cover image Night Mother: A Personal and Cultural History of ‘The Exorcist’

Night Mother: A Personal and Cultural History of ‘The Exorcist’

Marlena Williams. Mad Creek, $19.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8142-5876-7

Williams’s searching debut serves up essays on the legacy and meaning of director William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist. The author studies how the film reflects the cultural currents of the era, contending in “Magical Mirrors” that the movie might be interpreted as a reactionary response to the women’s liberation movement in its portrayal of a “female-led household” (Chris MacNeil, mother of the possessed Regan, is a single, working actor) as “open to invasion by an evil outside force” and in need of the valor of male priests. Other pieces offer more personal reflections; “My Mother and The Exorcist” compares Williams’s strained relationship with her mother, who died of cancer when Williams was 18, to MacNeil’s relationship with her possessed daughter. Williams recounts seeing a second-run screening of the film after her mother’s death to connect with how her mother must have felt watching the movie during its initial theatrical run, against her mother’s orders to never see the “blasphemous” film. Elsewhere, Williams explores James Baldwin’s commentary on the racial politics of The Exorcist and ruminates on whether the film’s vision of faith is heartening or sinister. The sharp analysis offers novel and convincing perspectives on the horror classic, and Williams’s personal meditations are affecting. This is scary good. (Oct.)