DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Devil in DC

Welcome to this week's Friday Flashback. Each Friday in the Flashback we offer a post about some part of the past and its relationship to DC. Sometimes, we will write a new entry. Others times, we will showcase articles that previously appeared in The Prices Do DC or some other online publications. But no matter who does the writing, you can trust that you will learn something important from the Flashback. 



Satan has long been a staple of Halloween horror. And there is no greater the-Devil-made-me-do-it classic than The Exorcist, both the terrifying novel by William Blatty and the shocking movie by William Friedkin.

In both the book and film, DC, or more specifically the Georgetown section of the city, plays a major role.

For those who have spent four decades avoiding the story, it centers around the Devil possessing 12-year-old Regan, played in the movie by Linda Blair, and the attempts by Catholic priests to exercise the demon from her.

Blatty,a Georgetown University graduate, based the story on the reported exorcism of a young boy that took place in 1949 in Mount Rainier, Md. That story was written in the Washington Post by staff reporter Bill Brinkley.

A Jesuit at Georgetown told Blatty of the priest that performed the exorcism, which took two months to complete. Blatty was able to contact the priest in St. Louis and Father William Bowdern, whose hair had reportedly turned shock white during the ordeal, said that what he had witnessed was "the real thing." Blatty used only a few details for his novel, which sold 13 million copies in its initial release.

The Exorcist stairs
Blatty wrote the screenplay for Friedkin's film, which was set in the upscale neighborhood of Georgetown. Several scenes were also filmed at Georgetown University. The most famous site was the steep stairs which Karras the priest was propelled down during the exorcism ritual.

Fans of the film still visit the 75 steps at Prospect and 36th Street that lead down to M Street. Other sites still recognizable from the film include:
  • The exterior of the Prospect Street home near the steps
  • the Key Bridge
  • Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown campus
  • a bridge over the C&O canal 
The controversial film, during which the possessed Regan cursed, had her head spin completely around, vomited foul green goop, and masturbated with a crucifix, opened exclusively in Washington DC in January of 1974. Film critic Tom Shales of the Post described local police efforts to make sure no one under 17 saw the movie. 

Today, both Blatty and Friedkin appeared at a special screening in Georgetown to discuss the novel, the film, the sequels and the aftermath. Prior to the program, Blatty, now 85, sat down for an interview with Post writer Dan Zak.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It

There's More to the Story
  • The real life accounts that served as the basis for The Exorcist. (from Smithsonian.Com)
  • 30 things you probably didn't know about The Exorcist films. (from Vulture)

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