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The Exorcist Rare Footage

The Exorcist is an Academy Award-winning 1973 American horror and thriller film, adapted from the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, dealing with the demonic possession of a young girl, and her mother’s desperate attempts to win back her daughter through an exorcism conducted by two priests. The film features Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Lee J. Cobb and Jason Miller. Both the film and novel took inspirations from a documented exorcism in 1949, performed on a 14-year-old boy.

The film became one of the most profitable horror films of all time and has had significant impact on viewers, grossing $402,500,000 worldwide. The film earned ten Academy Award nominations—winning two, one for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. Although it did not win, it ran neck and neck with The Sting for Best Picture. Along with the novel on which it was based, Blatty's script has been published several times over the years.

The Plot

Based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist marries three different scenarios into one plot.

The movie starts with Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) on an archaeological dig near Nineveh. He is then brought to a nearby hole where a small stone head is found, resembling some sort of creature. After talking to one of his supervisors, he then travels to a spot where a strange statue stands, specifically Pazuzu, with a head similar to the one he found earlier. He sees an ominous man up a bit away, and two dogs fight loudly nearby, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Meanwhile, Father Damian Karras, a young priest at Georgetown University, begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness.
 

In the central storyline, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), an actress filming in Georgetown, notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). Regan exhibits strange, unnatural powers, including levitation and great strength. At first, Chris believes that Regan's rapid mental and physical changes are due to trauma from Chris's recent divorce.

The Exorcist - Linda Blair

Regan is forced to endure a series of unpleasant medical tests as doctors try to find an explanation for her bizarre changes. During this time, several supernatural occurrences plague the household of the MacNeils, including violently shaking beds, strange noises and unexplained movement. When all medical possibilities of explaining Regan's worsening condition are exhausted, a doctor recommends an exorcism, explaining that if Regan's symptoms are a psychosomatic result of a belief in demonic possession, then an exorcism would likewise have the psychosomatic effect of ending such symptoms. Chris consults Father Karras, since he is both a priest and a psychiatrist. Despite an initial conclusion that Regan's problems are psychological, Damian is eventually convinced that Regan is possessed, after witnessing otherwise unexplainable events.

Father Merrin, who in addition to being an archeologist is also experienced in exorcism, is summoned to Washington. He and Father Karras try to drive the spirit from Regan before she dies. Regan, or rather the spirit, claims she is not possessed by a simple demon, but by the Devil himself.

At the climax of the exorcism, Father Merrin dies of heart failure and Father Karras shouts at the demon to enter himself. The demon does enter Damian, but the priest immediately throws himself outside of Regan's bedroom window in order to stop the spirit from murdering Regan. Regan is restored to her normal self, and according to Chris, claims she does not remember any of the experience. The film ends as the MacNeil mother and daughter return to Los Angeles to move on from their ordeal.

The agency representing Linda Blair overlooked her, recommending at least 30 other clients for the part of Regan. Blair's mother brought her in herself to try out for the role. Pamelyn Ferdin, a veteran of science fiction and supernatural drama, was a candidate, but the producers may have felt she was too well-known. Two other child actresses of the '70s, Denise Nickerson (who'd played Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) and future Diff'rent Strokes star Dana Plato, were considered, but their parents pulled them out, troubled by the material. At one point the search for a young actress capable of playing Regan was so trying that Friedkin claims he even considered auditioning adult dwarf actors. The part went instead to Linda Blair, a relatively unknown actress. Blair's stunt double was Eileen Dietz, an older actress who was uncredited in the film and who later sued.

The studio wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Father Merrin. Friedkin immediately vetoed this by stating that with Brando in the film it would become a "Brando movie." Jack Nicholson was originally up for the part of Father Karras before Stacy Keach had been hired by Blatty to play the role. Friedkin then spotted Miller in a Broadway play. Even though Miller had never acted in a movie before, Keach's contract was bought out by Warner Bros. and Miller was cast in the role (Blatty would later give Keach the leading role in The Ninth Configuration). Other actors considered for the role at the time included Gene Hackman. Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine were approached to play the role of Chris MacNeil. Fonda reportedly called the project a "capitalist piece of shit."  Audrey Hepburn was approached, but said she would only agree if the film were to be shot in Rome. Anne Bancroft was another choice, but she happened to be in her first month of pregnancy and was dropped. Ellen Burstyn agreed to doing the movie.

Vasiliki Maliaros, who played Father Karras' mother, had never acted in a movie before. She was discovered by William Friedkin in a Greek restaurant. Her only acting experience was in Greek stage dramas. Friedkin selected her because she bore an uncanny resemblance to his own mother and William Peter Blatty felt she resembled his mother too.

Direction

Warner had approached Arthur Penn (who was teaching at Yale), Peter Bogdanovich (who wanted to pursue other projects, subsequently regretting the decision) and Mike Nichols (who didn't want to shoot a film so dependent on a child's performance). John Boorman said he didn't want to direct it because it was "cruel towards children". Following the success of The French Connection (1971) the studio finally agreed to sign William Friedkin for the film.

Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths, reminiscent of D.W. Griffith's manipulation of the actors, to get the genuine reactions he wanted. Yanked violently around in harnesses, both Blair and Burstyn suffered back injuries and their painful screams went right into the film. Burstyn later reported that she had permanent back injury after landing on her coccyx when a stuntman jerked her while attached to a cable when filming the scene when Regan slaps her mother. After asking Reverend William O'Malley if he trusted him and being told yes, Friedkin slapped him hard across the face before a take to generate a deeply solemn reaction that was used in the film, as a very emotional Father Dyer read last rites to Father Karras; this offended the many Catholic crew members on the set. He also fired a gun without warning on the set to elicit shock from Jason Miller for a take. Lastly, he had Regan's bedroom set built inside a freezer so that the actors' breath could be visible on camera, which required the crew to wear parkas and other cold-weather gear.

Music

Lalo Schifrin's score was rejected, and a frustrated Friedkin reportedly threw the reels out into the street, dubbing the score "fucking Mexican marimba music" and deeming the parking lot the best place for such music (see also 1979's The Amityville Horror). In the liner notes for the soundtrack to his 1977 film Sorcerer, Friedkin said that, had he heard the music of Tangerine Dream earlier, he would have had them score The Exorcist. Instead he used modern classical compositions, including portions of the 1971 Cello Concerto by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

The original soundtrack LP has only been released once on CD, as an expensive and hard-to-find Japanese import. It is noteworthy for being the only soundtrack to include Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, which became very popular after the film's release, and the composition Night Of The Electric Insects, from George Crumb's string quartet Black Angels

Filming locations

The archaeological dig site seen at the beginning of the movie is the actual site of ancient Nineveh in Hatra, Iraq. Friedkin had to take an all-British crew to film in Iraq because the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Iraq at that time. They were allowed to film on conditions that included teaching Iraqi filmmakers advanced film techniques and special effects.

The scenes showing Father Karras in his room at Georgetown were filmed in Fordham University's freshman residence, Hughes Hall, second floor, room 215.

The "Exorcist steps", stone steps at the end of M Street in Georgetown, were padded with 1/2"-thick rubber to film the death of Karras. The stunt man tumbled down the stairs twice. Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.

The MacNeil residence interiors were filmed at CECO Studios in Manhattan. The bedroom set had to be refrigerated to capture the authentic icy breath of the actors in the exorcizing scenes. The temperature was brought so low that a thin layer of snow fell onto the set one morning. Linda Blair, who was only in a thin nightgown, says to this day she cannot stand being cold.

Urban legends and on-set incidents

Several tales about ominous events surrounding the year-long shoot, including the deaths of nine people associated with the production are probably fakelore and were either deliberately released by the studio for publicity, or concocted by tabloid writers, as no evidence exists for any freakish occurrences. These stories are the source of the rumor that the film was cursed. Blatty, Schrader and von Sydow have all discounted such tales as nonsense. However, Ellen Burstyn has indicated that some of these rumors are true in her 2006 autobiography Lessons In Becoming Myself. The interior sets of the MacNeil residence, except for Regan's bedroom, were indeed destroyed by a studio fire and had to be rebuilt. Director William Friedkin also notes that the set sometimes appeared "cursed." He has also claimed that a priest was brought in numerous times to "bless" the set. Filming would go smoothly for a short while, before the priest would have to be brought back again when things went wrong again.

Cut scenes

The scene wherein Father Merrin asks Chris the child's middle name (Teresa) was cut for the 1973 release, but there is still the scene where Merrin exorcises Regan and uses her first, middle, and last names.

The film's original ending had Kinderman meeting Father Dyer after the departure of Chris and Regan; the two converse and strike up a friendship as they walk down the street. This was cut for timing reasons, and the release version ended slightly earlier, with Dyer looking down the staircase where Karras had died. For the 2000 re-release, the longer ending was restored, in order to tie the film in better with the events of The Exorcist III.

The Exorcist "spider walk"

Contortionist Linda R. Hager was hired to perform the famous "spider walk" scene, filmed on April 11, 1973, but deleted by William Friedkin before the film's December release. He felt it was "too much" of an effect because it appeared too early in the film before the possession was fully established by the end of the first hour of the movie. Almost 30 years later, Friedkin changed his mind and restored the scene for the special edition theatrical release. Hager used a harness and flying wires hung above the staircase used in the set.

There are a few different versions of the "spider walk" sequence. The one ending with blood pouring from Regan's mouth is the one used in the 2001 re-release of the film. Since the previously unused scene had been published in a documentary several years earlier, the bloody version was used instead for shock value. The second, actually more faithful to the book, has Regan flicking her tongue like a snake and chasing Chris and Sharon. This can be seen in the 25th Anniversary documentary 'The Fear of God'. A third rumored take had Regan biting Sharon on the leg. The sequence has been copied in Ruby and other low-budget films.

Reaction

Scary Face

Upon its release on December 26, 1973, the film received mixed reviews from critics, “ranging from ‘classic’ to ‘claptrap'." Stanley Kauffmann, in The New Republic, wrote, “This is the most scary film I’ve seen in years — the only scary film I’ve seen in years…If you want to be shaken — and I found out, while the picture was going, that that’s what I wanted — then The Exorcist will scare the hell out of you.” Variety noted that it was “an expert telling of a supernatural horror story…The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror.”  In Castle of Frankenstein, Joe Dante opined, “An amazing film, and one destined to become at the very least a horror classic. Director William Friedkin’s film will be profoundly disturbing to all audiences, especially the more sensitive and those who tend to 'live' the movies they see…Suffice it to say, there has never been anything like this on the screen before.”

However, Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, dismissed The Exorcist as “a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap…[A] practically impossible film to sit through…it establishes a new low for grotesque special effects...”  Andrew Sarris complained that “Friedkin’s biggest weakness is his inability to provide enough visual information about his characters…whole passages of the movie’s exposition were one long buzz of small talk and name droppings…The Exorcist succeeds on one level as an effectively excruciating entertainment, but on another, deeper level it is a thoroughly evil film.” Writing in Rolling Stone, Jon Landau felt the film was, “Nothing more than a religious porn film, the gaudiest piece of shlock this side of Cecil B. DeMille (minus that gentleman’s wit and ability to tell a story)…”

The film earned $66,300,000 in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals during its theatrical release in 1974, becoming the second most popular film of that year (trailing The Sting). After several reissues, the film eventually earned $89,000,000 in domestic rentals. The film was a huge international hit in 1974, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year. To date, it has a total gross of $402,500,000 worldwide; if adjusted for inflation, this would be the top-grossing R-rated film of all time. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and also won four Golden Globes, including the award for Best Picture – Drama for the year 1974.

Some theatre patrons reportedly screamed and fainted while viewing the film, requiring paramedics to be called to theaters. Theaters provided "Exorcist barf bags". A filmgoer who saw the movie in 1974 during its original release fainted and broke his jaw on the seat in front of him. He then sued Warner Brothers and the filmmakers, claiming that the use of subliminal imagery in the film had caused him to pass out. The studio settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Due to death threats against Linda Blair, Warner Bros. had bodyguards protecting her for six months after the film's release.

Over the years, The Exorcist’s critical reputation has grown considerably. The film has a 89% favorability rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, out of 37 reviewers surveyed. Some critics regard it as being one of the best and most effective horror films; admirers say the film balances a stellar script, gruesome effects, and outstanding performances. However, the movie has its detractors as well, including Kim Newman who has criticized it for messy plot construction, conventionality and overblown pretentiousness, among other perceived defects. Writer James Baldwin provides an extended negative critique in his book length essay The Devil Finds Work.

The Exorcist contained a number of special effects, engineered by makeup legend and pioneer Dick Smith. Roger Ebert, while praising the film, believed the effects to be so unusually graphic he wrote, "That it received an R rating and not the X is stupefying."

The Exorcist was also accused of manipulation of its audience through the use of subliminal imagery. A detailed article in the July / August 1991 issue of Video Watchdog provides still frames identifying several usages of subliminal "flashing" throughout the film. Friedkin explained, "I saw subliminal cuts in a number of films before I ever put them in The Exorcist, and I thought it was a very effective storytelling device...The subliminal editing in The Exorcist was done for dramatic effect — to create, achieve, and sustain a kind of dreamlike state." The subsequent re-release of the film featured one additional flash of this demonic face in another part of the film.

In the United Kingdom, the movie was included in the 'video nasty' phenomenon of the early 1980s. Although it had been released uncut for home video in 1981, when resubmitted for classification to the British Board of Film Classification after the implementation of the Video Recording Act 1984 it was refused a release and no video copies were to be sold in the UK. However, following a successful re-release in cinemas in 1998, the film was resubmitted and was passed uncut with an 18 certificate rating in 1999, signifying a relaxation of the censorship rules with relation to home video in the UK. The movie was shown on terrestrial television in the UK for the first time in 2001, on Channel 4. This led to "Exorcist Bus Trips" where enterprising travel companies organized buses to take groups to the nearest town where the film was showing.

The British film critic Mark Kermode is famous for claiming The Exorcist is the greatest film ever made on his weekly film review program on BBC Radio 5-Live. During a 2004 interview, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan said that the scene in the film with Burstyn in the attic with the exploding candle was one of the scariest scenes he had ever seen.

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The Exorcist Rare Footage

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