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William Peter Blatty knows his devils, his movies, and his movie devils. Besides having birthed the devil-went-down-to-Georgetown novel The Exorcist, he also wrote the screenplay and stuck around as producer when moguls started making noises in his attic for the sure-to-be-a-blockbuster movie. Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, Blatty’s latest novel, draws not only on his tour of duty on The Exorcist the film but on the years he’s spent toiling in Tinseltown as a screenwriter and director.
Demons is the mostly sorry tale of Jason Hazard, a down-on-his-luck movie director who sells his soul to the worst kind of Satan: a film producer named Arthur Zelig. Their pact is simple: In exchange for a three-picture deal, Hazard must direct Zelig’s production of the year’s hottest property, a can’t-miss movie version of the occult best-seller The Satanist. One catch, thoughZelig blames Hazard for the failure of his marriage and plans to bury the director once and for all by sabotaging the film’s production.
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With its Little Prince-style illustrations, talking animals, and zippy tone, Demons might seem a departure for Blatty, but really it’s a return to his comedic roots. “When The Exorcist was published, my entire history as a comic writer got wiped out,” Blatty says. “A lot of readers thought that I just landed on the planet with The Exorcist’s manuscript under my arm, but my first four books were comic novels, and every film I’d done up to The Exorcist was a comedy.”
What separates Demons from Blatty’s other funny books is that not all the comedy is inventeda lot is autobiographical. Zelig’s insistence that The Satanist have a musical number with dancing demons and priests, for example, is based on a similar scenario Blatty once found himself in. “Years ago,” he remembers, “I did a film with Blake Edwards called Darling Lili, a World War I romantic comedy starring Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson. Months after I’d written it and had gone away to Europe, I ran into the head of Paramount…and asked him how Lili was shaping up. He said, ‘Oh, Bill, you’re gonna be very happy. We’ve added 15 songs.’”
After a Hollywood horror story like that, it’s no shocker what Blatty’s next movie project is: directing Demonsfrom his own screenplay, thank you very much.Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa