This being Halloween week, I’ve been celebrating the horror genre each day in Daily Dialogue, so it makes sense to continue the trend with our Great Scene today — from the 1973 movie The Exorcist. Adapted for the screen by William Peter Blatty from his best-selling novel and directed by William Friedkin, the movie grossed an astonishing $441M in worldwide B.O. receipts.
Safe to say, it became a cultural phenomenon. And speaking personally, when I saw it in a theater in Virginia Beach over the Christmas holidays, I remember being absolutely mesmerized by the story – and scared stupid.
There are a number of memorable moments in the movie with the pea soup and head-spinning ranking right up there. But since I was a theology student, I suppose that it makes sense the scene I recall with the most clarity is this one: Where Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller) work double duty in the rite of exorcism upon Regan (Linda Blair), the poor girl who is possessed by a demon.
Here is the scene taken from what purports to be the shooting script:
Regan sits up and with a nightmare slowness, a fraction at a time, her head begins to turn, swiveling like a mannequin's and creaking with the sound of a rusted mechanism. Once again Damien's attention is diverted and Merrin has to prompt him. MERRIN Damien!!! Her head completely turns in a 360-degree turn and stares at Karras. KARRAS Amen. MERRIN Defender of the human race... A thunderous earthquake knock both priests to the ground. MERRIN ...look down in pity... REGAN/DEMON You killed your mother!!! You left her alone to die!!!! She'll never forgive you!!! Bastard!!! KARRAS Shut up!! MERRIN ... upon this your servant, Regan Teresa MacNeil. Another quake knocks them to the ground. Regan falls back, the bed sheets fly off of the bed and the straps slowly rip apart. Regan's eyes roll back into the socket and she slowly starts to levitate. MERRIN I command you by the judge of the living and the dead, to depart from this servant of God. Regan is now levitating toward the ceiling, arms out stretched like a cross. MERRIN It's the power! (To Karras)- Holy water. Karras runs to the bedside table and grabs the bottle of holy water, he runs back and gives it to Merrin. MERRIN It's the power of Christ, that compels you. MERRIN + KARRAS The power of Christ compels you. Merrin sprinkles holy water. MERRIN + KARRAS The power of Christ compels you. Merrin sprinkles holy water and we see a cut appear on her skin. MERRIN + KARRAS The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. Regan begins to descend. MERRIN + KARRAS The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. Regan lands back on the bed once more. MERRIN + KARRAS The power of Christ compels you. Karras rushes to the bed and ties her hands together to symbolize the cross. MERRIN He brought you low by his bloodstained cross! Do not despise my command because you no me to be a sinner. It's God himself who commands you! The majestic Christ who commands! God the Father commands you! God the son commands you! As Karras turns away, Regan raises her tied hands and deals him a powerful blow on the back of his head. He falls to the floor. MERRIN God the holy spirit commands you! Merrin sprinkles more holy water on Regan, she falls back and screams in pain. MERRIN The mystery of the cross commands you! The blood of the martyrs commands you! The priests are again knocked to the floor by an earthquake. Briefly Regan lifts herself toward an apparition of the demon statue Pazuzu. MERRIN Give way to Christ, you prince of murderers. You're guilty, before Almighty God, guilty before his son, guilty before the whole human race. It's the Lord who expels you. He who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire. As Merrin kneels by the bed, Karras crawls over and covers Regan with a blanket. MERRIN Are you tired? Karras nods. MERRIN Let's rest before we start again. Merrin leaves the room, but Karras stays sat on the bed, shivering with both coldness and fear. Regan is asleep.
Here is a movie version of the scene:
We often talk about the importance of conflict in our stories. Hard to imagine a more compelling conflict than between two very human priests, their Holy Water, and exorcism liturgy versus a demon and the power of Satan.
How about you? Do you remember the first time you saw The Exorcist?
[Originally posted October 30, 2009]