Behind The Scenes Saturday: The Exorcist

Welcome to Day 10 of Spooky Season! This Saturday is all about The Exorcist! To this day, The Exorcist has terrorized audiences. It truly withstood the test of time and it remains a staple in the horror community. I hope you enjoy!!

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  • During the famous projectile vomiting scene, the vomit was supposed to hit Jason Miller (Father Karras) in the chest. However, the plastic tubing shot in the wrong spot, and the vomit ended up hitting Miller in the face instead. Miller was understandably very angry about this, and his shocked and disgusted expressions in the film were indeed genuine. 
  • After the film’s release, the star, Linda Blair (Regan) received numerous death threats by over-religious people who believed the film glorified Satan. Warner Bros. provided her with bodyguards for six months until things died down. 
  • At one point while filming, Jason Miller and the director, William Friedkin ended up having a major altercation. In order to get an authentic reaction for a scene, Friedkin actually shot a gun right by Miller’s ear. In the altercation, Miller told Friedkin that he is an actor and he didn’t need a gun to act surprised or startled. 
  • Max von Sydow, who played Father Merrin, was a gentleman in nature. On the first day of filming the exorcism scene, the foul language young Linda Blair had to spew out shocked him so much, he actually forgot his lines. 
  • To create the authentic icy breaths of the actors during the exorcism scene, the whole set was refrigerated. Poor Linda Blair had to be in that chilly setting with just a flimsy nightgown, and to this day, she says she can’t stand being cold. 
  • Mercedes McCambridge went to great lengths to provide a terrifying voice for the demon. She swallowed raw eggs and chain-smoked to alter her vocals. She also wanted to drink whiskey to mess up her voice even more, but because she was a recovering alcoholic, she wanted her priest to be present with her as she recorded. She was also bound to a chair by torn sheets so she could accurately sound like the demon trying to fight the restraints. William Friedkin admitted that her performance and methods terrified him. That was one of the reasons McCambridge wasn’t asked to return to record the demon’s voice for the edited TV version, and Friedkin ended up doing the voice himself.
  • Jack Nicholson was considered for the part of Father Karras. William Friedkin felt that Nicholson was too unholy to ever play a priest, so the part went to Jason Miller instead. 
  • The shots of the white-faced demon were actually rejected makeup tests for Regan’s possessed look. 
  • Famous author, William Peter Blatty, won $10,000 on Groucho Marx’s show, You Bet Your Life. When Marx asked him what he planned on doing with his winnings, Blatty told him he was planning on taking some time off and working on a novel. The Exorcist ended up being that novel. 
  • The studio really wanted Marlon Brando to play Father Merrin. William Friedkin shot down this idea immediately, because he didn’t want it to become a Brando film, instead of the important film he wanted to make. 
  • Ellen Burstyn (Chris) agreed to be a part of the film on the condition that she didn’t have to say the phrase, “I believe in the Devil!” The producers agreed and they cut the line. 
  • William Friedkin said that each week of filming, the studio executives would come and look at the shooting progress. They thought the whole film was ridiculous and every time they viewed the new footage, they would do nothing but shake their heads. 
  • Ellen Burstyn ended up getting a severe spinal injury while filming. When possessed Regan slaps her across the room, her harness jerked her back too hard, and she fell on her coccyx, and the scream she lets out in the film is genuine. 
  • Because the US had no diplomatic relations with Iraq at the time of filming, William Friedkin had to hire an all-British crew to film there. They also had to teach Iraqi filmmakers some advanced film techniques, including how to make fake blood. 
  • The agency who represented Linda Blair didn’t even consider her for the role. They recommended at least 30 of their clients and completely overlooked her. Blair’s mother had to take her to the audition herself. 
  • Linda Blair also injured her back when a piece of the rig broke as she was being tossed around on the bed. 
  • Warner Bros. wanted to change the title of the film because, when they took a survey, they found that none of the participants knew what an exorcist was. 
  • For the role of Karras’s mother, William Friedkin hired Vasiliki Maliaros after seeing her in a Greek restaurant. Although she acted before in many stage dramas, she’s never been in a movie before this one. Both Friedkin and Blatty felt that Maliaros resembled both of their mothers. 
  • The film’s original poster was very different. It was originally a drawing of Regan’s hand holding the bloody crucifix, and the tagline was “God help this girl.” Friedkin rejected it because he felt that the word “God” shouldn’t be used in a movie’s tagline. 
  • William Peter Blatty stated that William Friedkin misinterpreted the head spinning scene. He said that Regan’s head ALMOST turned all the way around, but Friedkin made it to where it completely spins around. 
  • Producers wanted Jamie Lee Curtis to audition, but her mother, Janet Leigh absolutely refused. 
  • On the night that he received William Peter Blatty’s screenplay, William Friedkin was supposed to attend a dinner party. He made the mistake of reading the first few pages, because he got so hooked, he ended up missing the dinner party entirely. 
  • The shooting schedule was originally 85 days. However, filming in America ended up taking 224 days.
  • The Exorcist is one of the supposedly cursed films, due to horrific events that include the deaths of 9 people associated with the film, and a mysterious fire that burned down the set one weekend. Jack McGowran (Burke) and Vasiliki Maliaros ended up passing away before the film’s release. 
  • At the time, Linda Blair hated vegetables with a passion. When she had to deal with the pea soup, it actually did make her vomit. 
  • Before the film’s release, Friedkin ended up cutting several scenes that he deemed unnecessary. William Peter Blatty felt betrayed by this, as he felt those scenes contained a lot of the film’s heart. As a result, Blatty refused to speak to Friedkin for a while before they finally made amends. As we all know, the film became a horror classic, and years later, Friedkin rewatched the deleted scenes and put some of them back in for an extended version of the movie as a favor to his friend, Blatty. Friedkin admitted that the extended version is his favorite. 
  • For the film, Ellen Burstyn had her character wear a bracelet with a horseshoe on it. This was a symbol to show how “poorly armed” she was to fight the Devil. Ellen gave Linda Blair the bracelet after filming wrapped, and when they saw each other years later, Blair still had and wore it. 
  • Linda Blair had to sit in a chair for a long time while they applied the makeup to her. In order to distract her through the process, there was a television placed by her chair so she could watch The Beverly Hillbillies
  • Friedkin stated in the commentary that making this film made him believe in demonic possession.
  • To create the sound effects for the vomit scene, Mercedes McCambridge regurgitated a mixture of raw eggs and mushy, chewed-up apples.
  • Stanley Kubrick was interested in directing and producing the film. However, he ended up turning it down. One source says it was because he only liked to develop his own stuff. Another source says it was because he wasn’t offered enough control. I’m not sure which is true but the first one seems unlikely since he adapted The Shining and A Clockwork Orange – both based on novels.
  • The demon uses the name Captain Howdy to gain Regan’s trust. Howdy was a play on the name Howard, which is Regan’s father’s name. Howard walked out on Chris and Regan, so the demon used the name to emulate a sort of “father figure” for her.
  • Gonzalo Gavira was brought in to do the sound effects after Friedkin heard his work in El Topo. Gavira created the sound for Regan’s head-turning scene by twisting his old leather wallet back and forth in front of a microphone. 
  • There was almost a parody scene shot for those attending the screening of the rushes. Father Merrin would step into the house, take off his hat, and they would see it was actually Groucho Marx. Marx was a friend of Blatty’s and he was up for doing the parody. Unfortunately, William Friedkin was ill that day so the scene was scrapped. 
  • Because the makeup process was excruciating in this film, Linda Blair actually put into her contact that she didn’t have to go through it again in the sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic
  • The statue of Pazuzu was supposed to be shipped to Iraq, but it accidentally got sent to Hong Kong before finally ending up in the right place. 
  • William Peter Blatty actually met his wife, Linda Blatty (Linda Teuro at the time) on the set of the film, where she played an extra. 
  • Three separate beds, used for three separate movements, were made for the film. 
  • William Peter Blatty was friends with actress, Tippi Hendren at the time he was writing this novel. He gave her a copy of it, and she was so hooked, she convinced her then-husband, Noel Marshall to help represent Blatty in publishing the novel and the film adaptation. Hendren even took the photo that Blatty used for the first edition’s back jacket. It was a verbal agreement that Marshall would get 15 percent of the film’s profit and he would be credited as an executive producer. Since no contract was actually signed, Blatty reneged and didn’t give Marshall a dime – forcing Marshall to sue. It was a long and draining process that took years before finally settling out of court. Hendren and Marshall was counting on that money for the big cats they had for their film, Roar. They eventually divorced due to the financial stress. It seems like Hendren still hasn’t forgiven Blatty, because many years later, Blatty went to greet her at a party, and she just walked away from him.
  • Al Pacino was another actor considered for Father Karras. 
  • Max von Sydow was always chosen by Friedkin to play Father Merrin. When William Peter Blatty gave von Sydow the book, von Sydow assumed he was supposed to play Father Karras. He never fully understood why they wanted him to play Merrin instead. 
  • Jane Fonda was offered the role of Chris but she turned it down. It was rumored that she turned it down because the movie was “a bunch of capitalist ripoff bulls**t.” She later went to Blatty and personally debunked the rumor. She confirmed that she turned down the role because she didn’t believe in “fairy tales.” 
  • Legendary makeup artist Rick Baker actually worked on this film as Dick Smith’s assistant. 
  • William Peter Blatty based Chris and Regan on his friend, Shirley MacLaine and her daughter Sachi Parker. 
  • Both Mercedes McCambridge and Jason Miller were hardcore alcoholics. As I’ve said before, Mercedes intentionally broke her sobriety for the purpose of the film. Jason Miller, on the other hand, was able to stay sober throughout filming of the first film. Unfortunately, by the time The Exorcist 3 began filming, he fell off the wagon and could barely function while shooting his scenes. This is the reason Brad Dourif was brought into the third film and Miller’s screen time was cut short. 
  • William Peter Blatty has a small role in the film, as a producer of the movie Chris is filming. 
  • The sound of pigs being herded into slaughter was used for the sound of the demon escaping Regan. 
  • When possessed Regan turns her head around for the first time and tells Chris, “Do you know what she did? Your c***ing daughter?”, the demon was imitating the voice of Burke Dennings, the director who fell out of Regan’s window. The head turning represented Burke’s disfigured neck after his fall. The demon was basically telling Chris at that time that Regan was the one who killed Burke. 

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