Q4 2023

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58 C I N E M O N T A G E B O O K R E V I E W By Peter Tonguette T he late f ilmmaker William Fried- k i n w a s f o n d o f d e s c r i b i n g h i s 1973 horror masterpiece "The Ex- o rc i s t " a s b e i n g a m e d i ta t i o n o n " t h e mystery of faith." Undoubtedly, religious conviction — and its lack — is at the heart of the story of 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair), the precocious but well-adjusted daughter of divorced actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burs- tyn) who unaccountably undergoes severe behavioral changes — and, during several famous sequences, gravitational changes — That Was No Spasm ITS DIRECTOR CALLED IT A MEDITATION ON FAITH. SO WHY DID 'THE EXORCIST' SEEM CURSED, AND WHAT POSSESSED AUDIENCES TO TURN IT INTO A MONSTER HIT? RISEN: Linda Blair, left, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller in "The Exorcist." P H OT O : P H OT O F E S T that are eventually attributed to demonic possession. A neurotic Jesuit priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), is put on the case, and in ecclesiastical partnership with a battle-seasoned exorcist, Father Lank- ester Merrin (Max von Sydow), liberates Regan and confirms his own previously dubious faith. Yet the "mystery of faith" isn't the only mystery that hovers over "The Exorcist." Perhaps the biggest unsolved question is how such an unlikely project became not only one of the genuine box-office sen- sations of the 1970s but the cornerstone fo r a s e e m in g ly e nd l e ss s u ccess i o n o f sequels, prequels, reboots, imitators, and outright copycats? In an engaging and enlightening new book about the "Exorcist" franchise, vet- eran entertainment journalist Nat Segalo establishes the many challenges, stumbling blocks, near-misses, and even occult occur- rences that might have derailed the film. Consider the literary background of screen- writer and producer William Peter Blatty, who was a serious and committed Catholic but who, until writing the novel upon which the film was based, had proven himself only

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