Occult Detective Countdown 12/20: Fathers Merrin & Karras / #40DaysofHalloween

Warning: If you’ve not seen The Exorcist, spoilers abound.

I saw The Exorcist in the Summer of 1974. I was 8 years old. It left an indelible mark on me, to say the least. It was a truly terrifying experience, especially for an eight year old, and I vividly recalling watching it from the backseat of the family station wagon, peaking over the headrest. Man, I miss the Hi-Way Drive-In.

Lots of films have given me jump scares, but only the Exorcist has ever truly frightened me. And it still does, 46 years later.

One of the standout characters, in both book (which I read in 1977) and film, was Father Lankester Merrin. And yes, the priest and exorcist is most certainly an occult detective.

The film was a faithful adaptation, particularly in regard to Merrin, whom we meet in the opening scene as an elderly archaeologist working a dig in Iraq where a statue of the demon Pazuzu is discovered.

Merrin has a history with this particular demon, having battled him many years before, in Africa, leaving him with a heart condition. This discovery, and other subsequent paranormal events, ends with a premonition that they will face again…

Enter the possession of Regan McNeil, daughter of a famous actress, and Father Damien Karras, our second occult detective in book and film.

Karras is a Jesuit psychologist suffering from a crisis of faith. It is he who investigates and attempts to diagnose what ails young Regan, believing it to be mental illness. Eventually convinced a demonic presence might be involved, he is tasked with assisting Father Merrin, brought in to perform the Rite.

What follows is a harrowing ordeal that sees the exorcists triumphant over the forces of evil, but at the expense of their lives — Merrin’s heart gives out and Karras heroically takes the demonic spirits inside himself then commits suicide in order to save the girl.

It’s a great story, with compelling characters, but it is definitely not meant for the faint of heart. The follow-up novel, Legion, is well worth the price of admission, as is the film adaptation, The Exorcist III.

A Note on the Occult Detective Countdown: As I make my way through my list of favorite occult detectives, bear in mind, I am not recording them in any particular order. I thought it would be more fun to release them organically, narratively rather than in a simple “best to worse” format. I’ll let you decide for yourselves their pecking order.

I will be posting to the countdown roughly every other day throughout our 40 Days of Hallowe’en adventure.

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