The Exorcist: Ten Things To Know About The Movie

10 Facts about the worlds scarriest movie: The Exorcist

Here are 10 trivia facts about The Exorcist from 1973, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are lots of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie.  Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. This movie is based on a best-selling book.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was originally published in 1971 by Harper & Row. The successful horror novel immediately became a bestseller and was the inspiration for the classic movie two years later.

Related to the novel’s inception, there was a celebrity connection between the author and TV show host Groucho Marx. In 1950, Blatty as a guest on the “You Bet Your Life” program and won $10,000. When asked what would be done with the winnings, Blatty told Groucho he intended to take time off from work to write a book — that book was The Exorcist. The idea came to him when, as a student at Georgetown University in 1950, he heard about an exorcism on a teenage boy that had supposedly taken place in 1949, and he based his story on that event.

2. The beginning of the film takes place in a foreign country.

The movie opens at the site of an archaeological dig in Iraq, near the Syrian border in the town of Sinjar. Back in 1973, the U.S. didn’t have diplomatic relations with Iraq, and director William Friedkin took with him an all-British film crew. The Iraqi government insisted on certain conditions before filming was allowed to continue — in exchange, Iraqi filmmakers were to be taught advanced filming techniques. It’s been reported the Iraqis also requested lessons on how to produce “convincing” fake blood.

The Iraqi sequences were filmed in preparation for the scenes where Father Merrin (Von Sydow), an aging Catholic priest, experiences strange occurrences as he unearths a group of ancient artifacts at an an archaeological site. These are the scenes filmed at the actual site of ancient Nineveh in Hatra. Iraq.

3. Many special effects were used in the filming.

In order to make the actors have genuinely icy breath in the exorcism scenes, Regan’s bedroom had to be kept refrigerated with multiple air conditioning units. Temperatures were brought down extremely low, sometimes to 30 or 40 degrees below zero. It was reported that one day before the crew arrived, the moisture saturation level caused snow to fall on the set. Those chilling moments stayed with Linda Blair to this day since all she was wearing in those scenes was a thin nightgown.

A double was used for Blair in the vomiting scenes. Veteran actress Eileen Dietz did some very believable puking with the aid of makeup/effects wizard Dick Smith’s technical expertise. She was so good at it, in fact,  she considered asking for screen “vomiting” credit. In addition, Eileen did some doubling in “that” crucifix scene and is also the face of Pazuzu.

Along with the hundreds of complex effects used in filming, Von Sydow’s young appearance required attention. He was 44 at the time of filming, but his Father Merrin character was much older. Makeup genius Smith worked his magic, using a daily three-hour process. It’s notable that it was on this film in which Smith hired future FX  legend Rick Baker as his assistant. The two created such amazing visuals as convincingly hurled green slime, Linda Blair’s 360-degree head-turning and her scenes involving a crucifix. So amazing, in fact, that it’s been said that the movie’s special effects were too intense and realistic for evangelist Billy Graham. He claimed the movie’s celluloid film contained an actual demon!

4. One of the main characters dies in the movie.

Actually, two of the actors are killed off in the story. Father Lankester Merrin as the title character, played brilliantly by Max Von Sydow, dies of a heart attack while performing the exorcism. When Father Karras (Jason Miller) enters the room and sees his dead friend on the floor, he realizes that Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is to blame. In despair, he calls out to the devil to “Come into me! Take me!” while choking Regan. The audience sees the transformation take place and Father Karras, now possessed, commits suicide by throwing himself out of Regan’s window.

5. One of the actors once played Jesus in a movie.

Max Von Sydow worked with director Ingmar Bergman in his native Sweden, where they made 13 movies together. Although he was well-known internationally, his career took off in 1965 when he appeared as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Years later Von Sydow said, “When we were filming The Greatest Story Ever Told, we were in Utah and many of the people on the set expected me to behave like Jesus all the time, day and night. But it’s not method acting, is it? I couldn’t have my wife visit me openly because Jesus was not married, and I couldn’t take a drink and relax when I was Christ. It’s much easier now.”

6. One of the stars was Oscar-nominated multiple times, including for this movie.

Detroit-born Ellen Burstyn made her big screen debut in 1964 but had been acting in TV shows since 1960. She is still fondly remembered by fans of daytime dramas for her two-year stint as Dr. Kate Bartok on The Doctors from ’64-’65. Actually, Ellen was on TV as early as 1952, when she was one of Jackie Gleason’s showgirls on his Saturday night variety show. She got her big break in 1971 when she appeared in and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in The Last Picture Show. Two years later, she received her first Best Actress Oscar nomination for The Exorcist, a role she wasn’t sure she’d take. The original script called for Burstyn’s character to say, “I believe in the devil!” She only decided to do the movie when the producers agreed to strike that line from her dialogue. The following year, she was the Oscar winner for her performance in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and was back in the spotlight when she was nominated in 1978 for Same Time, Next Year. The Academy repeated the nod in 1980 for her dramatic lead in Resurrection and again in 2000 for Requiem for a Dream.

7. One of the actors is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Jason Miller was an actor on Broadway and had never made a film before The Exorcist, which netted him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance. The part was originally expected to be played by Stacy Keach, but when director Friedkin saw Miller perform live, he requested the change, necessitating Warner Brothers to buy out Keach’s contract.

However, the talented Miller is not only an actor but is also an accomplished playwright. His drama, “That Championship Season,” was the 1973 Tony Award winner and the NY Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Play. The icing was put on the cake when he earned the Pulitzer Prize as well. Miller then wrote and directed the movie version of his play and many TV movies, including a small-screen version of That Championship Season in 1999. His show business connection doesn’t end there; His wife, actress Linda Miller, is the daughter of Jackie Gleason (see above), and Miller is also the father of actor Jason Patric.

8. One of the film’s Oscar nominations was mired in controversy.

When the Academy Award nominations were announced in 1974, Linda Blair was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The problem with that nomination was that the voice for Regan MacNeil’s demon was provided by Mercedes McCambridge, an Oscar winner herself for 1949’s All the King’s Men. McCambridge balked (and had to sue Warners for recognition), but Academy rules state that nominations can’t be withdrawn once they’re announced. However, because the young actress was being recognized for the performance of another actress, it was felt the controversy ruined Linda’s odds for winning.

9. A specific ritual is part of the storyline.

Many religions and cultures believe in the ancient practice of exorcism, in which demons are evicted from someone who is believed to be possessed. The case on which Blatty based his novel was an exorcism of a young boy (given a fictitious name of Robbie Mannheim to protect his privacy) that supposedly lasted six weeks, taking place in the US, in Maryland and continued in Missouri. Years later after The Exorcist played theaters, the story of the boy’s exorcism came under fire when an investigative reporter made claims it was a hoax.

10. This film spawned multiple sequels.

In addition to a reworked extended director’s cut of the original movie released in 2000, there were many sequels and prequels to the “scariest movie of all time” : 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, starring Richard Burton alongside Blair; The Exorcist III (1990) with George C. Scott and Brad Dourif ; Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) with Stellan Skarsgard; and a returning Skarsgard in Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005). None of the sequels reached the heightened fear experienced by audiences with the original 1973 movie, though, nor did they do as well financially. One of the most astounding facts about the original chiller is that, as of 2011, it is still the highest grossing R-rated film ever released by Warner Brothers, adjusting for inflation.

Considered by many to be “the scariest movie of all time” and voted as such by magazines and TV stations around the globe, it’s a possibility The Exorcist has become too tame for today’s audiences. Weigh in — let us know if you think it deserves its number-one shock status.

  • Anne Hodges

    When i saw this movie in 1973 i was out in Indiana visiting my sister and her husband. We decided to go see this movie we had heard so much about. The lines were all the way around the theater and they were offering barf bags and saying if you had a bad heart don’t come and see this picture. Well i tell you The Exorcist scarred me so bad i slept with a light on for over a week. Yes i believe this original movie should be voted the number one shocker of all times not to mention this was based on a true story which put even more fear into you.

    • Boris

      John Carpenter’s The Thing is bteter than the original because he went back to the source material called Who goes there? which was more about paranoia than science fiction.

    • Hasan

      pprenecknc on October 20, 2011 Taken because its a action/myst. and playing the dad would be great. Get to go and find those that taken his daughter. Bust drug ring and illeage selling of womn for prostution. I think the story line is built for it.

  • Susan

    Yes, it should be the #1 scariest movie of all time, and no, time has not made the movie “too tame.” Part of its horror comes from the fact that the victim is a young girl. If such innocence can be the victim of such evil, are any of us safe? In the book (and extended release 2000) Father Karras even asks, “why this girl?” Father Merrin answers it eloquently by saying, “I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.”
    Although Friedkin (no doubt going for maximum shock value and minimum intellectual value) cut this from the original release, it is the crux of the entire story really.

    I don’t know if Blatty still lives in Santa Barbara, but when I lived there (and he did too) I even had the pleasure of talking to him on the phone, not about this movie, but about “The Ninth Configuration” which is another movie he directed based on a book of his. In its own way it is also about faith. I can only say of the author that he was generous and kind and *very* down to earth! 🙂

  • Sinisterkat

    I Just Watched The New Blu-Ray The Other Night,
    And I Was Not Disappointed. The Movie Still Packs
    A Punch And I’m A Hard-Core Horror Fan. The Two
    And 1/2 Hours Went By In No Time. I Believe This
    Is One Of The Best Horror Movies Ever Made! One Of
    Those Rare Moments In Movie Making Where It All Comes Together.

  • stephen cotner

    i saw this movie and had a post delay on being scared. the friend i took with me was catholic and OMG! at one part he got up and started to run out of the place.i heckled him until he returned to his seat. the gossip in st.louis was this happend at the alexian hospital.which was and still is a catholic hospital.south st.louis was a young boy and after the event that room was never used again.the original hospital building has since been torn down and a newer builing erected behind it.but then i quess a lot of othe rplaces in the country that had large catholic populations claim that it happened in their town too.

  • Theologian.

    Ya know something? For a lot of people, “The Exorcist” is really just a silly horror movie that’s so plainly over the top that it can actually cause you to laugh out loud! Why is that? Well, you see, one really has to be a believing Christian to take the nonsense in the film seriously. And even though the overwhelming majority of people in the world certainly believe in God, a great many of them aren’t Christian. This includes a good number of Americans. For me, “The Exorcist” offers no more reality than the notion that we will be visited by little green men from Mars!

  • Warren Clark

    Yep, still the scariest; rented out the DVD just the other day to give it another spin and it delivered, just like it has for the past 38 years. I mean, even the lead-in featuring the Warner Brothers logo with the haunting strings still raises the hackles. “The Exorcist” – number one, baby.

  • Arkady

    I have to agree with Theologian in the assumption that this film is going to seem far more scary to those whose religious persuasions admit of the existence of gods and demons, and most especially to Catholic Christians. I’m a non-believer, and while I think “TE” is a cracking horror film in the barnstorming tradition of the old Hammer Films, frankly, I’ve always been more scared by the human face of horror as depicted in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or the more factually-based episodes of “Criminal Minds”. But it may well be the case that “TE” has scared the living daylights out of more people than any other horror film, so maybe it deserves the award…

  • JV

    …I saw it back in 1973 when I was only a kid of 13….I can only watch now it during the daytime and not by myself…so is it scary ? Hell yes!

  • john T.

    a great movie….great writing……great actors….one of the best movies of its king….and will always be

  • Ken A

    still scary and a great film…it was my choice for Best Film of 1973, then AND now!

  • Charlie Ray

    I think somebody needs to check their facts regarding this whopper:

    “Regan’s bedroom had to be kept refrigerated with multiple air conditioning units. Temperatures were brought down extremely low, sometimes to 30 or 40 degrees below zero.

    30 or 40 BELOW 0? So their breath would show?!! (Plus, those had to be some amazing air conditioners!)

  • version

    absolutely a very scary story and movie. All the scenes had a forboding heavy quality too. And the use of subliminal scenes was clever.

    I actually liked E-III after watching it a couple of times. There were some equally scary scenes in the hospital.

  • eddie moscone

    the 70’s jaws halloween and the exocist. oh and alien. after that it was all down hill for horror movies no more chills just redones and gross out. bring back the old fears please.

  • James Sedares

    I remember seeing it with my uncle in Oakbrook, Il in 1973. It scared him as much as it scared me at age 17. The movie has a mood of constant dread and foreboding. It conveys the painful and depressing aura of illness, impending death, and pain. It could be seen as a metaphor for those darkish days of the early 70’s; Viet Nam, Watergate, the assasinations of the 60’s, and the ever-growing cynicism felt by many regarding the changing of society and long-held beliefs. This was now the Church being challenged. In the movie by Satan, but in real life by the populace. The unease of the whole thing is overwhelming. A true masterpiece of and for its time, The Exorcist taps into our primal and subconscious fears and plays them for all their worth. The scariest movie of all time? I think yes.

    • Joey

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  • Charles H

    Doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in God, Satan, and/or any other religious symbols. This movie is great based on the writing, acting, special effects, tone and mood of the movie. Doesn’t matter that it’s adapted from a novel that’s based on a true story or a false story. The Exorcist is filmaking at it’s finest. And in 1973, it was pretty damn fine.

  • Richard Finn

    Yes a great and scary movie. But I found “The Shining” and “Salem’s Lot” to be very frightening movies, especially the 1st time you watched them. Of course I had read “The Exorcist” before I ever saw it, and this may have removed some of the fear.

  • Jim

    I have the DVD right on the shelf that holds sci fi/horror titles, but I’ve never been able to watch The Exorcist all of the way through. Too real/too scary for me.

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  • Publius

    I have a confession to make. I never did see THE EXORCIST. So much hype, and yellow journalism surrounded the movie when it first came out that I refused to see it. I do not like movies glorifying evil and giving evil more power than it deserves. Even though my sister begged me to see it, I still refused because I don’t consider that genre “entertainment.” However, when I read about how Freidken went to great lengths to get the right special effects, I sort of agreed with FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine that it was the “Gone With The Wind” of the horror film. It was interesting that when FAMOUS MONSTERS finally got around to reviewing it in their magazine they gave it a negative review, and this from a newspaper movie critic and horror buff. After the years have passed, I still refuse to see it, and it is not in my film collection; yet, I still regard it as a masterpiece of filmmaking even though it is not one of my personal favorites.

  • John H

    I first saw The Exorcist in 1973 when I was 21. I had to see it alone, because my wife was too scared to go with me. I sat through two showings that night and drove halfway home before realizing I had not turned on my car headlights. Definitely #1 scariest.

  • hockeyfan

    This movie had some of the elements that Hitchcock would use. It built suspense and then delivered beyond what you expected. Excellent lighting, sound and timing. When it was released it had the same impact that Jaws and Psycho had earlier. It altered how people conducted their everyday life.

  • xDJ@V.YouBraveWorld.Tube

    eddie moscone. Since a “real” director/artist has no interest in doing the same things over and over again ( or at least I should hope), the concept of Horror had to change. Take Hellraiser and The Ring, as examples. At any rate, Horror, nowadays, is more of a life’s style. You see kids and adults alike dressed up in their Halloween drag, practically everyday, while listening to funereal songs with pseudo-possessed moaning (oops, I mean “singing”), etc. Somehow, an older, avid fan of the genre could only scream so much for a mechanical shark or a vomiting, possessed spoiled-child or “Gee, another alien make-up monster.” I agree with you, however, to a certain extent that I’m also starved for something amazing, but then again, wonderfully inspired films or stories or concepts are hard to come by, since the day one. The great thing about many so-called Classics is the fact that they have this excuse of being created before the clones, as if saying, “I started it all regardless of the flaws and low budget and lack of cinematic grandeur.”

  • Anne

    I agree that the movie has a constant sense of forboding and dread. It was very good at that, and I was with it until Satan started insulting Father Karras’ mother, which took me right out of the film: c’mon – the Devil playing the dozens? I just started laughing, and could not be scared any longer. So no, I don’t think that it is “the scariest movie of all time”.

    I thought that “The Night of the Living Dead” was much scarier, and “Alien” came close. And what about “The Thing” with Kurt Russell? I left the theater during “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and have never even seen the end of that.

  • Jim Foster

    Been around a long time and have seen many, many films that managed to scare me. But in my opinion, THE EXORCIST tops them all. Number one? Absolutely!

  • Andrew

    What really through me off guard is when I first heard the voice of the devil(provided by Mercedes McCambridge). That really startled me. I found it very disturbing.

  • jmc

    I think that the crucifix masturbation scene is still one for the record books in terms of shock scenes.

  • Farnham Scott

    I was in college when THE EXORCIST played a test-run in my college town. The drama dept. at my university asked for volunteers to survey the audiences. I must have seen the film at least 50 times during my employment by Warner Bros. We were to note any unusual behavior during the movie, such as vomiting, fainting, how many left, how many returned, etc. While I don’t recall any vomiting, I found it telling that it was usually men that left the theater. Women that left the auditorium would gather themselves, maybe have a smoke (it was the 70s) and then return. If a man left, he’d not go back in but wait for his party. We’d fill out forms with attendance records and any activity during the film. I assume Warners was nervous about the sexual scenes. Myself, a long-standing horror movie fan, I wasn’t knocked out by the movie at all, but it was nice to see a horror film with an A-list cast. I didn’t care for the revamped version at all. I thought it made many scenes sillier and diminished the fright, particularly the little “demon’ faces appearing around Ellen Burstyn. I laughed outright at the “spider-stair” bit.

  • Nijole

    Scariest movie EVER! Saw this movie when it first came out (I was in high school). My friends saw it at the outdoor – it was the third feature. Just when it started, a baby in the next car started crying, it started lightning, then the film broke. That should of given me a clue. I can’t watch it again to this day. My kids were watching tv late one night when I was asleep on the couch. A commercial came on with the music from The Exorcist and they said I sat straight up, said “turn the channel” and went back to sleep.

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  • JH West

    I saw the movie when it opened in 1973. There were protesters picketing the theatres. You have to go when that happens! It was disturbing and remains one of the most frighening movies ever. It is done in a believable way that draws you in. Every time you go to that bedroom door, you know it will be worse than the time before. A truly scary movie. One of the best.

  • sophie

    wow it was gross

  • D

    I read the book but can not bring myself to watch all of the movie but my husband and daughter do. I always ask them to lower the volume when they watch it at night. Some say the Blair Witch Project was the all time horror movie. They are so wrong, I watch the Blair Witch Project and I still can’t watch the Exorcist. LOL

  • Theologian.

    I guess “The Exorcist” was well made, but I doubt most people take it seriously in this day and age. This includes most Catholics. I say this because I seriously question the notion that modern people still believe in demons from Hell, never mind the Devil himself! In fact, I don’t think most people believed in such things when the film was initially released to theaters in 1973. In any event, whether the story is genuinely based on a supposed true event or not, I think it’s fair to say that reasonable people would take such an account with more than a skeptical grain of salt. And in so doing, one truly cannot call “The Exorcist” the scariest movie ever made. To be sure, it probably falls into the category of silliest movie ever made…

  • Gwenda Gaye

    I do not believe in Hell or “the devil”. That said, I admit this movie scared me silly. I saw it with my husband (very Catholic husband) when it came out in 1973. It made such an impact on us that we stopped at the local bar in Rock Springs, WY for a drink before heading home to bed. Our (very Catholic) friends that saw it that night did not stop for a drink, went home and stayed awake all night with the lights on. I still think it is right up there with Jaws, The Shining, and Psycho as one of the best horror movies ever made.

  • Candy

    A ball of brhgitly colored string got it. Ha ha, if I don’t remember to take myself outside fairly often to salute the winter sun, you’ll see just how dark my thoughts can get!

  • ziggy

    Can anyone remember when the movie first aired on network tv?