THE PRIEST WALKS into the bedroom to face the little girl. It’s not a little girl, though. Something dark, something other looks out from her eyes. It opens her mouth to spew blasphemies, obscenities. The priest raises a crucifix, shouting, “The power of Christ compels you!”
So goes The Exorcist, the 1973 Oscar winner directed by William Friedkin. As a 17-year-old, I was not prepared for the visceral horror of seeing a possessed young Regan (Linda Blair) serve as the battleground between God and the devil. Neither were my Southern Baptist youth group friends who watched with me in my home. And neither were their parents, who (according to my long-suffering mother) were quite angry that I had hosted this viewing.
On the surface, those parents’ horror is understandable. The Exorcist more than earns its R rating, with gore and a good bit of blasphemy. But sit with Pazuzu (the demon) for a little longer, and it becomes clear that the film aligns well with conservative evangelical politics — a perspective in which I was raised and which persists in many corners of the U.S. church today.