"The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition" Book Review

Written by Robert Gold

Published by HarperCollins Publishers

Written by William Peter Blatty
2011, 378 pages, Fiction
Book released on October 4th, 2011


On August 11, 1980, CBS aired the network television premiere of William Friedkin’s smash hit film The Exorcist. I remember watching this (at age 9) with my sister in her room and trying not to get too scared. Needless to say, the experience was terrifying and I was hooked. I am lucky enough to have parents who appreciate horror films and who encouraged my early love of movies by allowing me to watch classic Universal Monsters and even Psycho. Soon, I began reading the novelizations of many of my favorite horror flicks; Halloween, Friday the 13th and Poltergeist. I eventually landed a copy of The Exorcist, and when I read the book by William Peter Blatty, it was every bit as satisfying as the other stuff I had been reading.

Later, I learned that a novelization is essentially the plot of a movie in book form and I was surprised to learn that The Exorcist had been a book first. This isn’t intended to read like I was some sort of kid genius, but the point is simply that the novel was so well translated into film that it read as though the movie came first. Jumping ahead thirty years, I decided to go back and revisit many books from my past, including the classics that were forced on me at school and see how I responded as an adult. Long story short (too late), I ended up reading both The Exorcist and Blatty’s sequel Legion last summer, and now the 40th anniversary expanded edition of the original has arrived with almost forty pages of new material.

Having jumped back into this by coincidence is an advantage to discovering the subtle differences between the two versions, and while this doesn’t read like a novelization of The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, there are several small adjustments along the way. I found nothing gimmicky or intrusive, but rather just a few extra beats allowing for some breathing room within the quiet moments along the way to the nightmare awaiting our troubled protagonists. The additions read like a victory lap for Blatty, given the opportunity to go back and include anything that he perhaps regretted having omitted all those years ago.

Every time I would discover something new, I would cross reference to the original only to find that the material already existed and yet an occasional name would be different or dialogue exchanges would go on just a little bit longer. The single largest change comes late in the book as an exhausted Father Karras finally manages to sleep for a few hours, only to be haunted by a mysterious visitor in his dreams. The sequence is mildly creepy, but really adds nothing to the narrative.

It is impossible for me to contribute anything new to the analysis of what makes this a fantastic book that hasn’t already been stated by better writers than myself, but suffice it to say that this modern classic retains every bit of the intensity that has thrilled and terrified audiences for almost half a century.

I can easily recommend this edition of the book to both those who have never read the story, and to completists who love the film franchise yet have never owned the book. Anyone who has had a copy on their bookshelf for years will be fine keeping what they have and trusting the judgment of Blatty’s editors who did a fine job 40 years ago. While diehard fans will rejoice in the author’s opportunity to go back and add any last little changes he perhaps always missed, others may feel like this is little more than dusting off an earlier draft that remains a masterpiece, just one with a little excess fat around the edges.


Overall: 4 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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