Almost half a century after its release, “The Exorcist” remains one of the most chilling and provocative horror films ever made. Its simple yet terrifying story of a young girl named Regan being possessed by a demon has left indelible marks on generations of moviegoers. But sometimes, the tales behind the making of such a horror film can be equally if not more frightening. Here are ten such behind-the-scenes stories from “The Exorcist”.
1. Real-Life Shocks on Set
Director William Friedkin was known for his commitment to authenticity. He ensured the set was ice-cold to capture the actors’ breath on screen – an experience Linda Blair particularly detested. In one scene, Ellen Burstyn was pulled back too forcefully by a wire, breaking her coccyx. Her ensuing scream was genuine. In another instance, to evoke a genuine reaction from actor Jason Miller, Friedkin fired a gun nearby.
2. A String of Deaths
Throughout the film’s production and subsequent release, nine individuals related to the cast and crew tragically lost their lives. These included Linda Blair’s grandfather, Max Von Sydow’s brother, and actor Jack MacGowran. Although it’s possible for coincidences to occur in film histories, the eerie connections to one of the scariest movies ever made raised eyebrows.
3. A Viewer’s Legal Battle with Warner Bros.
Although modern movies have many warnings, that wasn’t the case when “The Exorcist” hit theaters. Reports abound of viewers fainting or becoming sick during screenings. One woman even sued Warner Bros, claiming subliminal messages in the film caused her to faint and break her jaw. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
4. Stanley Kubrick: The Director That Wasn’t
Stanley Kubrick, known for “The Shining,” was Warner Bros.’s initial choice to direct “The Exorcist.” However, Kubrick preferred developing his projects.
5. Linda Blair’s Unwanted Attention
Linda Blair’s portrayal of Regan earned her immense acclaim but also drew criticism and threats. Post-release, bodyguards shadowed Blair for months due to death threats she received for her role.
6. The Mysterious Set Fire
In a series of unfortunate events during production, a fire tore through the set of the MacNeil home, delaying shooting. Interestingly, the fire didn’t touch Regan’s room.
7. An Alleged Serial Killer on Set
Paul Bateson, a radiographer with a minor role in the film, was later convicted of murdering film journalist Addison Verrill. While in jail, he bragged about other killings, leading to speculations of him being a serial killer, though no concrete evidence emerged.
8. The Oscar Controversy
Linda Blair received an Oscar nomination for her role, but Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the demon Regan. Academy rules, which are stringent about crediting actors for voice work, led to a controversy.
9. The Realistic Arteriogram Scene
Many viewers found Regan’s hospital test to be the most unsettling among the myriad of haunting scenes. It depicted a real invasive procedure, performed on-screen by actual doctors.
10. Inspired by Real Events
The novel and film are based on true events surrounding a boy named Roland Doe. Over a year, priests from the Roman Catholic Church conducted several exorcisms on him, with psychiatrists believing he suffered from mental illness.
The Exorcist remains a paragon in the horror genre, its eerie tales from behind the scenes only adding to its legendary status.