Friday, January 13, 2017

In Memoriam: William Peter Blatty's Influence on My Love of Horror

William Peter Blatty died yesterday of a form of multiple melanoma at the age of 89. Blatty was the author of 1971's "The Exorcist" and wrote the screenplay for the film as well. Both the novel and the movie are arguably two of the most important pieces of horror literature and cinema history. He then followed it up with the sequel "Legion", which he wrote and directed for the big screen and became what we know as "The Exorcist III."

The influence William Peter Blatty's handiwork had on shaping my love of horror films stretches into my childhood. The images of Linda Blair in full demon makeup in "The Exorcist" first terrified me when I saw them on television while sneaking a peek at what my parents were watching. I don't even think they were watching the actual movie. It was a commercial for a broadcast of the film on one of the major three channels of the day.

My parents were extremely protective of what I was allowed to watch, so I didn't even see the original "The Exorcist" until I was probably 18 or 19. I was immediately hooked and loved every ahocking and graphic moment of it. It rang particularly true to me, being a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s who grew up in the prime time of the Satanic Panic Movement and raised in the Southern Baptist Church.

In 1990, William Peter Blatty brought his sequel, "Legion," to life with star Jason Miller returning in the role of Father Karras. George C. Scott took over the part of Lieutenant William Kinderman from Lee J. Cobb, who portrayed him in the first film. I enjoyed Blatty's "The Exorcist III," which was more cerebral and less "excessive" than William Freidkin's 1973 shocker. It was one of those movies that I showed to everyone who visited my home at the time. After watching it again when Scream Factory released a Collector's Edition featuring a new Director's Cut, it's still a slow-boiling blend of suspense, scares, excellent dialogue, and visually stunning sequences.

William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist" didn't only affect me, but scarred an entire world unprepared for the horrifying psychological thriller. It's now legendary how some audience members literally walked out of screenings of the film sick and throwing up when it first came out. People had never seen anything like it before.

Let's also not forget the backlash "The Exorcist" received for setting it's release date on December 26th, 1973. The Catholic Church and many others were not very happy that a movie about demonic possession was coming out the day after Christmas.

Granted, times have changed and horror audiences have been overexposed to movies about demonic possession. I've talked to several younger viewers of "The Exorcist" that find it visually silly and slow in its pacing. I took my church's 26-year-old youth pastor to a screening of the movie recently and it still worked for him.

It's not hard to see the influence William Peter Blatty's work has had on the world of film making. Dozens of movies about demonic possession come out every year now in theaters and direct-to-DVD. Not a single one of the directors or producers of those films would deny the impact "The Exorcist" had on their work, whether talking to Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "Deliver Us from Evil"), Eli Roth ("The Last Exorcism"), James Wan ("The Conjuring," "Annabelle"), or many others.

Here's to you , Mr. William Petter Blatty! You opened up a whole new avenue for horror filmmakers to express themselves. You also encouraged many people to re-evaluate their beliefs and get back in church... even if it was for fear that young Regan's plight becoming their own. I'll always think of you as the forefather of religious horror films.

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