What scares me about The Exorcist now is a lot different than it once was

Photo by Rob Potter

As I alluded to yesterday and what I’ve written about before, one of the first formidable movies I ever watched (or at least attempted to watch) was The Exorcist (1973 original).

I forget exactly how old I was when my parents were watching it, but I must have been 6 or 7. I have no idea why they thought it was okay to have their first-grader present during the viewing of this movie, but hey — it was the 80’s.

I don’t recall if I started tuning in right from the beginning or if it was part-way through — all I remember is that I was immediately drawn in. And then, when the scene shot to Regan’s eyes rolling back in her head, I remember experiencing utter terror unlike any I’d experienced up to that point.

I couldn’t finish watching it. Nope. No way. That scene almost did me in.

But have you noticed that there’s something about being terrified that’s also intriguing? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I asked my mom — the Roman Catholic half of my parents — just what this Exorcist thing was. And immediately thereafter, could I be one? Yes, I was horrified, but that rush was real! Is that a job?!

I learned that it was, of a priest, though not so much anymore (thanks for ruining the fun, modern psychology — sheesh). At the time, 60 Minutes was running an exclusive about exorcisms around the world. This stuff wasn’t just in the movies — it was real; people actually become possessed by demons, which also means one could get a job as someone who exorcizes them.

I was in. Sign me up.

I had my mom fashion me a clerical collar out of a black dickie turtleneck and a white patch of cloth. Every day after school, I’d robe up and exorcize my parents and any family friends who may have been around at the time. The power of Christ compels you! I’d shout as I doused them with makeshift holy water.

Anyhow, getting back to the main point here — I’ve been TERRIFIED of this movie since I first saw a glimpse of it thirty years ago.

Well, just last night, my wife and I decided to indulge in a libation and lather up enough courage to stream it on Amazon and watch the entire thing.

First off, yes… It was horrifying. I immediately started thinking about my daughter becoming possessed. Though she has come close to exhibiting the same qualities of a possessed person (including the vomiting, the flailing, urinating on the floor, and inappropriate gestures), she hasn’t ever stabbed herself in the nether region with a crucifix, thrown anyone out a window, or used quite as colorful language as Captain Howdy. Not yet, anyway.

But what really terrified me (especially as a 39-year-old who’s eyeing the clergy*) was the abject poverty and despair of Father Karras.

And that was in the Roman church’s HEYDAY. They seriously couldn’t kick down any more bread to the guy to help him care for his mother in a bigger way? And did you see that ratty closet-looking apartment that he lived in behind the church?!

I know that the church today looks far different than it once did (plus, I’m not a Roman Catholic) — but still…

See, I grew up poor (in US standards). I have something in me that doesn’t ever want to go back to that. Though I’m blessed beyond imagination in so many ways today, I’m nowhere near the income bracket I yearned to reach as a kid on food stamps daydreaming about my life and how rich I would one day be.

Now, this is complete nonsense. I’m rich in so many ways that I never considered possible when I was a kid. I hit the jackpot with my wife and daughter. We have a loving community of friends and family and we live in our favorite city. I sit down and write things for a living. I can write this heartfelt post to you, press publish, and have it show up on your screen.

Also, I’ve met a number of clergyfolk who have fantastic lives (and not megachurch clergyfolk either). Their vocation has lead them to a prolific, vibrant career and they have fantastic, well-traveled lives away from the church (and no, they don’t live in a dark room behind a church).

Trust me, I’m blessed. But I have to say, that movie triggered the poor little kid in me and my late father’s incessant grooming to make money the focus of my life so that I’d never have to go through what he went through.

And so what really terrified me about The Exorcist today wasn’t necessarily the demonic teenager. But rather the demon that whispers loudly in my ear from childhood…

You’ll never be as rich as your father wanted you to be…

Oh, Dad issues. Like Captain Howdy, they sometimes require an exorcism or five to be cast away.