative versions available particularly of the lesser films, how DVD versions differed and what exactly was the true director’s cut? The book points out that director William Friedkin had extensive creative control when making The Exorcist and the original theatre release was probably the true ‘director’s cut’ no matter how many versions have appeared since as it was milked with cinematic rereleases promising unseen material.
The most interesting parts of the books were those which involved William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin, who both had long successful careers beyond The Exorcist but neither truly escaped its shadow. They clashed here and there, but generally were on the same page in converting the book into the film we know. After the success of The French Connection Blatty was very happy Friedkin was chosen as director and the book spends a lot of time on how the film was made, working with underage Linda Blair and how some of the now infamous self-mutilation, spider-walk, and pea soup scenes were filmed. There was even a deep dive into which extra/Blair body double actually did the spider-walk, something which is still debated. The book also backtracks into the real-life exorcism case which supposedly influenced Blatty’s novel and author Nat Segaloff was perfectly placed to write this book as he had previously authored Hurricane Billy: The Stormy Life and Films of William Friedkin which covers some of the same territory. Segaloff has an impressive list of other non-fiction titles about a wide range of directors and others involved in film.
Although the book does not mention The Exorcist’s historical UK censorship problems it does feature distinguished critic Mark Kermode who has written about the film extensively and has reportedly seen it over 200 times. Another critic who I have always loved for his brilliant work on the cult and much-loved film buff magazine Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas, also makes welcome contributions. It goes without saying that there are spoilers everywhere.
To long term fans much of the discussions about the film itself will be very familiar, such as what exactly happened in the end regarding the demon jumping into the priest. However, the discussion is always lively and it was interesting to understand why a horror film from this period being given such a significant budget and reasons why it has proven to be so enduring. Interestingly, and I had never given this much thought, until Godfather 2 came along, it was exceptionally rare for sequels to outdo the original in both financial return and quality, so Exorcist 2 was filmed with very low expectations from the start and had a much smaller budget than the original and was seen as a cash grab before it was even filmed. This would not happen these days, with franchises being seen as long-term investments, and so there was no surprise it was a flop.
Blatty and Friedkin’s original goal was far more ambitious than simply making a scary movie; they aimed to make people “think about the concept of good and evil” and Nat Segaloff leaves no stone uncovered in his digging into one of the most famous horror films of all time. A lot of books have been written about this fascinating film, there are even books on John Boorman’s misguided Exorcist 2: The Heretic, and as the original passes its fiftieth year anniversary it will be interesting to see if younger film goers, who might see this classic as a quaint relic, are as interested in the new trilogy of films, the first of which is slated for a release later this year.
The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear by Nat Segaloff
On December 26, 1973, The Exorcist was released. Within days it had become legend. Moviegoers braved hours-long lines in winter weather to see it. Some audience members famously fainted or vomited. Half a century later, the movie that both inspired and transcends the modern horror genre has lost none of its power to terrify and unsettle. The Exorcist Legacy reveals the complete story of this cultural phenomenon, from the real-life exorcism in 1949 Maryland that inspired William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel on which the movie is based, to its many sequels, prequels, TV series, and homages. Nat Segaloff, biographer of the film’s director, William Friedkin, draws on original interviews with cast, crew, and participants as well as revelations from personal papers to present an intriguing and surprising new view of the making of movie, and its aftermath. Segaloff also examines as never before the keys to the movie’s enduring appeal. Friedkin and Blatty’s goal was far more ambitious than making a scary movie; they aimed to make people ‘think about the concept of good and evil.’ The Exorcist succeeds, and then some, not just by creating on-screen scares, but by challenging viewers’ deepest personal belief – and fears.