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.”
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.