After finishing an archaeological dig in ancient Nineveh, Jesuit priest Lankester Merrin prepares to leave Iraq and return to the United States. A strange premonition, however, fills the elderly priest as he sifts through the recently collected artifacts and discovers an amulet bearing the head of Pazuzu, a demon of sickness and disease. Merrin leaves for home with an icy conviction that he will soon face an ancient enemy.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., film star and recently divorced mother Chris MacNeil has rented a home across the street from Georgetown University, where she is acting in a film. As she lies in bed preparing her lines for the following day, she hears strange rapping sounds from somewhere in the house. Other strange events soon occur, the most serious being her daughter Regan’s change in personality. Having found a Ouija board in the basement of the house, the eleven-year-old girl has contacted a “playmate” called Captain Howdy, who now physically abuses her. Medical tests prove futile in explaining Regan’s emerging violent behavior, and her mother remains unconvinced by psychiatric speculations: She knows that the “thing” in her daughter’s room is not Regan.
Although she professes no religious belief, she solicits the aid of a young Jesuit priest, Damien Karras—who is also a psychiatrist—and begs for an exorcism. Karras, tormented by a loss of faith and guilt resulting from his indigent mother’s recent...
(The entire section is 509 words.)