Dissecting William Peter Blatty!


Say friends, anyone here ever read a William Peter Blatty novel? More like which one, and how many times, right? Ok then, spill below, then tell us how many of you tuned into Fox's televisual rehash of THE EXORCIST last Friday? What were your initial thoughts? Remember, it is William Peter Blatty's source novel - the very one he himself adapted into an Academy Award winning screenplay for THE EXORCIST, which also nominated for Best Picture in 1973 - that the TV series is favoring over the film. Can you believe it, an Oscar winning horror movie writer? Too damn cool!

And while there's not a scintilla of doubt that THE EXORCIST and its vast global pull will always be the number one title associated with Blatty's name, it isn't the only. In fact, Blatty has 15 or so titles to his name, many of which also enjoyed some kind of small or big-screen adaptation at some point. Hell, the dude got his start writing creepily comedic Blake Edwards whodunits in the 60s, and continued as script doctor (often uncredited) on a number of flicks. But again, since THE EXORCIST happened to be made during that splendid nexus where art and commerce so synergistically commingled...since the movie was such a worldwide smash hit, one that, adjusted for inflation, is still among the top 5 grossing films of all time...Blatty deserves as much credit, if not more, than even Bill Friedkin and the wonderful stable of actors for conceiving such a human yet inherently evil narrative that's been haunting us for over 4 decades!

So, let's look back on William Peter Blatty's illustrious career. You down? Good, let's Dissect!



Jesus, how we can extol THE EXORCIST anymore than the last 43 years of pop-cultural discourse has? Simply put, THE EXORCIST is not only one of the best movies ever made, it's THE definitive horror film of a generation, and should easily be considered among the two or three scariest films ever assembled. Indeed, it's as if true evil somehow permeated the celluloid, where it's lived, festered and grown more sinister with each passing year. There's an intangibility to the film, hard to articulate, as if it knows more than you do, and that no matter how righteous or virtuous you think you might be, Pazuzu is keeping a close eye on your every move. And judging you. At its ugliest and most difficult - when Regan is under the vilest possession - it feels like we're watching something we most certainly should not be...and then...the inverse seems to take hold at some point, as if the demonic entity has you squarely in its grasp. In watching this poor little girl struggle with possession, at some point it's us, the audience, that not only becomes complicit, but we're the ones possessed in the end. And frankly, the hold of THE EXORCIST has not relinquished in 4 damn decades!

Part of the reason THE EXORCIST is so expertly assembled is the singular authorial voice. Adapted by Blatty from his own novel, there was an inherent understanding of the material, what needed to be translated to the film, and what overarching themes needed to be addressed in so doing. There was nothing lost in translation like we've seen many times from screenwriters adapting other novelists. The focus was narrow. Of course, beyond that, I think what makes THE EXORCIST so scarifying isn't the barrage of evil imagery late in the film, it's the human development working as counterpoint prior to all that puking and levitating going down. This is a well told human drama, one that happens to be about a little girl's eternally damned soul and spirit. It isn't beholden to tired and trampled horror movie tropes, because Blatty and Friedkin were less interested in that then telling a compelling story in the most credible way possible. This gave way to casting brilliant actors like Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller and of course, the precocious Linda Blair as Regan.

The dedicated performances in conjunction with Dick Smith's mortifying makeup, not to mention director William Friedkin's unshackled creativity coming off the Oscar winning FRENCH CONNECTION, all of these facets perfectly coalesced at the right time and place to somehow create something far greater in sum than the brilliance of its individual parts. There's no other way to say it, there's not just an inherent evil, there's a reciprocated enigmatic divinity about THE EXORCIST that no words can rightly express. But you can definitely feel it seeping into your bones and curdling you blood when watching it, can't you?!

And honestly, to a lesser degree, the same can be said about THE EXORCIST III. Yeah, I know part 2: THE HERETIC sucked donkey-d*ck, but in the third entry, which Blatty wrote and directed, the story got back to the baleful basics of what made the original so damn captivating. Adapted from his own novel, LEGION, Blatty took on more of a iconographic religious-slasher flick than an out-and-out possession piece, a choice that ultimately breathed new life into a franchise marred by its second leg.

The story is deftly woven, the violence is graphic and grisly, and the acting is top-shelf. George C. Scott shines, as always, with solid support coming from Blatty pals Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, as well as franchise newcomers Brad Dourif and Ed Flanders. Is the flick as good as the original? Of course not, practically no films are, but as a soaring rebound from THE HERETIC, and even as a standalone effort in Blatty's CV, THE EXORCIST III really does deserve all the love it gets.


We can't tell you how damn refreshing it is to say that, if Blatty has an inferior piece of work out there, it's eluded us entirely. No, the real reason we can't cite a poor showing is because there is none. Simple. Clearly, when a dude has a focused 15 writing credits over the course of a 53 year career, it's safe to say "quality over quantity" is the credo Blatty lived by. And in the work shows. Even in the otherwise silly Blake Edwards' farces, A SHOT IN THE DARK and GUNN, these are well plotted, tightly scripted, light and quip-ridden pieces of entertainment that actually keep you guessing all the way through. You really wouldn't know it from THE EXORCIST, but Blatty's ability to blend light and dark tones was among one of his earliest strong suits. Check those flicks out if you can, there certainly worth it, if for no other reason to see how far Blatty has come, and where his mindstate was prior to penning the novel that would, for lack of a better phrase, shock the entire world.



Has to be religion. The clergy. The ecumenical creed. The subject is obviously front and center in THE EXORCIST, focusing on two diametrically opposed priests adhering to their own moral fibers while trying desperately to rid a poor girl's soul of the foulest and ugliest demonic possession of all time. But it's a recurring theme found throughout most of Blatty's work. We'll get into the particulars in greater depth below in the Hidden Gems portion, but if you look closely, the projects that Blatty is most dedicated to and involved with - THE EXORCIST (wrote, adapted, produced), THE EXORCIST III (directed), TWINKLE, TWINKLE "KILLER" KANE (wrote, adapted, directed) - they're all fervently steeped within the realm of the church, with grand notions of tested faith highlighting each.

You really get the sense that this is what matters most to Blatty in terms of storytelling...that the inherent dramaturgy of piety pierces the hearts and souls of viewers far greater than silly shoot-em-up westerns and campy musicals, the kind he authored early in his career via films like THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY and DARLING LILI. All we know is this...we're damn thankful Blatty found his niche, plumbed it for hard truth rather than mere exploitation, and given us no less than three superlative examples of each.



Undoubtedly shrouded by the gargantuan shadow cast by THE EXORCIST, it's no real surprise that Blatty's lesser known works don't veer too far from the beaten path. After winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1974 for THE EXORCIST, it would seem the world of opportunity opened up for Blatty to do pretty much anything he damn well pleased. And after writing a pair of episodes for the short-lived religiously-themed anthology series Insight (1968-75), he assumed perhaps the greatest amount of creative control of his career when deciding to adapt yet another of his own novels, this time TWINKLE, TWINKLE, "KILLER" KANE as his feature-length directorial debut. The result? The spellbinding 1980 art-house dark comedy THE NINTH CONFIGURATION!

How many of you have seen THE NINTH CONFIGURATION? Well, do so if you've not, as it's considered by Blatty as an unofficial sequel to his Oscar winning predecessor. In fact, don't take it from us, here's what Blatty has said on record regarding THE EXORCIST, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION and THE EXORCIST III:

"The Exorcist novel deals with the existence of both good and evil, 9th configuration deals with the mystery of good, and the third novel, The Legion, deals with the human's punishment of evil for original sin. Capt. Cutshaw is the same astronaut whom Regan warns "You're gonna die up there" in 'The Exorcist'."

As for the plot, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION boasts quite a unique one. Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a new CO at an outpost-castle meant to harbor insane U.S. AWOL soldiers, administers a skein of unconventional rehabilitation methods in order to get the men back in their right minds. Thing is, Kane is also a deeply disturbed man in his own way, and through his methods he allows his patients to live out their darkest and most daring fantasies...under the strictures of his controlled environment of course. It's a difficult film, a challenging one, but one that rewards your patience after multiple viewings. There's always new discoveries to be made, which is the sign of dense and richly textured film.

And what I love most, aside from the cast, is the slight dose of levity that eluded THE EXORCIST. There's some genuine laughs in THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, often absurdly macabre, which only ups the entertainment value as a whole. But really, it is that cast...Keach, Scott Wilson (Hershel on The Walking Dead), Neville Brand (EATEN ALIVE), Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS), Joe Spinell (MANIAC), Robert Loggia (SCARFACE), and of course, Jason Miller serving as the most obvious piece of connective tissue between THE EXORCIST and THE NINTH CONFIGURATION that really make the movie work as well as it does.


We mentioned it up top, time to reiterate it now. Fox has boldly, some would say foolishly, most would say blasphemously, decided to redo THE EXORCIST as a long-form TV series. We've followed suit with the decision to review the show, the pilot episode of which you can check out HERE. The overarching pillar...expertly set-up humanity without the ghoulish and grisly imagery we should expect from one of the scariest movies of all time.

The series was created by Jeremy Slater (THE LAZARUS EFFECT, FANTASTIC FOUR) with honest intent to stick to Blatty's novel, and stars Geena Davis, Alan Ruck, Ben Daniels, Alfonso Herrera, Brianne Howey and Hannah Kasulka. As much as we love the original movie and loathed the idea of remaking it in any shape or form, the pride has been swallowed enough to say The Exorcist is so far actually pretty solid. If said humanity is bolstered all the way through, the horrific elements should play that much harder when they do eventually strike.

Before we give you a quick logline for this week's episode (September 30th), it's worth noting how two teenage daughters are in play here...Kat and Casey...and discerning who among them is truly possessed seems to be part of the puzzle. The Pazuzu puzzle!

Chapter 2: Lupus in Fabula:

While Bishop Egan denies Tomas permission to perform the exorcism on Angela's daughter, Father Marcus breaks out of Saint Aquinas and joins forces with Tomas, though he urges him to get his ex, Jessica, out of his life and heart.

Tune in Friday nights at 9:00PM on Fox.


What else is there to laud? Hopefully, in Dissecting the great WPB, you've gained a better understanding of the man's contributive importance in Hollywood over the last 40 odd years. Blatty shook the world with THE EXORCIST, first on the page, then on the screen, and despite all the opportunity in the world to milk it for all its worth, exploit the property and completely sell out, he never really did. Instead, he kept the workload at a minimum to maintain a consistent level of quality. And despite the countless imitations and cheap knock-offs, THE EXORCIST is the definitive religious horror film...now and forever. With THE NINTH CONFIGURATION and THE EXORCIST III, Blatty has crafted the unholy triad of churchgoing charnel houses. And we worship the man because of it!

Extra Tidbit: Where do you stand on WPB?
Source: AITH

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