In their latest installment of The Untold Truth, the folks at Looper examine one of the most enduring and controversial films ever created: The Exorcist. Directed by William Friedkin and released in 1973, the film is still widely considered the most terrifying horror movie in existence. It’s become the benchmark against which all possession/exorcism films are measured and a blueprint for countless filmmakers to follow.
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40+ years later, information and behind the scenes details are still emerging, adding to the film’s legacy and mystique. The video below is a must-watch for even the most educated Exorcist fan, as it speaks to the film’s enduring impact on popular culture. If you can’t stream, the main revelations are listed and briefly summarized below the video. Enjoy!
Official Synopsis: Few Hollywood films have caused as much controversy as The Exorcist. Its theatrical release in 1973 terrified and outraged audiences with a grotesque tale of possession, and despite barely escaping a bad rating, it made history by becoming the first horror film to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination. It’s still considered one of the scariest movies ever made, but the intrigue surrounding The Exorcist isn’t limited to its shock value. In fact, some of the most compelling aspects of the movie come from behind the scenes. Here are some lesser-known facts about the classic that’s been “turning heads” for over 40 years…
Real-Life Roots: The Exorcist is loosely based on the story of an unnamed youth dubbed “Roland Doe” who, in the 1940’s, received an exorcism under the oversight of the Roman Catholic Church. While the case has been covered extensively, most now believe Roland was a troubled boy with psychological issues—not actually possessed. Novelist William Peter Blatty originally intended to write a nonfiction study of the case, but was discouraged by the Jesuits who served as consultants; it was then he decided on the fictional approach featuring a young woman.
Church Support: Many find it surprising that the Catholic Church fully supported the production and release of The Exorcist—and why not? It’s basically the story of superhero priests!
Cursed Production: Tales of a cursed production are infamous; from fires to injuries and seemingly supernatural occurrences—even a death, people still whisper about the real-life demonic forces meddling behind the scenes. Adding credence to the legend are reports that Friedkin hired a priest to bless the set as an added measure of protection.
Wild Release: Upon the film’s release, misguided zealots actually sent actress Linda Blair death threats, believing she actually was a vessel for evil. The release is also infamous for reports of people falling ill and even fainting while watching The Exorcist.
Anonymous Demon: While Pazuzu is named in the novel, the demon’s name is never uttered in the film. He’s only referred to by Regan (Blair) as Captain Howdy.
Low-budget Effects: Friedkin famously shot a real gun on set in order to get actors feeling jumpy before shooting. It’s also reported that he kept the set freezing cold in order to maximize the visible breathing of the actors. The vomit actually was just split pea soup.
Not a Horror Movie: Both Friedkin and Blatty have stated The Exorcist was never intended as a work of Horror. Friedkin saw it as a film about faith while Blatty sought to provide readers comfort by invoking a spiritual presence capable of banishing evil.
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