Early in The Exorcist, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has a cocktail party in her home in Washington, D.C. Among the guests is Father Joseph Dyer (William O’Malley), a charismatic priest from nearby Georgetown University. There’s also an unnamed astronaut about to leave on a mission. Chris’s young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is sick and resting upstairs.

Father Dyer holds court at a piano, leading the guests in song. He proclaims that “my idea of heaven is a solid white nightclub with me as the headliner for all eternity, and they love me.” Dyer’s performance is interrupted by Regan, who has snuck downstairs. She tells the astronaut, “You’re gonna die up there” and then urinates on the carpet. Chris rushes Regan back upstairs.

The party ends, but the film’s drama begins. As soon as Chris leaves the room, Regan’s bed shakes violently, leading to the horrific possession that follows. By the time Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is joined by Father Lancaster Merrin (Max von Sydow) to exorcise Regan, the astronaut has faded from the audience’s memory.

Yet screenwriter William Peter Blatty had plans for the astronaut. Forget Exorcist II; the unofficial but true sequel to The Exorcist is The Ninth Configuration, a largely forgotten tragicomic horror film from 1980 worthy of rediscovery.

The two films’ styles could not be any more different, though they’re linked in some key ways. Despite its supernatural focus, The Exorcist has a domestic undercurrent. It largely takes place at a home and on a college campus. The Ninth Configuration is set in a secluded mountain castle in the Pacific Northwest but was filmed in Budapest. Blatty ...

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