Devil Dregs

‘The Rite’

The Exorcist (1973) was geared to shock. With its pea-soup projectile vomiting, bestial soundtrack noises, revolving head, voice of Satan (Mercedes McCambridge electronically baritone-ized), vertiginous camera work, elegant Georgetown setting transformed by fog and shadows into a circle of hell, it was meant to achieve two goals. First, to stir up feelings of atavistic dread, and second, to make the viewer overlook all the stupidities in the script. As far as this viewer was concerned, the first goal was attained; the second was not. All the individual stupidities added up to one big stupidity that could be summed up by the question: Is the Devil nothing but a violent psycho?

For what did His Satanic Majesty accomplish in the story? He made the possessed little girl look ugly. He tossed an alcoholic film director out a window (did the poor sod go to hell or heaven or…?). He damaged furniture, urinated on a carpet, and spewed in people’s faces. He played havoc with the thermostat (it gets cold up there on the second floor when the Devil is in residence), and he used a lot of foul language (but no worse than that of your typical stand-up comedian). This is diabolism? Oh yes, I understood that all these stunts were meant ultimately to bring the devil face to face with the formidable...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.