Self Possessed

An interview with William Peter Blatty

(Taken from Fear Magazine June 1990)

(Steve Biodrowski, interviews)

Page 2


When this deal finally came together, did you go back to your original script, or did you re-adapt your novel back into a screenplay?
I went to the novel.  I've had many versions, even one where the hero was not Lt Kinderman --- there was possession, but it had nothing to do with the characters in The Exorcist
With the title expanded by Morgan Creek Productions to include THE Exorcist 3, do you think audiences might be expecting a re-run of the original film?
That they will not get.  But they will get a link, a very strong one. To the first film --- and some fireworks.
Not literally.  There will be an exorcism, but it's not what we're building to throughout the body of the film.  It's not the full third act, but it is part of the resolution.
Why did you wait until post-production to film this scene?
Quite frankly, at the time we were shooting [principal photography], I hadn't dreamed up the scene yet or the effects.  So I said,’ Until I think of the right thing, it's not in the picture.'  I'm trying for effects we've never seen before, not the usual.  We're spending a lot of money.  A Lot.  Over $4 million.  We're going to repeat nothing that was in The Exorcist.  The scene will be infinitely shorter; it will be compacted into a very brief period of time so the effects will come at you like dum-dum bullets.  One of them is quite wild, I must say.  They're all different, but one I find personally terrifying.

Who is providing the special effects?
Everybody: ILM, Dream Quest.  There's so many, nobody could get them ready in time.  There's one story I must tell you.  There is one shot during the exorcism sequence in which the room is filled with a low sea of flame and teaming with cobras, all around the exorcist.  Last Wednesday morning, our effects coordinator received a call from the owner and handler of a cobra named 'Joe', who said, 'Look, I'm sorry about this.  The money is good, and it's a swell opportunity in every other way, but my wife and I talked this through, looking at all sides of it, and we both felt we really don't want Joe to be in an Exorcist film.'
    The cobra passed! [laughing]  What must be the reputation of the film?  I guess people are afraid that their cobra would get jinxed.  Many people to this day have never seen the original and won't go and see it.  I don't know why.  Maybe because it dealt with a child.
How did George C Scott get cast as Kinderman?
He's the best man for the part.  I think many people will be surprised.  They're going to see a different aspect of George Scott --- extremely vulnerable.  It's quite a spirited performance.  I expect he'll be nominated --- this time I hope he accepts if he wins.
There is a mistaken impression that your Lt Kinderman character is based on the Columbo television series starring Peter Falk.  Did that cause you to alter the character at all, to avoid the comparison?
The novel [The exorcist] predated Columbo.  It was close but what people forget is that after I had submitted my manuscript to the publisher, another six to eight months went by, not to mention all the time I slaved over the manuscript a year before that.  I feel quite strongly that Columbo ripped off Kinderman.  There's very little doubt in my mind.  I asked Peter Falk: he said, 'No, it had been planned before your book came out.'  But my manuscript was circulated all over town, all the agencies and production companies and studios, and somebody said --- and I know who that somebody is --- 'Wouldn't this be interesting for our detective?'  I must say it does tick me a little.  I had planned my own little TV series for Lt Kinderman --- not any more.
    I've downplayed that aspect of his character --- the constant forgetfulness --- in the script.  I saw a Columbo episode --- I could go on and on about this --- in which they did the 'autograph this for my daughter' bit --- straight out of The Exorcist.  But God bless Peter Falk --- it wasn't his fault.

One of the more intriguing supernatural elements in Legion is the recording of the disembodied voices, presumably spirits, on tape.  [The process involves leaving a tape machine recording at full volume while asking questions in a quiet room, then playing the tape back and listening for responses.]
There are several books on the subject.  There were two by scientists; the one by Konstantin Raudieve [Breakthrough] got me going.  At the risk of sounding like a wacko, I'll tell you now that it is an absolutely authentic phenomenon, these taped voices.  I don't know what they are.  I don't know how they get on the tape.  But they're there.  All those voice messages in the novel Legion were tapes that I had made, including one I made at Magno Sound Studio in New York City, which was so loud I sent it to Columbia University for analysis.  Back it came with the result that it could not possibly be a human voice: the graph was perfectly even; with a human voice that's not so --- it's irregular.
What was particularly interesting was that some of the voices' messages changed if the tape speed was changed.  Was that based on one of your tapes?
Yes.  The answer was 'Lacey,' which was not responsive to my question, 'Is there a God?'  Played at twice the speed it became, 'Hope it.'  And the sampling at Magno Sound was not clearly intelligible until I played it at twice the speed I recorded it.
    One night, two people came to my house and asked for a demonstration.  On the playback --- I had asked to hear the names of the two people --- I heard one of the names.  I altered the speed, and that same piece of information became the other person's name --- and the names were totally different.  Don't ask me how --- whether there are two different frequencies riding on top of each other, and changing the pitch by changing the speed allows one frequency to become audible while the other is not --- I don't know.  My friends were utterly stunned.
    I'll tell you this, though: Based on my own experiments, if these are the dead, they don't know any more now than when they were alive.  No supernatural powers or anything else --- they're just on a different frequency.  Jung talked about that, the other side being a higher frequency, because they are invisible to us, like a spinning propeller.  In fact, one of the things I heard on the tape was a voice saying, "We have two souls", and much later, in my readings on Carl Jung, I came across a slim volume of his research on animistic beliefs among the Sennoi Tribe in Africa, and one of their beliefs was that we have two souls.
    Interesting Phenomenon, but I've stopped it.  It takes too much intense concentration --- I cant do it for more that twenty minutes at a time --- and you learn nothing: "Hello, my name is John.  I'm fine.  How are you?"  You're not going to get any great illumination.
So there are no philosophers on the other side?
There may be; but, curiously, if you ask significant and important questions, or broadly philosophical ones, you get very cryptic answers or none.  Evasive.
That may be one reason why some people avoid The Exorcist: it seems closer to reality than most horror fiction.
That is very much a part of it.  Some people don't want to be subjected to that kind of experience, because this is terror based on reality --- at least, I believe it is.  I don't think of The Exorcist as a horror tale at all.  It's frightening but quite real.  Its power to frighten derives from its credibility.
    And there was the unavoidable obscenity of The Exorcist.  Newsweek, in its review of the novel, said: 'The Exorcist is obscene in the highest possible sense.  It restores the proper meaning to the word 'obscenity'" --- which was to make you aware of something that should not be, that has no right to exist.  When you are made aware of that, it's laudable.  So one never revelled, hopefully, in the vulgarity in the film, because it was set in its proper context: something not to be desired.