The Exorcist (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Friedkin|
|Screenplay by||William Peter Blatty|
|Based on||The Exorcist
by William Peter Blatty
|Music by||Mike Oldfield|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
133 minutes (Director's Cut)
|Box office||$402.7–441.3 million|
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, and starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, and Jason Miller. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother's attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests. The adaption is relatively faithful to the book, which itself has been commercially successful (hitting the New York Times bestseller list).
The film experienced a troubled production; even in the beginning, several prestigious film directors including Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn turned it down. Incidents, such as the toddler son of one of the main actors being hit by a motorbike and hospitalized, attracted claims that the set was 'cursed'. The complex special effects used as well as the nature of the film locations also presented severe challenges. The film's notable psychological themes include the nature of faith in the midst of doubt as well as the boundaries of maternal love as a mother has to do whatever she can to save her child.
The Exorcist was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. on December 26, 1973. Though booked at first in only twenty-six theaters across the U.S., it soon became a major commercial success. The film earned ten Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay). It became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide in the aftermath of various re-releases, and was the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The film has had a significant influence on popular culture. Later figures in horror such as Stephen King have praised the work as an influence.[not in citation given][not verified in body] Several publications have regarded it one of the best horror films in history. For example, it was named the scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly in 1999, by Movies.com in 2010, by viewers of AMC in 2006, and by the editors of Time Out in 2014. In addition, a scene from the film was ranked #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 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
A new television series is currently in development for FOX.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Alternative and uncut versions
- 5 Sequels and related films
- 6 Reception
- 7 Awards and honors
- 8 Home media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
Lankester Merrin is a veteran Catholic priest who is on an archaeological dig in Iraq. There he finds an amulet that resembles the statue of Pazuzu, a demon who Merrin defeated years ago. Merrin then realizes the demon has returned to seek revenge.
Meanwhile, in Georgetown, actress Chris MacNeil is living on location with her pre-teen daughter Regan, where Chris has just wrapped the final scene of a film about student activism directed by her friend and associate Burke Dennings. After playing with a Ouija board and contacting a supposedly imaginary friend named Captain Howdy, Regan begins acting strangely including making mysterious noises, stealing, constantly using bad language, and exhibiting abnormal strength. Chris is hosting a party, only for Regan to come downstairs unannounced, telling one of the guests, who is an astronaut, "You're gonna die up there", and then urinating on the floor. Regan also causes her bed to shake violently, much to her and the mother's horror. Chris consults physicians, but Dr. Klein and his associates find nothing medically wrong with her daughter, despite Regan undergoing a battery of diagnostic tests.
One night when Chris is out, Burke Dennings is babysitting Regan, only for Chris to come home to hear he has died falling out the window. Although this is assumed to have been an accident, given Burke's history of heavy drinking, his death is investigated by Lieutenant William Kinderman, who interviews Chris, as well as priest and psychiatrist Father Damien Karras, who has lost faith in God after his frail mother died.
After the doctors decide that an exorcism may be the only way to help Regan, Chris arranges a meeting with Karras. After recording Regan speaking backwards and witnessing the etching of the words "Help Me" on her stomach, Karras is convinced Regan is possessed. Believing her soul is in danger, he decides to perform an exorcism. Merrin is selected to do so instead, and Karras is present to assist.
Both priests witness Regan perform a series of bizarre, vulgar acts, and confine her to her bedroom. They attempt to exorcise the demon, but a stubborn Pazuzu toys with them, especially Karras. Karras shows weakness, and is dismissed by Merrin, who attempts the exorcism alone. Karras enters the room and discovers Merrin has died of a heart attack. After failing to revive Merrin, Karras confronts the mocking, laughing spirit of Pazuzu, tackling the demon to the ground. At Karras' plea, Pazuzu then possesses Karras, leaving Regan's body. In a moment of self-sacrifice, the priest throws himself out of the window before Pazuzu can compel him to harm Regan, and is mortally injured. By chance, Father Dyer, an old friend of Karras, happens upon the scene and administers the last rites to his friend.
A few days later Regan, who is now back to her normal self, returns home to Los Angeles with her mother. Although Regan has no recollection of her possession, she gives Father Dyer a kiss, a likely hint at posthumous thanks to Father Merrin and Father Karras. Kinderman, who narrowly misses them, befriends Father Dyer as he investigates Karras' death.
- Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, a famous actress temporarily living in Washington, D.C., with her daughter. She is an agnostic and has a quick temper but is also a loving mother. When Regan displays strange behavior, Chris experiences an emotional breakdown and tries to find help for her daughter, consulting neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, and finally a Catholic priest.
- Max von Sydow as Father Lankester Merrin, an elderly priest and archeologist. A quiet and patient man with great faith, he has prior experience in performing exorcisms and is aware of the risks of facing evil.
- Jason Miller as Father/Dr. Damien Karras S.J., a troubled priest, vocational counselor, and psychiatrist. He suffers deeply when his mother dies and confesses to have (apparently) lost his faith in God. Upon taking the case of Regan MacNeil, he begins to understand the possession is genuine. Jack Nicholson was the original choice for the role, but Miller was cast after Friedkin saw his play, That Championship Season, and meeting the playwright/actor after the performance.
- Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil, Chris's friendly and innocent twelve-year-old daughter. She displays strange and aggressive behaviors after playing with a Ouija board, which are later revealed as early symptoms of demonic possession.
- Lee J. Cobb as Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, a police detective investigating the death of Burke Dennings. Assertive and cunning, he thinks Regan was involved in Dennings's death, which may be related to the recent desecration of a nearby church. He is also a film buff.
- Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the demon, Pazuzu.
- Kitty Winn as Sharon Spencer, Chris's friend and personal assistant who acts as Regan's tutor.
- Jack MacGowran as Burke Dennings, an eccentric film director and close friend of Chris. His unexplained death while looking after Regan elicits a police homicide investigation.
- Father William O'Malley as Father Joseph Dyer, a close friend of Karras's who tries to help him deal with his mother's death and reaffirm Karras's faith.
- Vasiliki Maliaros as Father Damien Karras' mother.
- Robert Symonds as Dr. Taney.
- Barton Heyman as Dr. Samuel Klein, a doctor who suggests that Regan needs "special" help.
- Arthur Storch as the psychiatrist.
- Titos Vandis as Karras' uncle.
- Eileen Dietz as a face associated with the demon, seen only in visions and flash cuts.
Factual basis for the film
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 have been sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States at that time. 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.
Though inspired by actual events, the fictional novel by William Peter Blatty changed several details, such as turning the sex of the allegedly possessed victim from a boy into a girl as well as changing the alleged victim's age. Later analysis by paranormal skeptics of the original 'Roland Doe' (or 'Robbie Mannheim') case have found that it was likely the case of a mentally ill teenager acting out. The actual events likely to have occurred (such as words being carved on skin) being those that a young man could simply fake by himself, though the case attracted a great deal of notoriety.
Although the agency representing Blair did not send her for the role, Blair's mother took her to meet with Warner Bros.'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, but was ultimately turned down because her career thus far had made her too familiar to the public. 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 until the film's success.
The question of whether or not a young female actress, even a talented one, could carry the film on her shoulders was an issue from the beginning, with film directors asked to do the project such as Mike Nichols being skeptical. As well, 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. According to Friedkin, Paul Newman also wanted to portray Karras. 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. Blatty also suggested his friend, Shirley MacLaine, for the part, but Friedkin was hesitant to cast her, given her lead role in another possession film, The Possession of Joel Delaney (1971) two years prior. Ellen Burstyn received the part after she phoned Friedkin and emphatically stated she was going to play Chris.
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 did not include a credit for McCambridge during early screenings of the film, which led to Screen Actors Guild arbitration before she was credited for her performance. Ken Nordine was also considered for the demon's voice, but Friedkin thought it would be best not to use a man's voice.
Warner had approached Arthur Penn, Stanley Kubrick, and Mike Nichols, to direct, all of whom turned the project down. 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. Principal photography for The Exorcist began on August 14, 1972. The shooting schedule was estimated to run 105 days, but ultimately ran over 200.
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. 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 blanks 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.
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Lalo Schifrin's working score was rejected by Friedkin. Schifrin had written six minutes of music for the initial film trailer but audiences were reportedly too scared by its combination of sights and sounds. Warner Bros. executives told Friedkin to instruct Schifrin to tone it down with softer music, but Friedkin did not relay the message. It has been claimed Schifrin later used the music written for The Exorcist for The Amityville Horror, but he has denied this in interviews. According to "The Fear of God: The Making of the Exorcist" on the 25th Anniversary DVD release of the film, Friedkin (known for his temper) literally took the tapes that Schifrin had recorded and threw them away in the studio parking lot.
In the soundtrack liner notes for his 1977 film, Sorcerer, Friedkin said had he heard the music of Tangerine Dream earlier, he would have had them score The Exorcist. Instead, he used modern classical compositions, including portions of the 1972 Cello Concerto No. 1, of Polymorphia, and other pieces by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, Five Pieces for Orchestra by Austrian composer Anton Webern as well as some original music by Jack Nitzsche. The music was heard only during scene transitions. The 2000 "Version You've Never Seen" features new original music by Steve Boddacker, as well as brief source music by Les Baxter.
The original soundtrack LP has only been released once on CD, as an expensive and rare Japanese import. It is noteworthy for being the only soundtrack to include the main theme Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, which became very popular after the film's release. Oldfield himself said he was not impressed with how his work was used in the film. The movement Night of the Electric Insects from George Crumb's string quartet Black Angels is also used.
The Greek song playing on the radio when Father Karras leaves his mother's house is called "Paramythaki mou" (My Tale) and is sung by Giannis Kalatzis. Lyric writer Lefteris Papadopoulos has admitted that a few years later when he was in financial difficulties he asked for some compensation for the intellectual rights of the song. Part of Hans Werner Henze's 1966 composition Fantasia for Strings is played over the closing credits.
The "Exorcist stairs" are concrete stairs located in Georgetown at the corner of Prospect St NW and 36th St NW, leading down to M Street NW. The stairs were padded with 1/2"-thick rubber to film the death of the character Father Karras. Because the house from which Karras falls is set back slightly from the stairs, the film crew constructed an extension with a false front to the house in order to film the scene. The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.
Although the film is set in Washington, D.C., many interior scenes were shot in various parts of New York City. 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 exorcising scenes. 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.
The scenes involving Regan's medical tests were filmed at New York University Medical Center and were performed by actual medical staff that normally carry out the procedures. In the film Regan first undergoes an electroencephalography (EEG), then an early type of cerebral angiography and finally a pneumoencephalography.
The scene in which Father Karras listens to the tapes of Regan's dialogue were filmed in the basement of Keating Hall at Fordham University in the Bronx. William O'Malley, who plays Father Joseph Dyer in the film, was a real-life Jesuit and assistant professor of theology at Fordham at the time.
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 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."
Alternative and uncut versions
Several versions of The Exorcist have been released:
• The 1979 theatrical re-issue was reconverted to 70mm, with its 1.75:1 ratio cropped to 2.20:1 to use all the available screen width that 70mm offers. This was also the first time the sound was remixed to six-channel Dolby Stereo sound. Almost all video versions feature this soundtrack.
• The network TV version originally broadcast on CBS in the '80s was edited by William Friedkin, who also shot a replacement insert of the Virgin Mary statue crying blood, replacing the shot of a more obscenely desecrated statue. Friedkin himself spoke the Demon's new, censored lines; he was unwilling to work with Mercedes McCambridge again. The lines "Your mother sucks cocks in hell, Karras" and "Shove it up your ass you faggot" were re-dubbed by Friedkin as "Your mother still rots in hell" and "Shut your face, you faggot." Several of Ellen Burstyn's lines were also re-dubbed by the actress, replacing "Jesus Christ" with "Judas Priest" and omitting the f-word. Most of the profanity spoken by Regan is also cut out, as are the shots of her being abused with a crucifix and forcing Chris' face into her crotch. There is also a slightly alternate shot of Regan's face morphed into the white face of the demon just after Merrin arrives at the MacNeil house (the theatrical versions only show the beginning of the transformation). This network TV version is rarely if ever used for TV and cable showings today.
• In the television versions, the image of the obscenely defiled statue of the Virgin Mary stays intact. It stays on longer for the TV-14 version, but not much.
• In some network versions Regan is not masturbating but having another fit.
• The Special Edition released on DVD for the 25th Anniversary includes the original ending as a special feature, not used in the theatrical release: after Father Dyer is seen on top of the steps behind the MacNeil's residence, he walks away and is approached by Lt. Kinderman. They talk briefly about Regan and the events that just took place there; Kinderman then invites Dyer to the movies to see Wuthering Heights and quotes Casablanca, telling Dyer "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".
• The Special Edition DVD also includes a 75-minutes documentary titled "The Fear of God" on the making of the Exorcist. The documentary includes screen tests and additional deleted scenes, including:
- Chris MacNeil and Regan going sight-seeing in Washington;
- after Chris hears about Burke's death, Regan crawls down the stairs upside down on her arms and legs like a spider and then chases Chris and Sharon around the room;
- Karras and Merrin sit on the stairs during a pause of the exorcism and exchange some words about what's happening to the girl.
• The scene where the Demonic entity leaves Father Karras was originally done by filming Jason Miller in possession makeup, then stopping the camera and shooting him again with the makeup removed. This creates a noticeable jump in Father Karress's position as he is unpossessed. The 25'th anniversary video releases of "The Exorcist" smooth over the jumpy transition with a subtle computer morph effect. This updated effect was not featured in the prints used for the 75th Anniversary Warner Brothers film festivals.
• A new edition, labeled "The version you've never seen", was released on September 22, 2000 and includes the following additions and changes. A slightly different opening, which shows the MacNeil's home in Georgetown, then cuts to the opening titles.
The scene where Chris MacNeil screams on the phone includes a new music cue and omits the line "I've been on this fucking line for 20 minutes!" and simply cuts to the next scene.
A new scene with Regan at the hospital receiving treatment to diagnose her "unusual" behavior. The doctor tells Chris MacNeil that Regan told him to "keep his fingers away from her Goddamn cunt." This scene sets up her bizarre behavior earlier and clarifies the scene where Chris tells Regan "it's just like the doctor said, it's just nerves. You just take your pills and you'll be fine"
The party scene removes the shot of Regan laughing with the guests, obviously because of her "unusual" behavior in the previous scene.
In the scene where Chris returns home and the lights go out, new digital effects including satanic faces and images of the statue, new sound effects, and music have been added to the scene. However, in the Blu-ray version, re-titled "Extended Director's Cut", one effect of the demon Pazuzu's face appearing on Regan's door has been removed.
The "spider-walk" scene has been restored and digitally altered from the original scene. Here, crude wires from the scene have been digitally removed, she comes down the stairs much faster, and a second take with her mouth full of blood was used instead of a serpent tongue. It then cuts to black, and the next scene opens.
Before Regan grabs the psychiatrist's crotch, a new digital effect of her face morphing into the devil (which is seen in subliminal cuts throughout) including a new growl has been added.
A new music cue has been added to the scene with Lt. Kinderman and Father Karras.
After Father Karras leaves for the night, a new scene of him examining a tape of Regan trying to talk to her dad has been added and a new music cues ties the new scene and the scene of Father Karras at the mass together.
New scenes with Sharon trying to tune out the devil groans and a short moment with Chris MacNeil and Father Merrin (which hints his vulnerability and weakness) have been added.
A new music cue has been added to the scene with Father Karras and Father Merrin going up the stairs to perform the exorcism, and a short scene has been added before they enter the room. Father Damien asks Chris MacNeil what Regan's middle name is. She tells him it's Theresa, and he says "what a lovely name."
The scene with Father Karras and Father Merrin talking on the stairs, which was included on the 25th Anniversary DVD, has been restored.
When Father Karras looks up at the window when he's possessed, a new digital effect with Karras' mother's face has been added, and the scene includes the "subtle morph effect" that was included on the 25th anniversary edition DVD.
When Chris MacNeil gives Father Dyer Father Karras' medal, he gives it back to her and says "I think you should keep it", instead of simply keeping it as in the original version. A new short scene of Regan smiling and waving at Father Dyer as they drive away and Father Dyer waving back has been added.
The original ending with Father Dyer and Lt. Kinderman has been restored. The 'tubular bells' music cue plays over them walking away, and it ends before Lt. Kinderman can quote "Casablanca" by saying, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".
• In both the TV-PG and TV-14 rated network versions, the image of the obscenely defiled statue of the Virgin Mary stays intact. It stays on screen several seconds longer for the TV-14 version. On original TV airings, the shot was replaced with one where the statue's face is smashed in but without other defilement. Edits may vary from network to network, and non-premium cable networks (AMC, TNT, etc.) nearly always show only edited/censored versions of the film.
• The DVD released for the 25th Anniversary retains the original theatrical ending, and includes the extended ending with Dyer and Kinderman as a special feature (as opposed the "Version You've Never Seen" ending, which features Dyer and Kinderman but omits the Casablanca reference).
• The Special Edition DVD also includes a 75-minute documentary titled The Fear of God on the making of The Exorcist (although PAL releases feature an edited, 52 minute version). The documentary includes screen tests and additional deleted scenes.
• The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology (box set) was released on DVD in October 2006 and on Blu-ray in September 2014. This collection includes the original theatrical release version The Exorcist; the extended version, The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen; the sequel with Linda Blair, Exorcist II: The Heretic; the supposed end of the trilogy, The Exorcist III; and two different prequels: Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Morgan Creek, current owner of the franchise, is now negotiating a cable television mini-series of Blatty's novel, which is the basis for the original film.
Father Merrin's arrival scene
Father Merrin's arrival scene was filmed on Max von Sydow's first day of work. The scene where the elderly priest, Father Merrin (portrayed by Max von Sydow) steps out of a cab and stands in front of the MacNeil residence, between the open gates of the driveway—silhouetted in a misty streetlamp's glow and staring up at an intense beam of light shining from a bedroom window. It is 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.
The spider-walk scene
Contortionist Linda R. Hager performed the 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.
After the film's success, other exorcism films and The Exorcist sequels appeared. John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic was released in 1977, and revisited Regan four years after her initial ordeal. The plot dealt with an investigation into the legitimacy of Merrin's exorcism of Regan in the first film. In flashback sequences, we see Regan giving Merrin his fatal heart attack, as well as scenes from the exorcism of a young boy named Kokumo in Africa many years earlier. The film was so sharply criticized that director John Boorman reedited the film for a secondary release immediately after its premiere. Both versions have now been released on video; the cut version on VHS and the original uncut version now on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Exorcist III appeared in 1990, written and directed by Blatty himself from his own 1983 novel Legion. Jumping past the events of Exorcist II, this book and film presented a continuation of Karras' story. Following the precedent set in The Ninth Configuration, Blatty turned a supporting character from the first film—in this case, Kinderman—into the chief protagonist. Though the characters of Karras and Kinderman were acquainted during the murder investigation in The Exorcist and Kinderman expressed fondness for Karras, in Exorcist III Blatty has Kinderman remembering Karras as his "best friend". Jason Miller reprised his Academy Award-nominated role in The Exorcist for this film.
A prequel film attracted attention and controversy even before its release in 2004; it went through a number of directorial and script changes, such that two versions were ultimately released. John Frankenheimer was originally hired as director for the project, but withdrew before filming started due to health concerns. He died a month later. Paul Schrader replaced him. Upon completion the studio rejected Schrader's version as being too slow. Renny Harlin was then hired as director. Harlin reused some of Schrader's footage but shot mostly new material to create a more conventional horror film. Harlin's new version Exorcist: The Beginning was released, but was not well received. Nine months later Schrader's original version, retitled Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, was given a small theatrical release. It received better, but still mostly negative, critical responses. Both films were made available on DVD. Like Exorcist II: The Heretic, both films made significant changes from the original storyline. The plot of these films centered on an exorcism that Father Merrin had performed as a young priest in Africa, many years prior to the events in The Exorcist. This exorcism was first referred to in The Exorcist, and in the first sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, flashback scenes were shown of Merrin exorcising the demon Pazuzu from an African boy named Kokumo. Although the plot for both prequels Beginning and Dominion centered around Merrin's exorcism in Africa, they both took a significant departure from the original storyline, making no effort to be faithful to original details. For example: the African boy, though he appeared in the film was not named Kokomu, and eventually discovered not to actually be the possessed character.
A made-for-television film, Possessed (based on the book of the same name by Thomas B. Allen), was broadcast on Showtime on October 22, 2000, directed by Steven E. de Souza and written by de Souza and Michael Lazarou. The film claimed to follow the true accounts that inspired Blatty to write The Exorcist and starred Timothy Dalton, Henry Czerny, and Christopher Plummer.
Blatty directed The Ninth Configuration, a post-Vietnam War drama set in a mental institution. Released in 1980, it was based on Blatty's novel of the same name. Though it contrasts sharply with the tone of The Exorcist, Blatty regards Configuration as its true sequel. The lead character is the astronaut from Chris' party, Lt. Cutshaw.
In September 2015, Morgan Creek Productions announced it was selling its library of films, while retaining remake and sequel rights to key properties, including The Exorcist. Rumors began circulating that the original film would be remade, which was denied by Morgan Creek.
The success of The Exorcist inspired a string of possession-related films worldwide. The first was Beyond the Door, a 1974 Italian film with Juliet Mills as a woman possessed by the devil. It appeared in the U.S. one year later. Also in 1974, a Turkish film, Şeytan (Turkish for Satan; the original film was also shown with the same name), is an almost scene-for-scene remake of the original. The same year in Germany, the exorcism-themed film Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen was released. In 1975, Britain released The Devil Within Her (also called I Don't Want to Be Born) with Joan Collins as an exotic dancer who gives birth to a demon-possessed child.
Similarly, a blaxploitation film was released in 1974 titled Abby. While the films Şeytan and Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen were protected from prosecution by the laws of their countries of origin, Abby's producers (filming in Louisiana) were sued by Warner. The film was pulled from theaters, but not before making $4 million at the box office.
A parody, Repossessed, was released the same year as The Exorcist III, with Blair lampooning the role she had played in the original.
The prologue for Scary Movie 2 was a short parody of several scenes from the original.
A meta-reference to the film was made in an episode of Supernatural titled "The Usual Suspects". On the show, demons possessing humans is a common plot element; demons in the series are human souls corrupted by their time in Hell, lacking physical bodies of their own to interact with Earth. Linda Blair appeared in "The Usual Suspects" as a police detective, with protagonist Dean Winchester finding her character familiar and expressing a strange desire for pea soup at the episode's conclusion.
In Angel: Earthly Possessions, a spin-off comic story based on the TV series Angel, protagonist Angel finds himself dealing with a priest who performs exorcisms, but comes to realize that the priest is summoning the demons for him to exorcise in the first place. He also makes a note of The Exorcist film, noting that the vision it created of possession actually made things easier for possession demons by making it harder for humans to know what to expect from a possession.
In the paranormal TV show Ghost Adventures visited the Exorcist House for their 100th episode of the series. In the episode, Zak, Nick, and Aaron visit the house to see that an exorcism occurred there in the early 1900s. The episode has been announced as one of the scariest lockdown since Bobby Mackeys.
In 2014, British author Saurav Dutt released a book entitled "Pazuzu Unbound", which is a book set in contemporary times dealing with the demon Pazuzu but which does not deal with the original characters in the film and novel on which the book is inspired.
Upon its December 26, 1973, release, the film received mixed reviews from critics, "ranging from 'classic' to 'claptrap'." Stanley Kauffmann, in The New Republic, wrote, "This is the scariest film I've seen in years—the only scary film I've seen in years ... If you want to be shaken—and I found out, while the picture was going, that that's what I wanted—then The Exorcist will scare the… (shit) out of you." Variety noted that it was "an expert telling of a supernatural horror story ... The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror." In Castle of Frankenstein, Joe Dante called it "an amazing film, and one destined to become at the very least a horror classic. Director Friedkin's film will be profoundly disturbing to all audiences, especially the more sensitive and those who tend to 'live' the movies they see ... Suffice it to say, there has never been anything like this on the screen before." Roger Ebert gave the film a 4-out-of-4 star review, praising the actors (particularly Burstyn) and the convincing special effects but at the end of the review wrote, "I am not sure exactly what reasons people will have for seeing this movie; surely enjoyment won’t be one, because what we get here aren’t the delicious chills of a Vincent Price thriller, but raw and painful experience. Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all?"
The reviews were not all positive, however. Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, dismissed The Exorcist as "a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap ... a practically impossible film to sit through ... It establishes a new low for grotesque special effects ..." Andrew Sarris complained that "Friedkin's biggest weakness is his inability to provide enough visual information about his characters ... whole passages of the movie's exposition were one long buzz of small talk and name droppings ... The Exorcist succeeds on one level as an effectively excruciating entertainment, but on another, deeper level it is a thoroughly evil film." Writing in Rolling Stone, Jon Landau felt the film was "nothing more than a religious porn film, the gaudiest piece of shlock this side of Cecil B. DeMille (minus that gentleman's wit and ability to tell a story) ... "
Over the years, The Exorcist's critical reputation has grown considerably. The film currently has an 87% "Certified Fresh" approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, based on 67 reviews the website collected. Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel placed it in the top five films released that year. BBC film critic Mark Kermode believes the film to be the best film ever made saying "There's a theory that great films give back to you whatever it is you bring to them. It's absolutely true with The Exorcist—it reflects the anxieties of the audience. Some people think it's an outright horror-fest but I don't. It was written by a devout Catholic who hoped it would make people think positively about the existence of God. William Peter Blatty, who wrote the book, thought that if there are demons then there are also angels and life after death. He couldn't see why people thought it was scary. I've seen it about 200 times and every time I see something I haven't seen before." However, the film has its detractors as well, including Kim Newman who has criticized it for messy plot construction, conventionality and overblown pretentiousness, among other perceived defects. Writer James Baldwin provides an extended negative critique in his book length essay The Devil Finds Work. Director Martin Scorsese placed The Exorcist on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies Ever Made. It was also placed on a similar list of 1000 films by The New York Times.
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.
The Exorcist was available on home video from the early 1980s in the UK. After the British Board of Film Classification created the Video Recordings Act in 1984, the film was submitted for a home video certificate. James Ferman, Director of the Board, vetoed the decision to grant a certificate to the film, despite the majority of the group willing to pass it. It was out of Ferman's concerns that, even with a proposed 18 certificate, the film's notoriety would entice underage viewers to seek it out. As a result, all video copies of The Exorcist were withdrawn in the UK and remained unavailable for purchase for more than a decade.
Following a successful re-release in cinemas in 1998, the film was submitted for home video release again in February 1999  and was passed uncut with an 18 certificate, signifying a relaxation of the censorship rules with relation to home video in the UK, in part due to James Ferman's departure. The film was shown on terrestrial television in the UK for the first time in 2001, on Channel 4.
Some theaters provided "Exorcist barf bags".
Alleged subliminal imagery
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 uses 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." However, these quick, scary flashes have been labeled "[not] truly subliminal" and "quasi-" or "semi-subliminal". 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."
Awards and honors
The Exorcist was nominated for ten 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 (highlighted in bold).
The film was nominated for:
- Academy Award for Best Picture – William Peter Blatty and Noel Marshall
- Academy Award for Best Actress – Ellen Burstyn
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – Jason Miller
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – Linda Blair
- Academy Award for Best Director – William Friedkin
- Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – William Peter Blatty
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Owen Roizman
- Academy Award for Best Film Editing – Norman Gay
- Academy Award for Best Production Design – Bill Malley and Jerry Wunderlich
- Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing – Robert Knudson, Chris Newman
Golden Globe Awards
The Exorcist was nominated for seven total Golden Globes in 1973. At the 31st Golden Globes ceremony that year, the film won four awards.
- Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director – William Friedkin
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture – Linda Blair
- Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – William Peter Blatty
The film was nominated for
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama – Ellen Burstyn
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – Max von Sydow
- Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress – Linda Blair
Library of Congress
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #3
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Regan MacNeil – #9 Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "What an excellent day for an exorcism." – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
A limited edition box set was released in 1998; it was limited to 50,000 copies, with available copies circulating around the Internet. There are two versions; a special edition VHS and a special edition DVD. The only difference between the two copies is the recording format.
- DVD features
- The original film with restored film and digitally remastered audio, with a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
- An introduction by director Friedkin
- The 1998 BBC documentary The Fear of God: The Making of "The Exorcist"
- Two audio commentaries
- Interviews with the director and writer
- Theatrical trailers and TV spots
- Box features
- A commemorative 52-page tribute book, covering highlights of the film's preparation, production, and release; features previously unreleased historical data and archival photographs
- Limited edition soundtrack CD of the film's score, including the original (unused) soundtrack ("Tubular Bells" and "Night of the Electric Insects" omitted)
- 8 lobby card reprints
- Exclusive senitype film frame (magnification included)
In an interview with DVD Review, Friedkin mentioned that he was scheduled to begin work on The Exorcist Blu-ray on December 2, 2008. This edition features a new restoration, including both the 1973 theatrical version and the 2000 "Version You've Never Seen". It was released on October 5, 2010. A 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray was released on October 8, 2013, containing both cuts of the film and many of the previously released bonus features in addition to two featurettes that revolve around author William Peter Blatty.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Exorcist (film).|
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- Official website
- The Exorcist at the Internet Movie Database
- The Exorcist at Box Office Mojo
- The Exorcist at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Exorcist at Metacritic
- The Haunted Boy of Cottage City: The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired The Exorcist, by Mark Opsasnick
- Jason Miller Remembers The Exorcist