The Limited Times

Now you can see non-English news...

'The Exorcist': 50 years of the film that caused heart attacks, panic and vomiting in theaters


William Friedkin's film with Linda Blair was, in 1973, a box office success and a critical failure. Then it became a chilling classic.

The year 1973 was the one in which

people got sick in the movies.

Vomiting, panic attacks, heart attacks, epileptic attacks


The person responsible for such chaos was a horror film based on a novel that had gone through bookstores without much impact, accused of being sensationalist and pornographic, and which the Studio responsible for its production had not known, at first, how to “propagandize”. .

To the collective unconscious of a United States already shaken by the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the massacre of students at Kent State University, and the macabre details of the crimes of Charles Manson and his followers, the climactic blow was delivered

. It would be the story of a demon-possessed teenager

, and the physical and psychological battle waged by two Catholic priests to tear him from her body and soul.

a paranormal investigation

William Peter Blatty began writing his novel

The Exorcist

in the early 1950s, when as a student at Georgetown Jesuit University

he came across an apparently "real" case of satanic possession

suffered by a Maryland teenager in 1949. and to which he had accessed through an article published in the Washington Post.

Blatty managed to contact one of the priests who had participated in the exorcism ritual of the "possessed" and

was absolutely convinced of the veracity of his story

, despite the fact that the Catholic Church had officially declared that it was a case of schizophrenia.

Among other shocking themes, the film dealt with the sexual aspect of possession by a preteen.

Photo: Clarín Archive.

Blatty decided to turn his research into a fictional book, changing and adding details to avoid hurting sensibilities.

But by modifying the sex of the protagonist (in the novel it is a girl, Regan, and not a boy who suffers from demonic harassment) he did nothing more than give new meaning to one of the aspects that had most powerfully attracted his attention during the investigation. journalistic: the

marked sexual nature of possession


When the novel appeared, Blatty already had a place in the film industry as a screenwriter for some of Blake Edwards' films (he wrote, for example, the unforgettable A

Shot in the Shadow

), but the book, despite generally receiving good reviews, it was mostly ignored by readers.

The adaptation

It was his friend, the actress Shirley MacLaine (whom Blatty had been inspired to build the character of Regan's mother), who convinced him that there was

cinematic potential in the novel


She herself made the first attempts to get financing, but Blatty's stubbornness in maintaining himself as a producer only scared the studios away.

It was finally Warner Bros. who became interested in the first script written by himself.

The official poster did not show Linda Blair possessed but the exorcist who would try to save her.

While waiting for Blatty to polish and improve that first draft, the Studio began to outline the film's casting.

Stacy Keach garnered a quick consensus for the role of Father Karras (the priest who first learns about Regan's possession case), even ahead

of Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson


Audrey Hepburn, Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine herself – despite Blatty's own insistence – were initially ruled out for the role of the mother, but the real problems began with the choice of Father Merrin, the priest who leads the battle against the devil.

Warner wanted Marlon Brando, who had just made a name for himself with

The Godfather


A difficult chair to occupy

Arthur Penn, Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, Mark Rydell.

The list of applicants to sit in the director's chair of

The Exorcist

was extended every day

, but for different reasons it was not fully occupied.

Penn was dedicated to teaching, Kubrick intimidated the producers with his megalomania, Nichols did not want the success of the film to depend on the performance of a twelve-year-old girl, and the inconsequential Rydell did not finish convincing anyone.

The panorama was complicated, until Blatty, already immersed in his role as producer,

understood that the markedly documentary nature of his novel had to find an equivalent in images


The filming seemed cursed: the main set caught fire and the actresses received back injuries in the intense scenes.

William Friedkin had started out directing documentaries, but had trained mostly in television, directing, among other things, chapters for the mystery-horror series

Alfred Hitchcock Presents


His early fiction films had not attracted attention until in 1971 he swept the box office and won a few Oscars with

Contact in France

, a crime thriller that showed New York City through that “realistic” lens.

In the prime of his career, Friedkin stepped into the director's chair on the project with a single goal in mind: to make a better film than Francis Ford Coppola's

The Godfather



wanted nothing to do with Brando's intolerable ego

, and when he met playwright Jason Miller he had no doubt it was his father Karras.

Miller had studied with the Jesuits to be a priest

(like Blatty) and went through a crisis of faith very similar to the one that afflicts his character in the plot of the film.

Friedkin only needed to see him rehearse a couple of scenes to order Warners to undo Stacy Keach's contract, and then he asked Blatty to help land Max von Sydow for the role of Merrin.

Once Ellen Burstyn was left with the role of the mother, the most difficult vacancy remained to be filled, that of her daughter Regan, the film's driving force.

There was, however, a major problem: although Blatty had smoothed over many of the lurid aspects of her novel,

the morbid and traumatic sexual aspect of possession persisted in the script


Dramatizing these scenes in the body of a minor – Regan is twelve years old in fiction – could represent more than one legal problem that would hinder the exhibition of the film.

Before Carrie (1976) broke into horror movies, "The Exorcist" addressed a mother-daughter relationship crossed by religion.

Photo: Clarín Archive

Friedkin began auditioning actresses as young as sixteen years old, most of whom came from commercials or television series.

None convinced him.

But one afternoon Elinore Blair brought her daughter Linda to the casting, and Friedkin

was shocked to learn that the girl had read Blatty's original novel


"What is it about?" he asked.

“About a girl who gets possessed by the Devil and does a lot of horrible things,” Linda replied.

There was a passage in the novel where Regan masturbated using a crucifix.

When Friedkin asked her if she used to masturbate, Linda replied, "You don't?"

She thus kept her role.

The curse

The main set of the film (the house where Regan and her mother live) caught fire shortly after the start of filming


Both Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair suffered back injuries while filming the most intense scenes of the possession.

Actor Jack McGowan (who plays a film director in the film) died shortly after filming his scenes, as did Max von Sydow's brother and Linda Blair's grandfather in real life.

The sets night watchman and one of the special effects technicians also

died during filming

, and Jason Miller's son suffered a serious accident also around those days.

Max von Sydow, famous for his work with Ingmar Bergman, played one of the priests.

Photo: Clarín Archive.

Was the Devil really sticking his tail in

The Exorcist


The black legend that accompanies the film since then was fed by different sources.

Some said that the facts were exaggerated;

others, that it was a tragic string of coincidences.

There was no shortage of those who reduced all the news to an advertising campaign orchestrated by Warner itself, and there were many who pointed out that the setbacks and disasters were caused by the level of stress accumulated due to the infamous tyranny to which Friedkin subjected everyone and each of the staff members.

Friedkin (director) and Blatty (producer) fired and rehired each other, multiple times a day, with only Studio executives managing to mediate between them.

Despite everything, they respected each other and agreed not to invade each other's areas of concern.

Large refrigeration equipment was used to cool the girl's room to 20 degrees below zero, so you could tell that the actors' icy breath was real.

Friedkin's perfectionism could lead him to repeat each take up to twenty times, and his attention to detail meant that

a gigantic refrigeration unit was used to cool Regan's room to 20 degrees below zero


She said she wanted the breath of the characters to be noticed when they were frozen in the air, to convincingly convey to the viewer the feeling that the room was really frozen by the presence of the Demon.

Warner's executives were confused.

The footage that Friedkin sent them daily was chilling

, but they couldn't get a glimpse of what they were dealing with.

They thought about how to face the advertising campaign while the budget stretched from four to twelve million dollars at the time.

Friedkin had gotten rid of—literally: thrown the tapes in the trash—the original music that Lalo Schifrin had composed for the film, until he found the terrifying piano scale composed by Mike Oldfield that is now immediately identifiable with the film.

Linda Blair had to face a highly complex role being just a child.

Photo: Clarín Archive.

A gruesome premiere

The Exorcist

was released during Christmas 1973. The appearance of a film about demonic possession on precisely that date was the first step in a publicity avalanche based mainly on

the effect that the film had on its viewers


Initially released in thirty theaters, just over two months after its premiere, the poster crowned more than three hundred and sixty marquees throughout the country.

The newspapers and specialized magazines of the time reported the

endless lines to access the screenings

, while reports of fainting, nervous breakdowns and emotional collapses triggered by the most horrifying scenes multiplied.

While there were controversies regarding the rating of the film – there was no shortage of those who considered that Friedkin's film deserved the fearsome “X” for pornographic cinema – and numerous religious organizations questioned the vision he offered on such a thorny issue as Demonic Possession,

grossed $160 million at the box office and racked up ten Academy Award nominations


A classic

Of those ten nominations, it garnered just two awards: best adapted screenplay and best sound mixing.

The most respected and influential critics of the time slammed it down

, accusing it of being sensational, crude, and gratuitously gimmicky.

There was something new in the film: an uncomfortable element linked to the most secret and atavistic horrors of the human condition.

And while it's hard to say if Friedkin fulfilled his desire to make a bigger movie than Coppola's

The Godfather

, there is no doubt that

he left big movie history with one of its most intense moments of fear


The massive horror movies of the eighties would follow other directions and take other paths, more comfortable and harmless paths, in which Jason and Freddy would never cross paths with the parents Merrin and Karras. 

look also

The story of Gabriele Amorth: the priest who fought against the Devil and inspired the saga "The Exorcist"

The Church of Salta created the Ministry of the Exorcist and appointed two priests to "expel the devil" from the people

Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-03-22

You may like

Trends 24h

News/Politics 2023-05-31T18:31:22.556Z
News/Politics 2023-05-31T18:51:55.481Z
News/Politics 2023-05-31T09:52:36.638Z


© Communities 2019 - Privacy

The information on this site is from external sources that are not under our control.
The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorse the views expressed within them.