Ah, The Exorcist. It’s the movie that scared the actual Jebus out of audiences when it released in 1973, earning it a reputation as the most terrifying movie ever made. Alas, newer audiences generally react to the horror classic as “not that scary” because they are stupid and wrong. I find that The Exorcist is a layered movie experience that changes as you get older and your life moves in different directions. When you watch it in your teens or early twenties, the fear comes from the possession by a demon of a young girl and the grotesque contortions Pazuzu puts her and her loved ones through. As viewers mature and possibly have children of their own or nieces and nephews, the terror comes in the feeling of helplessness as young Regan (Linda Blair) undergoes disturbing procedures in an attempt to diagnose her malady as grounded in science. The inability of her mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), to protect her child from the thing ravaging her body and mind adds to the tension and real-life fears of many people concerning their loved ones.
The pea soup vomit is pretty scary too, because that shit is tough to get out of vestments and carpet.
In celebration of the season of the hallowed weens, here are some facts about The Exorcist that may or may not invite an obscure demonic presence from an archaeological dig on another continent to enter your body.
1. Father Karras (Jason Miller) was not supposed to be splashed in the face with the projectile vomiting from Regan. The tube blasting the pea soup at him screwed up and nailed him right in the eyes and mouth. Miller was displeased and the reaction shown in the final film as he wiped away the vile concoction was real and honestly a lot more subdued than the dry heaves I would have burst into.
2. A bunch of Christian nut bars decided that the movie put Satan on a pedestal, so the obvious next step for them was to threaten to kill 14-year-old Blair for her role in the film. In response to this not at all insane situation, Warner Bros. had the young Blair protected by bodyguards for six months.
3. William Peter Blatty based his novel — which obviously informed the movie — on a supposedly real incident that took place in 1949 Missouri. A young boy, known only as Roland Doe, Allegedly, Doe’s Aunt Harriet enjoyed playing with Ouija boards and this caused strange noises and other occurrences to take place in the family home. After Harriet’s death, Doe fell ill and underwent a battery of tests at a hospital to determine the cause of his ailment. When a priest became involved, he declared the child possessed and received permission from the Church to exorcise the demon from the boy.
The prayers of the exorcism were continued and (Roland) was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of (Roland) had to be held by three men.
4. Both Blair and Burstyn suffered back injuries on set due to the rigging used to thrash them around in different scenes. Burstyn slammed down hard on her coccyx in the scene where Regan bitch slaps her mother across the room. Blair hurt her back during the scene where Regan is knocked around on the bed by the demon in her body.
5. This trailer was pulled from several theaters after being deemed too disturbing and horrifying. Just like Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.
6. One of the x-ray technicians in the hospital scenes with Regan was later convicted of murder. Paul Bateson was convicted in 1979 for the killing of a film critic. Many authorities believed he was also responsible for the deaths of six other male victims that were dismembered, tied in plastic bags, and dumped in the Hudson River. Those murders were inspiration for the very homophobic movie Cruising starring Al Pacino and directed by Friedkin.
7. Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of demon Pazuzu in the film. Most people know that she embarked on an insane diet of raw eggs, cigarettes, and whisky to enhance the raggedness of her work, but she also pushed herself in other extreme ways. In order to authentically produce the sounds of Pazuzu struggling within Regan’s body during the exorcism, McCambridge was forced by director William Friedkin to be restrained in a chair by ripped pieces of cloth as they recorded her performance.
8. Theaters provided barf bags for patrons entering the movie showings and several had ambulances on stand-by in case anyone fainted. One audience member claimed that the effects used in the movie to produce a sense of unease in the viewer resulted in his fainting and breaking his jaw on another seat.
9. Friedkin was kind of a dick to his actors on set. He slapped the taste out of actual priest William O’Malley before filming the scene where Father Dyer provides last rites to Father Karras. He also fired a gun near Miller prior to a scene where Karras had to be startled, prompted the actor to inform the director that he didn’t need that kind of crap to act.
10. Actress Shirley MacLaine’s life as a single mother inspired author Blatty’s creation of Chris MacNeil. A house filled with a nanny, tutors, no help from her ex-husband, and filming movies on occasion all lined up with MacLaine’s experiences raising her daughter Sachi. But not the demonic possession. Probably.
11. Multiple problems plagued the production and several deaths are popularly connected to the film, though they are mere coincidence. Burstyn’s back injury left her out of production for a while and that hole in the cast was compounded by Max Von Sydow (Father Merrin) being unavailable for a short time period as well. Miller’s son suffered injuries during the filming, causing him to leave production for a time. Jack MacGowran (Burke Dennings) and Vasiliki Maliaros (Father Karras’ Mother) died before the movie’s release and the house set burnt to the ground under mysterious circumstances — leaving only Regan’s bedroom intact. Nine other people on the production also died during filming.
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Header Image Source: Warner Bros. Pictures