That’s all pretty grim reading so I’d like to conclude on a more optimistic note. Over the past few weeks, I have been writing a series of explainers on “The Exorcist” franchise, and spending time with the movies has reinforced the feeling I’ve always had about the series. Despite their atmosphere of brooding malevolence, I’m struck once again by the positive view of humanity that the films represent. In “The Exorcist” and “The Exorcist III” in particular, William Peter Blatty focuses on selfless, fundamentally good people prepared to make heavy sacrifices to beat the Devil.
In the original film, you have Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller), two priests who lay down their lives to save a young girl from demonic possession. The Director’s Cut concludes with Lieutenant William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) walking off arm-in-arm with Father Dyer (William O’Malley), leaving us on a note of comradeship after the death of their mutual friend, Father Karras.
Kinderman is an interesting character. As a homicide detective, he has seen the worst of mankind, but he is defined by his kindness. The name Kinderman is derived from the German “Kindermann,” or Children Man, but we can also take it literally in English; there are few kinder men in horror history.
Blatty brought Kinderman and Dyer back for “The Exorcist III,” and their ornery friendship is the heart of the film. After Dyer is murdered and Father Karras’s body is possessed by a serial killer, Kinderman performs the ultimate act of love, shooting the latter to free his soul from spiritual torment and sacrificing himself in the process.
There is plenty of evil in the world but, whether you believe in God and the Devil or not, the original “Exorcist” trilogy reassures us that we have the power to defeat it.