Produced by: William Peter Blatty
Screenplay by: William Peter Blatty
Based on: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Starring: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, Mercedes McCambridge
Music by: Jack Nitzsche (additional)
Cinematography: Owen Roizman
Editing by: Norman Gay, Jordan Leondopoulos, Evan A. Lottman, Bud S. Smith
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release dates: December 26, 1973
Running time: 122 min, 132 min (Director's cut)
Country: United States
Budget: $12 million
Box office: $441,071,011
Plot: A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness. And, book-ending the story, a frail, elderly priest recognizes the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy.
Info: The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, adapted by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother's desperate attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests.
The film features Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, and (in voice only) Mercedes McCambridge. It is one of a cycle of "demonic child" films produced from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, including Rosemary's Baby and The Omen.
The Exorcist was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. on December 26, 1973. The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay), and losing Best Picture to The Sting. It became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide. It is also the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture.
The Exorcist original 1973 trailer.
The original teaser trailer, which consisted of nothing but images of the white-faced demon quickly flashing in and out of darkness, was banned in many theaters, as it was deemed "too frightening".
The film has had a significant influence on popular culture. It was named the scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and Movies.com and by viewers of AMC in 2006, and was No. 3 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved as part of its National Film Registry. In 2003, it was placed at No. 2 in Channel 4's The 100 Greatest Scary Moments in the United Kingdom.
Aspects of the novel were inspired by an exorcism performed on a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland, in 1949 by the Jesuit priest, Fr. William S. Bowdern, who formerly taught at both St. Louis University and St. Louis University High School. Hunkeler's Catholic family was convinced the child's aggressive behavior was attributable to demonic possession, and called upon the services of Father Walter Halloran to perform the rite of exorcism.
Although Friedkin admits he is very reluctant to speak about the factual aspects of the film, he made the film with the intention of immortalizing the events that took place in Cottage City, Maryland in 1949, and despite the relatively minor changes that were made, the film depicts everything that could be verified by those involved. It was one of three exorcisms to be sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the U.S. at that time.
The Exorcist 1973 VHS distributed by Warner Home Video.
In order to make the film, Friedkin was allowed access to the diaries of the priests involved, as well as the doctors and nurses; he also discussed the events with the boy's aunt in great detail. Friedkin doesn't believe that the "head-spinning" actually occurred, but this has been disputed. Friedkin is not a Christian of any denomination.
Although the agency representing Linda Blair did not send her for the role, Blair's mother brought her to meet with Warner Brothers's casting department and then with Friedkin. Pamelyn Ferdin, a veteran of science fiction and supernatural drama, was a candidate for the role of Regan. April Winchell was considered, until she developed Pyelonephritis, which caused her to be hospitalized and ultimately taken out of consideration. Denise Nickerson, who played Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was considered, but the material troubled her parents too much, and they pulled her out of consideration. Anissa Jones, known for her role as Buffy in Family Affair, auditioned for the role, but she too was rejected, for much the same reason as Ferdin. The part went instead to Blair, a relative unknown except for a role in The Way We Live Now.
Friedkin originally intended to use Blair's voice, electronically deepened and roughened, for the demon's dialogue. Although Friedkin felt this worked fine in some places, he felt scenes with the demon confronting the two priests lacked the dramatic power required and selected legendary radio actress Mercedes McCambridge, an experienced voice actress, to provide the demon's voice. After filming, Warner Brothers attempted to conceal McCambridge's participation, which led to a lawsuit from McCambridge and opened a grudge between her and Friedkin.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. 1971 hardback 1st edition (left) and 1974 paperback (right).
The studio wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Father Lankester Merrin. Friedkin immediately vetoed this by stating it would become a "Brando movie." Jack Nicholson was up for the part of Karras before Stacy Keach was hired by Blatty. Friedkin then spotted Miller following a performance of Miller's play That Championship Season in New York. Even though Miller had never acted in a film, Keach's contract was bought out by Warner Brothers, and Miller was signed. Jane Fonda, Audrey Hepburn and Anne Bancroft were under consideration for the role of Chris. Ellen Burstyn received the part after she phoned Friedkin and emphatically stated she was going to play Chris.
Warner had approached Arthur Penn (who was teaching at Yale), Peter Bogdanovich (who wanted to pursue other projects, subsequently regretting the decision), and Mike Nichols (who did not want to shoot a film so dependent on a child's performance) and John Boorman—who would direct the second film—said he did not want to direct it because it was "cruel towards children". Originally Mark Rydell was hired to direct, but William Peter Blatty insisted on Friedkin instead, because he wanted his film to have the same energy as Friedkin's previous film, The French Connection. After a standoff with the studio, which initially refused to budge over Rydell, Blatty eventually got his way. Stanley Kubrick was offered the film (and later on its first sequel) but declined. Production of The Exorcist began on August 14, 1972, and though it was only supposed to last 85 days, it lasted for 224.
Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths, reminiscent of some directors from the old Hollywood directing style, manipulating the actors, to get the genuine reactions he wanted. Yanked violently around in harnesses, both Blair and Burstyn suffered back injuries and their painful screams went right into the film. Burstyn injured her back after landing on her coccyx when a stuntman jerked her via cable during the scene when Regan slaps her mother. According to the documentary Fear of God: The Making of the Exorcist, however, the injury did not cause permanent damage, although Burstyn was upset the shot of her screaming in pain was used in the film.
The Exorcist on the cover of HorrorHound and Fangoria magazine.
After asking Reverend William O'Malley if he trusted him and being told yes, Friedkin slapped him hard across the face before a take to generate a deeply solemn reaction that was used in the film, as a very emotional Father Dyer read last rites to Father Karras; this offended the many Catholic crew members on the set. He also fired a gun without warning on the set to elicit shock from Jason Miller for a take, and only told Miller that pea soup would hit him in the chest rather than the face concerning the projectile-vomiting scene, resulting in his disgusted reaction. Lastly, he had Regan's bedroom set built inside a freezer so that the actors' breath could be visible on camera, which required the crew to wear parkas and other cold-weather gear.
The film's opening sequence was filmed in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The people of Sinjar are mostly Kurdish members of the ancient Yezidi sect, which reveres Melek Taus. Outsiders often equate Melek Taus with the Devil, though this benevolent being has little in common with the Islamic and Christian Satan. The archaeological dig site seen at the film's beginning is the actual site of ancient Hatra in Nineveh Province.
The "Exorcist steps", stone steps at the end of M Street in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. were padded with 1/2"-thick rubber to film the death of Karras. The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.
The MacNeil residence interiors were filmed at CECO Studios in Manhattan. The bedroom set had to be refrigerated to capture the authentic icy breath of the actors in the exorcizing scenes, while the bedroom scenes along with many other scenes were filmed in the basement of Fordham University in New York. The temperature was brought so low that a thin layer of snow fell onto the set one morning. Blair, who was only in a thin nightgown, says to this day she cannot stand being cold. Exteriors of the MacNeill house were filmed at 36th and Prospect in Washington, using a family home and a false wall to convey the home's thrust toward the steps. In fact, both then and now, a garden sits atop the embankment between the steps and the home.
Curtis Reynolds's The Exorcist leg tattoo. Tattoo by Clint Lewis R.I.P. 1973-2012 (London, KY).
The scenes involving Regan's medical tests were filmed at New York University Medical Center and were performed by actual medical staff which normally carry out the procedures shown. In the film Regan first undergoes an early type of cerebral angiography, then (when the results come back negative) a pneumoencephalography – two painful diagnostic tests nowadays obsoleted by far less invasive neuroimaging studies using modern CT or MRI scanners. As was the common practice in those days, the angiography was performed by direct puncture of the carotid artery resulting in blood squirting that caused some movie viewers to faint. The follow-on procedure, pneumoencephalography, though routinely performed through the 1970s, was very taxing on patients and sometimes required months of recuperation. In the film Regan is shown to be in great distress while undergoing it, as actual patients often were. Consequently, Chris MacNeil experiences a breakdown when the doctors suggest it be attempted as the other tests failed to locate a brain lesion they are certain would be found.
The interior of Karras' room at Georgetown was a meticulous reconstruction of Theology professor Father Thomas M. King, S.J.'s "corridor Jesuit" room in New North Hall. Fr. King's room was photographed by production staff after a visit by Blatty, a Georgetown graduate, and Friedkin. Upon returning to New York, every element of King's room, including posters and books, was recreated for the set, including a poster of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., a paleontologist on whom the character of Fr. Merrin was loosely based. Georgetown was paid $1,000 per day of filming, which included both exteriors, such as Burstyn's first scene, shot on the steps of the Flemish Romanesque Healy Hall, and interiors, such as the defilement of the statue of the Virgin Mary in Dahlgren Chapel, or the Archbishop's office, which is actually the office of the president of the university. One scene was filmed in The Tombs, a student hangout across from the steps that was founded by a Blatty classmate. The motion picture St. Elmo's Fire includes scenes filmed at The Tombs.
The Exorcist 'Regan Possessed' deluxe box set (left) and 'Regan (Spider-Walk)' action figure (right) by NECA.
Amazon: The Exorcist 'Regan (Spider-Walk)' Fig.
The Exorcist contained a number of special effects, engineered by makeup artist Dick Smith. In one scene from the film, Max von Sydow is actually wearing more makeup than the possessed girl (Linda Blair). This was because director Friedkin wanted some very detailed facial close-ups. When this film was made, von Sydow was 44, though he was made up to look 74. Alan McKenzie stated in his book Hollywood Tricks of the Trade that the fact "that audiences didn't realize von Sydow was wearing makeup at all is a tribute to the skills of veteran makeup artist Dick Smith."
Contortionist Linda R. Hager performed the infamous spider-walk scene on April 11, 1973. Director Friedkin deleted this scene just prior to the December 26, 1973 premiere because it was technically ineffective due to the visible wires suspending Hager in a backward-arched position as she descends the stairs. According to Friedkin, "I cut it when the film was first released because this was one of those effects that did not work as well as others, and I was only able to save it for the re-release with the help of computer graphic imagery." Additionally, Friedkin considered that the spider-walk scene appeared too early in the film's plot and removed it despite screenplay writer William Peter Blatty's request that the scene remain. In the book, the spider-walk is very quiet, and consists of Regan following Sharon around and occasionally licking her ankle.
In 1998, Warner re-released the digitally remastered DVD of The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Special Edition. The DVD includes the BBC documentary, The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist, highlighting the never-before-seen original non-bloody variant of the spider-walk scene. To appease the screenwriter and some fans of The Exorcist, Friedkin worked with CGI artists to digitally remove the wires holding Hager. The director reinstated the bloody variant of the spider-walk scene for the 2000 theatrically re-released version of The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen. In October 2010, Warner released The Exorcist (Extended Director's Cut & Original Theatrical Edition) on Blu-ray, including the behind-the-scenes filming of the spider-walk scene.
The Exorcist 1973 premier at the Rendevous Jewelbox Theatre in Seattle, WA.
The film earned $66.3 million in distributors' domestic (US/CAN) rentals during its theatrical release in 1974, becoming the second most popular film of that year (trailing The Sting). After several reissues, the film eventually grossed $232,671,011 in North America, which if adjusted for inflation, would be the ninth highest-grossing film of all time and the top-grossing R-rated film of all time. To date, it has a total gross of $441,071,011 worldwide.
Roger Ebert, while praising the film, believed the special effects to be so unusually graphic he wrote, "That it received an R rating and not the X is stupefying." Theaters provided "Exorcist barf bags".
The Exorcist was also at the center of controversy due to its alleged use of subliminal imagery. Wilson Bryan Key wrote a whole chapter on the film in his book Media Sexploitation alleging multiple uses of subliminal and semi-subliminal imagery and sound effects. Key observed the use of the Pazuzu face (in which Key mistakenly assumed it was Jason Miller made up in a death mask makeup) and claimed that the safety padding on the bedposts were shaped to cast phallic shadows on the wall and that a skull face is superimposed into one of Father Merrin's breath clouds.
Key also wrote much about the sound design, identifying the use of pig squeals, for instance, and elaborating on his opinion of the subliminal intent of it all. A detailed article in the July/August 1991 issue of Video Watchdog examined the phenomenon, providing still frames identifying several usages of subliminal "flashing" throughout the film. In an interview from the same issue, Friedkin explained, "I saw subliminal cuts in a number of films before I ever put them in The Exorcist, and I thought it was a very effective storytelling device... The subliminal editing in The Exorcist was done for dramatic effect—to create, achieve, and sustain a kind of dreamlike state."
In August of 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that obscene content was not protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and went on to define obscenity. This ruling gave states more power to bring cases against what the community felt was "obscene." After the film's release in December of 1973, a case was brought against film distributors in Boston siting a new obscenity ruling; the case sought to ban The Exorcist in Boston. Although the judge's ruling stated that "it does not meet the guidelines of obscenity as laid down by the United States Supreme Court" and the case was dismissed, the field was open for additional lawsuits. Soon after, the Division of Film and Broadcasting for the U.S. Catholic Conference rated the film A-IV, morally objectionable. They condemned the MPAA for giving the film an 'R' rating. Finally, in Washington DC, community action achieved a success.
On New Year's Day of 1974, the U.S. District Attorney's Office ruled to ban the film's ticket sales to anyone under 17 and warned theaters that arrests would be made for any violations of this ban. Luckily for the film, produced by the author William Blatty, the 'R' rating stuck and The Exorcist became one of most talked-about films and biggest money maker in film history.
The religious nature of the film was also very divisive, and a release date one day after Christmas heightened reactions. Billy Graham claimed that the film itself was possessed, while the Catholic Church called the film “deeply spiritual.” Religious controversy is always fodder for the media, and Walter Cronkite devoted 10 minutes of his nightly news broadcast to covering the reception to the film. This is another example of how the film changed cinema and how movies are promoted: The Exorcist became a cultural phenomenon that people were eager to experience so they could join the conversation about, and Hollywood studios learned that controversy was something to embrace rather than run from.
The enduring legacy of The Exorcist is that audiences want to be terrified, and that filmmakers can achieve spectacular results when they step away from the safety of the tried and true. Horror films have become the testing ground for new ideas, often taking cinema in completely different directions. Without the success of The Exorcist, studio executives may not have been willing to back the wide release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. That film went on to turn a $25,000 production budget into a $248 million box office return and pioneer the new found footage genre.
The Exorcist promotional press photo. Linda Blair was 13 years old when The Exorcist was filmed.
However, these quick, scary flashes have been labeled "[not] truly subliminal" and "quasi-" or "semi-subliminal". True subliminal imagery must be, by definition, below the threshold of awareness. In an interview in a 1999 book about the film, The Exorcist author Blatty addressed the controversy by explaining that, "There are no subliminal images. If you can see it, it's not subliminal."
The Exorcist was nominated for ten total Academy Awards in 1973, winning two. It is the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. At the 46th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, the film won two statuettes.
Film Facts: Due to death threats against Linda Blair from religious zealots who believed the film "glorified Satan", Warner Bros. had bodyguards protecting her for six months after the film's release.
Father Dyer is played by William O'Malley, an actual priest who still teaches to this day at Fordham University.
On the first day of filming the exorcism sequence, Linda Blair's delivery of her foul-mouthed dialogue so disturbed the gentlemanly Max von Sydow that he actually forgot his lines.
Upon its initial theatrical release the film affected many audiences so strongly that at many theaters, paramedics were called to treat people who fainted and others who went into hysterics.
The Exorcist promotional press photo. The infamous levitation scene.
In A Decade Under the Influence (2003), William Friedkin talks about the original poster that the studio created for the film. It was a drawing of Regan's hand holding the bloody crucifix that she masturbates with. The original tag line was "God help this girl". Friedkin rejected the poster, stating that the word "God" should not be used in a movie tag line.
One of the most famous scenes in the movie and the shot used for the posters and the cover of the DVD/VHS releases was inspired by the 1954 painting "Empire of Light" ("L'Empire des lumières") by René Magritte. It is the scene where Fr. Merrin steps out of a cab and stands in front of the MacNeil residence bathed in an eerie glow.
In the scene in the language lab, a white banner is visible with the following letters TASUKETE written in red. TASUKETE means "Help me" in Japanese.
Director William Friedkin eventually asked technical advisor Thomas Bermingham to exorcise the set. He refused, saying an exorcism might increase anxiety. Rev. Bermingham wound up visiting the set and gave a blessing and talk to reassure the cast and crew.
There are tales about ominous events surrounding the year-long shoot, including the deaths of nine people associated with the production and stories about a mysterious fire that destroyed the set one weekend. Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros died before the film was released.
Author William Peter Blatty once won $10,000 on the Groucho Marx show You Bet Your Life (1950). When Groucho asked what he planned to do with the money, he said he planned to take some time off to "work on a novel." This was the result.
Turning Linda Blair into 'Possessed' Regan. Before and after makeup.
Ever since Thomas Edison Studios produced the first Frankenstein film in 1910, movie makeup artists have been shaping the faces of Hollywood monsters. As one of the grand masters of this bizarre art, Dick Smith has thrilled audiences and inspired colleagues with his innovative makeup techniques for more than half a century. Recently turned 85 and retired in Connecticut, Smith has had a career as legendary as the work he created.
Richard Emerson "Dick" Smith (born June 26, 1922) is an American special effects make-up artist (nicknamed "The Godfather of Make-Up") known for his work on such films as Little Big Man, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, and Scanners. He won a 1985 Academy Award for Makeup for his work on Amadeus and a 2012 Honorary Academy Award for his career's work.
"'The Exorcist' was really a turning point for makeup special effects," Baker says. "Dick showed that makeup wasn't just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda's stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes."
According to William Peter Blatty, Warner Bros. wanted to change the title of the film after taking a survey which found none of the participants knew what an exorcist was.
A filmgoer who saw the movie in 1974 during its original release fainted and broke his jaw on the seat in front of him. He then sued Warner Brothers and the filmmakers, claiming that the use of subliminal imagery in the film had caused him to pass out. The studio settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Ellen Burstyn agreed to doing the movie only if her character didn't have to say the scripted line: "I believe in the devil!" The producers agreed to eliminate the utterance.
The Exorcist behind the scenes photo. Linda Blair in makeup.
When originally released in the UK a number of town councils imposed a complete ban on the showing of the film. This led to the bizarre spectacle of "Exorcist Bus Trips" where enterprising travel companies organized buses to take groups to the nearest town where the film was showing.
During the scene where Father Karras visits Chris MacNeil as she's ironing, the infamous Ivory Snow box featuring porn star Marilyn Chambers can be clearly seen in the background.
Christian evangelist Billy Graham claimed an actual demon was living in the celluloid reels of this movie.
William O'Malley refers to this movie to students as the "pornographic horror film" he once did.
Upon its 1973 release in the Middle East, the film was shown only in Lebanon while in the rest of the Middle East, the film was banned. On its re release, the film got banned throughout the whole Middle East including Lebanon.
To entertain and distract Linda Blair during the long makeup process she had to sit through, the crew set up a television near her makeup chair so she could watch The Beverly Hillbillies (1962).
The entire exorcism scene, from start to end, lasts 9 minutes. The sound of the demon leaving Regan's body is actually the sound of pigs being herded for slaughter.