Marlena WilliamsOct 6, 2023
A Personal and Cultural History of the Exorcist
Mad Creek Books 2023
Never watch The Exorcist, Marlena Williams's mother told her, just as she'd been told by her own mother as a Catholic teen in rural Oregon when the horror classic premiered. And like her mother, Mary, Williams watched it anyway. An inheritance passed from mother to daughter, The Exorcist looms large--in popular culture and in Williams's own life, years after Mary's illness and death. In Night Mother: A Personal and Cultural History of the Exorcist (Mad Creek Books, 2023), Williams investigates the film not only as a projection of Americans' worst fears in the tumultuous 1970s and a source of enduring tropes around girlhood, faith, and transgression but also as a key to understanding her mother and the world she came from.
The essays in Night Mother delve beneath the surface of The Exorcist to reveal the deeper stories the film tells about faith, family, illness, anger, guilt, desire, and death. Whether tracing the career of its young star, Linda Blair, unpacking its most infamous scenes, exploring its problematic depictions of gender and race, or reflecting on the horror of growing up female in America, Williams deftly blends bold personal narrative with shrewd cultural criticism. Night Mother offers fresh insights for both fans of the film and newcomers alike.
Rebekah Buchanan is a Professor of English and Director of English Education at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on feminism, activism, and literacy practices in youth culture, specifically through zines and music.