In the world of horror, you’ll be very hard pushed to find someone who hasn’t watched the classic horror film The Exorcist. Even those who despise horror would have at least heard about the film or novel and its well-deserved notoriety, but what you probably didn’t know is a lot of what happened behind the scenes. Was the true horror captured in the film or did it actually occur behind the scenes?
Upon release of the film, as you could probably imagine, the content of the film upset a lot of religious people and angered many and Linda Blair (Regan) actually started receiving so many death threats from zealots that she had to have bodyguards protect her for 6 months after the release due to the belief that the film glorified Satan.
Death threats were not the only threats given to those who had worked on the film, as Warner Bros. were faced with multiple lawsuit cases. These spanned from a man who fainted during the film in cinemas, breaking his jaw on the seat in front of him (claiming that subliminal imagery during the film had caused him to do so) to the filmmakers suing Warner Bros. for not paying all of the money due to them. There’s still a team open that deals with lawsuits concerning the film, showing just the impact that it has made in the past 44 years.
Several others also supposedly had medical incidents as a direct cause from the film. In some cases, paramedics were called into theatres showing the film due to people passing out and going into hysterics. One woman even claims that ever since she watched the film in cinemas, she has had horrific visions of death and destruction and was actually sectioned into a mental asylum for a period as a result, so if you’re reading this and have seen the film, you’ve survived!
We all enjoy horror films that have a crew dedicated to making special effects effective, but you’d not believe how much thought and effort went into the vile vomit viciously spouted from Regan’s mouth in the iconic scene. The gross gunk was actually thick pea soup. Andersen’s brand soup was used as Campbell’s didn’t have the correct effect. Obviously any soup connoisseur would know that of course.
A complex set of apparatus had to be created simply for the projection of the vomit, consisting of tubes attached to Linda Blair’s double, so that it could easily be concealed and give the illusion of vomiting. The apparatus was so complex and heavy that the double, Eileen Dietz, could hardly swallow or close her mouth. Even more disgustingly, the sound of the vomiting was created by the sound of Mercedes McCambridge regurgitating on mushy and chewy apple and raw egg. Sounds like the the vomiting could’ve been real with that vile concoction!
The Exorcist shares notoriety with another film, Poltergeist, in the fact that the set was said to be haunted. Nine deaths were noted from people involved in the film in the ominous year-long shoot and there was also a mysterious set that destroyed the set one weekend. There was eventually so much stigma to this that director William Friedkin asked the technical advisor, Rev. Bermingham if he would perform an exorcism on the set (how ironic), which was refused due to the fear of increasing anxieties. Instead, a blessing was performed and Bermingham briefed the cast and crew to reassure them.
If you haven’t already guessed, being on the set was pretty tense without any extra factors being in the mix, but at times, the temperature of the bedroom set plummeted to 30-40 below zero, colder than the inside of a freezer. In fact, the set was so cold that when the crew perspired on set, their perspiration froze to their bodies. The temperature accompanied by moisture in the air on set created the breath mist effect that many films have to digitally edit in. No wonder the film is considered to be so chilly!
It really is of no surprise that The Exorcist remains to be considered one of the most frightening classic horror films of all time, both for the antics we see on screen and with what happened off screen. Participating in filming may not sound particularly pleasant to you due to the lengths taken for the film, but isn’t that the art of horror cinema?
Love the film or hate it, it is impossible to deny the fact that The Exorcist not only terrified a host of future generations, but has inspired horror filmmakers in a way most films would only dream of doing so. Is The Exorcist the greatest horror film? You decide!