William Peter Blatty will emerge from his burrow, the stately Bethesda home where he lives with his wife of 33 years, to watch the 7:30 p.m. showing on Halloween. Afterward he will submit to questions from audience members. Blatty will bear the cross of his mammoth success, which was fused long ago to the kitschy holiday by virtue of its terrifying imagery. Never mind, he says, that the story is more about the mystery and power of faith than the ultimate violation of a 12-year-old girl by evil forces.
“I can’t regret ‘The Exorcist,’ ” he says after a moment’s pause for his curtailed comedy career. “It’s done so much for me and for my family. And it’s given me a great deal of freedom to write what I want.”
I never liked horror movies. Perhaps it was running poor health as a child before I moved to “where the animals are tame and the people run wild” (a horror experience of its own kind) but the idea of paying hard currency to be scared out of my wits has never appealed to me.
So I, taking in much of life in the 1970’s, missed ‘The Exorcist’. Blatty wasn’t the only one whose career was altered by the success of the film. Its music came from one Mike Oldfield, who came off from messing around with Kevin Ayers to become a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. That did have an impact on my life. It also changed Richard Branson, whose Virgin Records was getting started and which was transformed by the success of albums such as Tubular Bells (where ‘The Exorcist’ got its music) and the incomparable Hergest Ridge.
But Blatty is involved in another horror:
Mere steps away from lunch is evidence of the fallen, in his eyes: his beloved alma mater, which he believes has drifted perilously into secularism. This month, Blatty submitted to the Vatican a petition with thousands of signatures and a 120-page institutional audit that calls for the removal of Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit designations if it does not comply with every little rule in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” John Paul II’s constitution for affiliated colleges. The university, for its part, says the “Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger.”
Bill, what are you doing? people have asked him.
Bill, times change. Let it go.
Bill, why are you punishing the school you love, the school whose scholarship money rescued you from a childhood of restless poverty in New York, the school that made possible your life, that cemented your faith?
“If you truly love someone that you think needs to be in rehab, you’ll do everything you possibly can to get them into rehab,” Blatty says. The last straw, he says, was Georgetown’s invitation of Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to be a commencement speaker in May of last year. Sebelius has a record of supporting abortion rights, and abortion is the issue that really sets Blatty’s nerves on fire.
Now this is a horror story I’ve seen before. An institution that shies away from defending its own tenets in its own institutions won’t do it with anyone else. That’s the point where the Episcopal Church blinked re James Pike. I hope that Blatty and his co-signers get a response.
It’s interesting that the controversial speaker was none other than Kathleen Sibelius, who now presides over the slow train wreck of the Obamacare rollout. Had Georgetown known what was coming, it might have thought twice before inviting her. As it is, that administrative, legal and economic bungle is now becoming a horror story that will dwarf ‘The Exorcist’ before it’s done.