of a real case of possession that happened in a Washington Suburb puts
Regan, an adolescent girl, living with her mother in Georgetown in Washington,
into a more and more difficult situation. She exhibits strange symptoms,
including levitation and great strength. When all medical possibilities
are exhausted, her mother is sent to a priest who is also a psychiatrist.
He becomes convinced that Regan is possessed so can he and a second priest,
experienced in exorcism, try to drive the spirit from Regan before she
"Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras! You faithless slime!"
In late 1973 and early 1974, women and men were lined up for blocks. People
were known to become ill watching it. Some fainted. Some ran out of the
theater in tears. There were reports of people having to be institutionalized,
and at least one miscarriage was attributed to viewing it. No, it wasn't
a Rolling Stones Concert. It was a film called The Exorcist.
Certainly many of the people who lined up to see The Exorcist did
so to watch some of the more gruesome scenes, the worst of which involved
Regan's masturbation with a crucifix. Yet, the hysteria went well beyond
the fact that such scenes were so vividly depicted. I think one needs to
look no further than Mel Gibson's The Passion to find the answer
as to why. I'm sure most of you have read the story of people leaving Mel's
film in tears, some to the point of being hysterical. From most articles
I have read, it seems that the majority of the audience that was moved
were those people of strong religious beliefs. For many others, the depiction
of the brutality in The Passion may have been uncomfortable to sit
through, but weren't emotionally effected to any degree. Much of this same
feeling can explain the hysteria surrounding The Exorcist. Those
who had a definitive belief in Heaven and Hell, of Good and Evil, of Jesus
as The Savior and Satan as the epitome of pure evil were affected by The
Exorcist far more than those who were agnostic or just never had a
strong belief in spiritual matters. There is no doubt though that much
in the way The Passion did, The Exorcist caused many to reconsider
how they felt about their faith. The Exorcist made the prospect
of Satan being alive and well and a life of eternal damnation a very uncomfortable
prospect. The fact that Blatty claims his book and screenplay were based
on a true story seemed to give the film even more credibility.
For me, The Exorcist has always been more about the never ending
conflict between pure evil and pure innocence than about being an average
horror story. There are many more levels to this film than what initially
meets the eye. There is no doubt that while the main story revolves around
an innocent young girl, Regan McNeil, being inhabited by Satan himself,
Blatty enhances it greatly by adding different characters in various stages
of conflict. Regan's mother, Chris McNeil obviously cares deeply for her
daughter. Yet she is not beyond reproach. In one scene when Regan's father
hasn't called on Regan's birthday, we see her desperately on the phone
doing battle with an overseas operator. The problem is not how vicious
the phone call is, but that she does it within ear shot of her daughter
as if to drive the point home to Regan how worthless her father is. When,
she finally does seek the aid of Father Damian Karras, we don't feel that
she believes in exorcism anymore than he does, but is desperate enough
to accept the fact that it is possible and will take any and all measures
to save her daughter.
Father Karras is a priest torn by conflict. He is ridden by overwhelming
guilt for having abandoned his mother to enter the priesthood. He is torn
spiritually by the confessions of those priests who seek his help as a
psychiatrist, so much so that he now questions his own faith. When he states
to the Bishop that `Regan's case meets all the criteria,' we know that
even more than Chris, he doesn't really believe in the power of Satan to
inhabit a living being in the manner that it has taken over Regan. Yet,
he will do what is required of him as a priest concerned about the health
of a child.
Jack McGowran gives a terrific performance as the alcoholic director filming
Chris's latest film in Georgetown. Kitty Winn is Sharon Spencer, the secretary
who works for Chris and always seems to be in the line of fire when Chris
is angry. She is always there but for all the horror she witnesses, Winn
appears too bland and emotionless and her performance is probably the weakest
in the film.
Max Von Sydow as Father Lancester Merrin is a no nonsense aging priest.
He has done battle with evil before and he shows us its effect in every
scene he occupies. One could pass it off to being just good make-up but
it is so much more than that as Sydow demonstrates all the nuances that
brings to life a man who has faced Satan and lived to tell about it. He
knows what he is up against, understands he must do it again and the consequences
of what that battle may be.
If I have a small complaint with The Exorcist it is in regards to
the character of Lt. Kinderman. I have never been able to buy into the
character. It is not the fault of Cobb who is his usual stalwart self in
the role. The whole character should at best have only been necessary for
a few brief scenes yet; he has several that go on way too long and do not
add anything to the story. Even in his scenes with Chris or Damian, Kinderman
is so odd that he distracts us too much from their characters and it is
Chris and Damian's reactions that are more important to us, no t
his investigation. For all you trivia buffs out there, Blatty once sued
the producers of Columbo, stating they based Peter Falk's character on
Kinderman. If memory serves me correctly Blatty lost that one.
As for Director William Friedken, although he won the best director award
for The French Connection, for me The Exorcist will always
remain his defining film. The final half hour of The Exorcist are
still as dynamic today as they were 31 years ago, French Connection car chase be damned.
It seems that to many of the younger movie audiences of today, The Exorcist has become more of a joke than anything else. That's not surprising considering
how many times it has been lampooned, even by Linda Blair herself in Repossessed.
Yet, if they were to view the film in a more serious vein, not as just
another creature feature, they may just find that there really is more
to this film than a little girl spewing pea soup and spinning her head
around 360 degrees. It is the ultimate battle between Heaven and Hell and
Good and Evil. It is the story of the complete and total degradation of
innocence. It is a study in character, and whether a man torn by the forces
surrounding him, can regain his faith and his belief in God and mankind
to save the life of a little girl, caught up in forces beyond her control.
Call it a horror film, call it a religious film, call it what you want.
For me, The Exorcist is and will always remain a classic in every
sense of the word. And if I regard you as a classic of any kind I have
no choice but to leave you with my grade, which for The Exorcist is an A.
- 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.
- John Boorman had been offered the chance to direct The Exorcist but declined because he felt the storyline was "cruel towards children".
He did, however, accept the offer to direct Exorcist II: The Heretic.
- Mercedes McCambridge had to sue Warner Brothers for credit as the voice
of the demon.
- The agency representing Linda Blair overlooked her, recommending
at least 30 other clients for the part of Regan. Blair's mother brought
her in herself to try out for the role.
- The studio initially wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct the film,
but he turned it down. He later directed The Shining.
- The scene where the demonic entity leaves Father Karras was originally
done by filming Jason Miller twice, with possession makeup and without,
then cutting the two shots together. This created a noticeable jump cut
that was initially repaired with a cutaway shot - the ghostly image of
Karras's mother, superimposed over the open bedroom window - that was discarded
for the theatrical release. The shot is restored in "The Version You've
- Ellen Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury during filming. In the
sequence where she is thrown away from her possessed daughter, a harness
jerked her hard away from the bed. She fell on her coccyx and screamed
in pain, which was filmed for the movie.
- Director William Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths to abuse the
cast. He fired off guns behind the actors to get the required startled
effect. He was said to have slapped one actor across the face before rolling
the camera. He even went as far as to put Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn
in harnesses and have crew members yank them violently.
- The bedroom set had to be refrigerated to capture the authentic
icy breath of the actors in the exorcizing scenes. Linda Blair, who was
only in a flimsy nightgown, says to this day she cannot stand being cold.
- The refrigerated bedroom set was cooled with four air conditioners and
temperatures would plunge to around 30 to 40 below zero. It was so cold
that perspiration would freeze on some of the cast and crew. On one occassion
the air was saturated with moisture resulting in a thin layer of snow falling
on the set before the crew arrived for filming.
- The substance that the possessed Regan hurls at Father Damien
Karras is actually thick pea soup.
- Jack Nicholson was up for the part of Father Karras, before Jason
Miller landed the role.
- The "Exorcist steps", 75 (or 74 - one is very small) stone steps in Georgetown,
were padded with 1/2"-thick rubber to film the death of Father Damien Karras.
The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. Georgetown University students
charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.
- The Prospect Avenue apartment where the story takes place was
once inhabited by the author, William Peter Blatty, while he was a student
at Georgetown University.
- In the uncut version, we find out that Regan's middle name is
- The nurse who comes into Dr. Taney's office after the arteriogram
is actress Linda Blair's mother.
- The famous "Exorcist stairs" are located at the end of M-street
in Georgetown. An Exxon station is the landmark that can be seen from the
- In 1999, this was voted "The Scariest Movie of All Time".
- In the scene in the language lab, a white banner is visible with
the following letters TATSUKETE written in red. TATSUKETE means "Help me"
- Due to death threats against Linda Blair, Warner Bros had body
guards protecting her for six months after the film's release.
- If adjusted for inflation, this would be the top grossing R-rated film
of all time.
- The sound of the demon leaving Linda's body is actually the sound of pigs
being herded for slaughter.
- In the disturbing scene where The Devil/Regan is masturbating
with the crucifix Linda Blair said she had no idea what it was supposed
to mean, she was just bringing down the crucifix into a box.
- Linda Blair injured her back when a piece of the rig broke as
she was thrown about on the bed.