Pazuzu, The Exorcist (1973), and Sorcerer (1977)

Pazuzu is most well-known today thanks to a horror movie about demonic possession; yet He is evoked much more faithfully in a completely different film by the same director.

So far, 2021 has not been much easier than 2020. But if there is one amazing thing for which I will always remember this year moving forward, it’s the fact that I met Pazuzu and He helped me heal myself some when I needed it very badly.

I have known about Pazuzu since I was a teenager, but my understanding of His lore and symbolism was severely inhibited by popular culture at the time. I have no memory of ever reaching out to Him at any point in prayer. I had considered writing a song about Him sometime in 2020; but I eventually forgot about this idea, and I certainly wasn’t planning to write an entire album devoted to Him. When 2021 began, I experienced a near complete mental break and did not think I would ever produce anything again for a while. But then in April, I suddenly felt driven by Pazuzu to write and record 10 songs for Him in less than one week.

And by the time it was over, I felt….something like myself again. Better. Healthier. Not exactly what you’d expect from a figure who is most commonly portrayed as a horror movie villain, is it?

Most people who are familiar with Pazuzu these days are first introduced to Him by William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1973), which was directed by William Friedkin. Blatty is another one of those self-proclaimed “experts” in demonology from the Satanic Panic era, and his novel The Exorcist was inspired by a “real life” exorcism he investigated. The story features Pazuzu as its antagonist, an evil demon that possesses an adolescent girl and drives her to commit all manner of vile obscenities. The film version is one of the most faithful screen adaptations of a novel I have ever seen, and great pains were taken to design a giant Pazuzu statue that is more or less true to ancient Mesopotamian motifs. As a result, it could be said that Pazuzu Himself was actually cast in the film, if only for a few brief cameos.

The Exorcist was a real game changer, and if you need any convincing, just look at how horror movie soundtracks changed after 1973. Prior to The Exorcist, most horror films featured romantic orchestral scores. The themes and melodies might crescendo and increase in tempo at certain points, but they still have harmony, being fairly easy on the ears. William Friedkin originally enlisted the composer Lalo Schifrin to score The Exorcist, but was unsatisfied with everything Schifrin offered and eventually fired him. Friedkin ended up using all pre-recorded music for the film, music that was progressive and experimental for the time.

Most everyone knows the Exorcist “theme song” is actually just a brief clip from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973); but the film also includes selections from Krzyzstof Penderecki’s Polymorphia (1962) and George Crumb’s Black Angels (1970). And while these latter pieces are technically considered “classical,” they belong to that lovely postmodernist category where it’s all orchestral drones and ambience. Shit like this had seldom been used in any films before, and it sounds terrifying as hell, so it didn’t exactly get much radio play either. But it speaks volumes that nearly every horror movie made since 1973 has used much the same sound design template. This is most obviously exemplified by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), which includes quite a bit of Penderecki in its soundtrack. But you can also hear this kind of influence in the music of Goblin (e.g., Suspiria, 1977), John Carpenter (Halloween, 1978), Christopher Young (Hellraiser, 1987), and countless others.

(An interesting aside: Ennio Morricone scored Exorcist II: The Heretic in 1977, and Morricone was already known for incorporating some postmodernist influences into his work; consider his scores for Sergio Leone’s Westerns from the 1960’s, for example. Meanwhile, Lalo Schifrin was recruited for The Amityville Horror in 1979, and he repurposed the score he had previously composed for The Exorcist in 1973. There is most definitely a solid Penderecki influence in the finished product, with all those shrill discordant strings.)

The Exorcist is a fantastic film, and it is one of my favorites. Yet there are certain things about it that annoy me. I would enjoy it much better if the story didn’t use a Pagan god for its villain. I understand the movie is really just a giant commercial for the Catholic Church; but there was no need to pick on a random god from another religion to make this point. Still, I probably wouldn’t even know about Pazuzu if I had never seen this film, and the same is likely true of many who walk with Him today. Perhaps in this sense, the ulterior purpose of Blatty’s novel has backfired, providing Pazuzu with an unexpected gateway to our hearts.

Oh gods, James Earl Jones, what did they DO to you?

Naturally, the success of The Exorcist has led to several sequels and even a recent television series. The absolute worst of these continuations—Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)—is simultaneously the most fascinating. Directed by the ever-pretentious John Boorman (oh gods please rescue me from ever seeing Zardoz again), The Heretic is really just an excuse for the male gaze to linger on Linda Blair’s blossoming physique, and for Richard Burton to stumble through the script while drunk off his ass. For a more articulate synopsis of this bizarre piece-o-shit movie, I highly recommend my friend ChillerPop’s magnificent review thereof. For our purposes here, the important thing is that Pazuzu is still the villain, but He is not just the “fallen angel” He is claimed to be in the first movie. He is more like a force of nature that can actually be tamed or domesticated by human beings via magic and/or science. The Heretic appears to suggest that the Catholic Church is powerless to stop a force like Pazuzu…and this is a step in the right direction, at least.

Pazuzu is not a fallen angel, but an Assyro-Babylonian god. He is indeed described as the “King of the wind demons” in His original lore; but this means something very different in context. It is really referring to elemental nature spirits, and not to any demons from Christian mythology. Pazuzu is the “King” of these spirits because the rest are all afraid of Him, and they flee if He gets angry. This is exactly why the ancients invoked Him to protect their women and children from other spirits like Lamashtu, which thrive on harming and murdering both. Writers often describe this practice as “using evil against evil” (a line that is even used in the original Exorcist), but I call bullshit. The god of the Bible seems plenty wrathful and violent himself, but people don’t generally think of Christian exorcisms as “using evil against evil.” There really isn’t much difference in principle here, save that Pazuzu is a lesser-known polytheist deity. And as someone who has survived child abuse, I think it really says something that Pazuzu was thought to be so personally invested in the safety of human mothers and babies. That sounds like the complete opposite of “evil,” if you ask me.

“Not tonight, Lamashtu!”

None of the Exorcist films do any justice to Pazuzu; but there is another film I have seen that seems to resonate with Him somehow. William Friedkin’s next project after The Exorcist was a movie called Sorcerer from 1977. Despite its supernatural-sounding title, Sorcerer is not a horror film, but more of a bizarre jungle adventure. It’s about these four nefarious men from different countries (one of whom is played by Roy Scheider) who are hiding from mobsters and the law in some unnamed South American country. When a nearby oil rig explodes, killing countless workers, the company owners decide to stop the fire with some nitroglycerin—but the closest batch is damaged, extremely old, and highly volatile. So they enlist the four main characters to haul that nitro through the mountains and rainforests in these really big trucks. What follows is one of the most engrossing and suspenseful quests I’ve ever seen in any film, for just one false move could blow all these poor sweaty bastards straight to hell!

Despite its lack of any supernatural content, there is a powerful mystical edge to Sorcerer. William Friedkin deliberately chose the title as a reference to The Exorcist, stating that the titular “Sorcerer” is actually Fate itself. The trucks that are used for transporting the nitro have demonic-looking “faces,” with their headlights and grills resembling eyes and mouths full of teeth. At numerous points, the protagonists drive past stone figures of ancient gods and monsters from South American folklore. There is one sequence when they must drive across an extremely flimsy bridge, and we can hear the sound of wailing demons in the wind. One of the trucks even has Pazuzu clearly drawn in chalk on its hood—as if He were being asked to watch over these men and their deadly burden!

Pazuzu is their co-pilot!

And then there’s that magnificent electronic music score by Tangerine Dream, which sounds like it belongs in a fucking horror movie. The band composed and produced all of this music without seeing any video footage from the film at all. They delivered even more music than William Friedkin could use, and he was so delighted with their work that he wished he could go back in time and have them score The Exorcist for him. Remember, Friedkin had trouble finding the unique sounds he wanted for that film. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was an excellent choice for the theme, but can you imagine The Exorcist with music by Tangerine Dream instead? Listen to the Sorcerer soundtrack, and you will have an idea of what such a score would have sounded like. (The very first track, “Main Title,” is especially terrifying to hear in the dark.)

The Sorcerer soundtrack is one of my all-time favorite albums; I first discovered it as a 7th grader in 1995, and I am sure its influence can be found in my latest album, Pazuzu Saves (2021). This was actually unintentional; I wasn’t even thinking about this movie when I first composed the music. But something moved me to re-watch the film a few days after releasing Pazuzu Saves, and I was blown away by all the incidental references to this god (which I had never noticed before). Then I got to thinking about how this movie is all about these roughnecks ascending treacherous mountains to rescue the impoverished South American village they have learned to call home. The story of Pazuzu Saves is partially inspired by tales of the god flying up a mountain to break the wings of all the wind demons that menace humankind. It is difficult for me at this point NOT to watch Sorcerer and draw some kind of parallel to this theme, even though the film is not intended to convey any kind of religious message. Perhaps Pazuzu appreciated being cast in The Exorcist so much, He returned the favor by acting as William Friedkin’s muse for Sorcerer. The latter film certainly feels more in line with what Pazuzu is really all about, at least in my opinion. 

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An LV-426 Hallowtide Hootenanny! (Part 2)

The continuing discussion on horror movies and spirituality with two of my brethren in the LV-426 Tradition!

Today’s adventure is a continuation of my discussion with Tony and Patrick, two of my brethren in the LV-426 Tradition, about spirituality and horror movies. (For Part 1 of this discussion, check out Episode #52 of this series.)

Tony and I met in Texas in 2000, and when we started meeting for Sabbats back in 2003, the LV-426 Tradition was born. Tony was also the frontman for an awesome death metal band called Hexlust, which released the album Manifesto Hexcellente in 2015.

Click here to check out Hexlust: Manifesto Hexcellente (2015)!

Patrick and I met in Michigan in 2009, and he joined the LV-426 Tradition in 2010. Patrick is a writer, podcaster, and lover of all things play. He also writes for Fyx, a blog about video games.

An episode of Patrick’s show, Easily Distractedfeaturing me as a special guest!

Tony and Patrick are not just my friends, but my brothers in Set. We treat each other like family, and we are truly blessed to know each other. These gentlemen are also two of the most brilliant and analytical Setians I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. So without any further ado, please welcome Tony and Patrick to the show!


Tony: So, possession films. I just literally watched The Exorcist (1973) a couple days ago, along with Exorcist III: Legion (1990) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). All of that stuff is very black and white! “Somebody is controlling you. We’re going to have a strong monotheistic character take that away, and you’re gonna be okay.” I don’t know, but I’m wondering though; will there ever be a possession film that’s a little more “Pagan-friendly?”

G.B.: A large part of that boils down to how the concept of “possession” is portrayed in different religions. When you discuss possession in a Christian context (which most of these films do), it is always about casting spirits out from people’s bodies through the power of Christ. But what if you’re a practitioner of Vodun or Quimbanda? Adherents of those faiths experience things like being “ridden by the Lwa,” which means that “possession” is actually a fundamental part of religious worship in those traditions. So if you were to try and write a story like that from an actual Vodun perspective (as opposed to a Hollywood “Voodoo” perspective), the possession would need to be portrayed a good thing.

Tony: When Father Merrin [Max Von Sydow’s character in The Exorcist] comes in, that whole scene to me…It’s like a Schwarzenegger movie. Here’s the other priest who’s actually a psychologist and who says, “Well, here is the background” and all that stuff. But Father Merrin’s like, “Enough vagina talk, I’m the expert, I know what I’m doing!” And then, of course, he dies of a heart attack.

G.B.: Yeah, things don’t quite turn out so well for him in the end.

From The Exorcist (1973)

Tony: I’m glad they took that route though, because they could have easily just had the priest exorcise the demon, then say, “Okay, everybody should be a Catholic.” Which is still the main idea behind that movie: “Shame on you for not being a Catholic. You need to be Catholic.”

Patrick: It would be interesting to see a non-Christian possession film, but I think the only way that would work is if it were something produced by indigenous filmmakers who actually have a deep understanding of those traditions and ideas. We need to find some indigenous filmmakers to support and watch their movies, because that would go a huge way toward creating something like that.

Tony: Well I have a question for you, G.B. 

G.B.: Okay, what’s that?

Tony: This is about the views we had when we were younger, versus the views we have now. I remember you used to tell me, back when you were living in Houston, you would go after school or after work, pick up a six-pack, sit down, and watch the Jason movies while drinking the six pack. Back then, you and I would just watch these movies for the lewd content and the violence. But now that we’re older, has your perspective changed at all toward some of these movies? Like the 1980s slashers, which seem to take a “moral high ground” against pre-marital sex, drug use, or alcohol. Do you still enjoy movies like that, or do you feel you can’t really enjoy that stuff now, because it’s too much like visiting some Christian “Hell House” for Halloween?

G.B.: That’s a very good question. Yes, slasher films are infamous for having this weird moral subtext that seems to condemn young people (especially women) for having sex, getting drunk, doing drugs, having fun, and being liberated, then getting killed in excessively gory, violent ways by these psychopaths. Especially with movies made in the 1980s, it is very easy to read that as a “judgment” against those kinds of behaviors (like, “No, you shouldn’t be doing this”). We have to keep in mind, these are exploitation movies, they were made for one purpose and one purpose only: to exploit the market (and to exploit the teenage moviegoer market, in particular). They’re targeting teenage boys of the 1980s in particular.

From Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Patrick: Yes, on a surface level, these films seem to moralize about punishing teenagers for having sex and drinking and partying. This applies less to the Halloween films than it does to the Friday the 13th movies, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and all the cheap knock-offs that have been made of those movies. One thing I don’t appreciate about some of the latter films is how they try to make you like the killers in them. They make the killers into these charismatic characters, and we are supposed to like them more than their victims, which has always bothered me.

Tony: Many people like the bad guys, especially right now, because we’re in a culture that loves punishment and justice. We LOVE it! And the killers in these movies are the judges, the punishers, the executioners. People want that feeling of, “I’m justified in my belief that these people are doing things wrong, so Judge Jason, go out and kill them all. Now I feel good about myself!” So that’s why I think everybody loves the bad guy so much; the bad guy is the judge, the executioner, and a lot of people obsess over that. I know we’re talking about horror movies, but at the same time, you can’t not discuss what’s happening in the world. Especially where I live, everybody’s got the fucking Punisher logo are on their back windshield, and everybody has a black and white flag with a blue stripe in the middle. And I see these things, and I’m like, “Why is everybody is so obsessed with punishing people?” And that goes back to the horror movie fans who are like, “I love Freddy, ’cause he shows those rotten kids what’s what!” They may not come right out and say that, but it’s subconscious. That’s what they like, because Freddy Krueger is the judge, just like Jason is the judge.

Tony: What I want to know is, why can’t everyone be like me and just accept that Judge Dredd is the ultimate judge?

G.B.: [Imitating Sylvester Stallone.] “I AM THE LAW!”

[Laughter.]

G.B.: The inclusion of all the sex and the violence in these movies is really just to satisfy the desire of the target audience to see sex and violence. It’s not actually meant to communicate an anti-sex message; if it were, I’d expect to see church groups listed in the production credits. And trust me, some of the movies those church groups make might as well be slashers.  [See Estus Pirkle’sIf Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? as a primary example.]

From If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971, a “Christian” film)

Tony: Well, I remember in high school I was invited and I didn’t go, but I was invited to a hell house, and I was like, “What the hell is a hell house?” And they were like, “Oh, it’s this thing where we show cautionary tales of this couple who go drinking and driving, then get decapitated.” And I remember they described to me what I think was actually a simulated decapitation, complete with fake blood and stuff like that. And I’m like, “I love how Christians condemn horror movies, yet they sure do like peddling it on the side.”  

G.B.: And The Passion of the Christ. Just what the hell is that?

Patrick: It’s a snuff film.

G.B.: Exactly, it’s a glorified snuff film. But returning to how I feel about slasher movies now. I used to enjoy quite a few of them when I was a young Typhonian foal; but as I grew older, I came round to thinking some of these movies are really bad, and some are actually pretty sick.

Patrick: Thankfully, over the last few years, we’ve started to see a renaissance build. But for a while there, slasher movies were dove-tailing together with home invasion movies, and I explicitly hate home invasion movies. If they are just randomly picking a house on a street and invading it and then torturing the people who live in it, I am not interested. That’s not entertaining.

G.B.: I still enjoy the Halloween movies, and I still enjoy most of the Friday the 13th movies too. I really only enjoy the first two Freddy Krueger movies, I don’t care for the rest of the Nightmare series.

Patrick: I like Freddy Vs. Jason, ’cause it’s stupid and absurd. I don’t think it’s a good movie though; it’s fun, but apart from that…

G.B.: And maybe a few other exceptions, like The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), which is kind of a funnier take that was actually written and directed by women. But apart from exceptions like those, I’ve generally turned sour to the slasher genre. I’m really much more engaged with sci-fi and British folk horror, like Alien and The Wicker Man and the other films we’ve been discussing.

Tony: OK I have a question for you both. You guys are die-hard Halloween fans; hell, we all are. But how do you guys truly feel now that there’s been some time since the release of the Rob Zombie remake in 2007? 

Patrick: I don’t think Rob Zombie has ever even made a passing film. Every one of his movies is absolute garbage. I think we’re all holding on to that time in college when we watched House of 1000 Corpses and were like, “Wow, this is rad.” Nope, that movie sucks too. I think Halloween [the 2007 version] is obviously one of his better films in terms of talent and production values; but it’s also one of his worst films from a writing perspective. What he does with that universe and that character is a complete disgrace. It shows he has no understanding of what makes the original movies so special. It falls into this whole genre from the 2000s where the point was just to show awful pain being inflicted on people, which is not really the point of horror or what makes it interesting. Rob Zombie’s Halloween represents this “crescendo” of just wanting to show people being tortured, and now we have this happier medium with films like Midsommar (2019), which are awful to watch and horrifying and disgusting and brutal, but also don’t have quite the same level of cruelty about them.

Tony: There’s also just too much nostalgia in Rob Zombie’s Halloween. The first movie, somebody gets stabbed and you’re done. The Zombie movie, somebody gets stabbed, and we’re gonna let the camera linger on that KISS lunchbox in the background, because don’t you remember KISS? 

G.B.: I just reviewed what I count as being my “Top 5” Halloween movies for In the Desert of Set, and I purposely avoided discussing either of the Rob Zombie films. I prefer to try and only review things that I enjoy, because I don’t really wanna tear people apart on my website. In some cases I might tear a movie apart, but it’s because I actually enjoy the movie and I’m just saying, “Here’s this movie that’s really insanely goofy, and here’s why I love it.” (Like with Halloween 6.) But I really have nothing positive to say about the Rob Zombie movies at all.

G.B.: My biggest problem is that Zombie attempts to transform Michael Myers into a sympathetic protagonist, while Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode are both turned into really horrible, despicable characters who are just toxic and ugly and hateful. Zombie took this story that was originally about really good, noble-hearted people facing off against ultimate evil, and he turned it into a story about nasty, despicable people getting what they deserve from the killer they all helped to create. And that to me is a completely fucking different story from what John Carpenter’s Halloween is all about. Michael Myers should never be the protagonist, he should never be the character we’re supposed to feel sorry for, and he should never be humanized. If you make a Halloween movie with a human Michael Myers and a dehumanized Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode, you’re doing something wrong. All I have to say apart from that is, the new 2018 Halloween was exactly what I fucking wanted after all of that; a nice return to form. I know some people didn’t like it, but I think it is definitely one of the best Halloween movies to have ever been made, and I’m excited to see the next two films. I’m sure they’re won’t be quite as good, but I’m still excited to give them a shot.

From Halloween (2018)

Patrick: Yeah, I liked the 2018 Halloween lot. Over time, I do see some of its flaws more, like it doesn’t hit quite as much for me as the original three films. But that’s not a condemnation of it either, I think it’s a really good movie, and I think it’s an interesting branch to go on. I used to be very rigidly into thinking, “Well, this movie is the first movie in the canon, you can make a second movie, but you can’t make another one that invalidates the original second one, because you either need to reboot it or you need to make a sequel to the sequel.” But I’ve come around to thinking it’s awesome that there are two Halloween IIs, and it’s so cool to see the two different takes on it. The 2018 Halloween is one the best of these films, from a quality standpoint, since Halloween III (1982) at least.

Patrick: I almost wish they would make the future Halloween movies an anthology, maybe with stories that continue to feature Michael at the center of them, but which are different branches of that story. I know that’s probably a pipe dream, and they wanna just make a straight sequel to the 2018 one.

G.B.: You know what I think? I think if they need to bring back Silver Shamrock, that’s what. It’s time, motherfuckers! They could figure out a way to do it.

Patrick: I would love to see, with what I just said in mind, a really skilled director take on a Halloween III remake. Someone who has John Carpenter’s blessing, and who understands the source material on a deep level. That would be awesome!

From Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Tony: Remakes are a wonderful thing, because they shed new light on the original material. Say there’s a movie that’s really hard to get; well when the remake comes out, boom! A special edition of the original will suddenly be released and easily accessible again. It’s not like Star Wars, where they’re literally trying to stomp out, eradicate, and erase the original version. If you wanna see the original version of Halloween, it’s always very easy to find. So you don’t even have to watch the remake versions, just throw those discs in the trash and watch the originals instead. And sometimes, of course, remakes can actually be good, like David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) and John Carpenter’s The Thing, which people forget is a remake!

Tony: OK, another question. Has there ever been a film that literally went too far for you, which crossed a personal boundary, and which made you kind of step back from horror for a while? For me, my boundary was Cannibal Holocaust; as soon as I saw that movie, it killed the whole “Which movie is gorier?” thing for me. When you’re a kid or a young teenager or in your early twenties, you wanna go for the limit, you wanna go to the absolute boundary. Have either of you ever hit that kind of boundary too, where it’s like, “I can’t go any further?”

Patrick: To me, it’s always been about the storytelling, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be like a quality storytelling from a literary perspective. But a film has to have a world, characters, and a story. That’s how I initially pulled myself through something like Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2000). I was like, “Oh, there’s an interesting world here that Zombie is creating”; and then I realized how bad that film really is later on. But a good example of my boundary would be the Saw series. I genuinely love the first three films in that series; I think those are excellent movies, the first one in particular. But when I went to the theater to see the fourth movie, there was a noticeable difference in the quality, and it was really too gruesome, gory, violent, horrifying, and horrible. So I think for me, it comes down to this: are you creating this content simply to push up some kind of gore boundary, or are you doing this in service to a really good story? If it’s the latter, I can put up with the gore. But one thing that is definitely a limit for me is anything to do with sexual violence. That kind of content must be handled with a very careful hand if it’s going to land with me at all.

G.B.: In my entertainment media, I prefer likeable characters, characters I can root for, characters I can care about. I like to see these characters treated respectfully and given good story arcs. They don’t necessarily have to make it to the end of the damn movie; it is a horror movie, after all. I expect horrible things to happen in the story. But since the 2000s, there has been a tendency among these films (especially in the case of Rob Zombie) to practically punish the audience for watching them. This might not make total sense, but I really hate mean-spirited horror. Horror should not upset you to the point of making you feel like your life is meaningless, or that ethical behavior has no intrinsic value.

G.B.: Well guys, thank you both so much for coming on the show. It means a great deal to me to have you here; and now, people will know that you both actually exist! You’re not just fictional characters I made up for my website. Yay! And I just want to say Happy Halloween and Merry Samhain! May all the blessings of Sutekh and our Blessed Dead be upon you both!

Patrick: Yep, you too, buddy! Absolutely. Thanks for having me!

Tony: Pleasure to be here!

Happy Hallowtide!
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