Blatty Describes 'The Exorcist' as a Sermon

Back in 2004, we surveyed readers of the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family magazine, asking them to nominate and vote for those films that best exemplified Catholic life. The result was the Top 100 Pro-Catholic Movies list. It wasn’t scientific. It simply asked people to nominate films they felt had specific Catholic references, and then asked them to vote for their favorites.

One surprise for those of us compiling the list was #44 - The Exorcist. While it certainly was specifically Catholic, there was some hesitation about including it on the list because of its graphic, horrific imagery. Now, 40 years since the book’s publication, and on the Feast of All Souls, take a look at what the author’s explanation for his motivation in writing the book. It may give you a new appreciation for the film.

Author, William Peter Blatty, in an opinion piece for Fox titled “‘The Exorcist’s’ Secret Message,” said that he wasn’t trying to create a horror film, but rather a sermon.

“That I am regularly hauled out of my burrow every Halloween like some furless and demonic ‘Punxsatawney Phil’ always brings a rueful smile of bemusement to my lips as I lower my gaze and shake my head, for the humiliating God’s-honest truth of the matter is that while I was working on The Exorcist, what I thought I was writing was a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story—in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through—and to this day I haven’t the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying scale. But it’s true! … Every [Halloween] I put out the pumpkin with the cutout eyes and nose and face, and the basket full of Snickers and Mars bars beside it; but I do keep wishing—oh, ever so wistfully and—let’s face it, hopelessly—that The Exorcist be remembered at this time of the year for being not about shivers but rather about souls, for then it would indeed be in the real and true spirit of Halloween, which is short for the eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day.”

Of his inspiration for the book, Blatty said, “When I first heard, in 1949, of an actual case of demonic possession and an exorcism going on nearby while I was a junior at Georgetown University, I remember thinking, ‘Someday, somebody’s got to write about this, because if an investigation were to prove that possession is real, what a help it would be to the struggling faith of possibly millions, for if there were demons, I reasoned, then why not angels? Why not God?’”

Reading Blatty’s comments, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an interview I did with Catholic convert and novelist Dean Koontz in 2007. At the time, Koontz shared with me that in his novel “The Husband,” a man raised without faith confronts utter evil, and in so doing, comes to faith. Through his recognition of the existence of evil, he comes to realize in the existence of a higher good.