11 Creepy facts that show the making of the Exorcist was as disturbing as the movie itself
The tales surrounding the year-long shoot of “The Exorcist”, are almost as creepy as the movie itself. 9 people associated with the production died. Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros died before the film was evern released.
William O’Malley who played Father Dyer refers to this movie to students as the “pornographic horror film” he once did.
In the arteriogram hospital test scene, the bearded man who assists the doctor is Paul Bateson. He was an x-ray technician at NYU Medical Center where that scene was shot and managed to get that small part. In 1979, he was convicted of the murder of a film critic and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
However, he bragged about and was a suspect in the murders of six men whom he said he picked up in gay bars, had sex with them and then murdered and dismembered their bodies and put them into plastic bags “for fun” in 1977 and 78. They were known as the “bag murders”. Although investigators believed his story, he was never officially charged and those murders have technically never been solved. Bateson was released from prison in 2004.
Actress Mercedes McCambridge, who provided the voice of the demon, insisted on swallowing raw eggs and chain smoking to alter her vocalizations. Furthermore, the actress who had problems with alcohol abuse in the past, wanted to drink whiskey as she knew alcohol would distort her voice even more, and create the crazed state of mind of the character. As she was giving up sobriety, she insisted that her priest be present to counsel her during the recording process.
At William Friedkin’s direction, McCambridge was also bound to a chair with pieces of a torn sheet at her neck, arms, wrists, legs and feet to get a more realistic sound of the demon struggling against its restraints. McCambridge later recalled the experience as one of horrific rage, while Friedkin admitted that her performance–as well as the extremes which the actress put herself through to gain authenticity–terrifies the director to this day.
Director William Friedkin eventually asked technical advisor Thomas Bermingham to exorcise the set. He refused, saying an exorcism might increase anxiety. Rev. Bermingham wound up visiting the set and gave a blessing and talk to reassure the cast and crew.
Ellen Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury during filming. In the sequence where she is thrown away from her possessed daughter, a harness jerked her hard away from the bed. She fell on her coccyx and screamed in pain.
Director William Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths to get realistic reactions from the cast. He fired off guns behind the actors to get the required startled effect. When Father Dyer is attempting to administer last rites to Father Karris, Friedkin was not satisfied after several takes. He took William O’Malley aside and asked, “Do you trust me?” O’Malley said yes just in time to get slapped across the face. Friedkin immediately said, “Action!” and the result is in the film. He even went so far as to put Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn in harnesses and have crew members yank them violently.
Before starting the exorcism, Father Merrin asks Chris whether her daughter has a middle name. In the Middle Ages Catholics used to give their children several names as they believed it would hinder Satan from finding out child’s real name and controlling one’s soul.
On the documentary “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist” included with the 2010 Extended Director’s Cut, author William Peter Blatty reminisces that the supernatural/demonic sequences did not inspire patrons to flee theater, nor were they responsible for nausea in the aisles. The scene in which Regan undergoes carotid angiography, using direct carotid puncture and pneumoencephalography was the moment in the Exorcist which upset theatergoers. This procedure entails cerebrospinal fluid being drained to a small amount from around the brain and replaced with air, oxygen, or helium to allow the structure of the brain to show up more clearly on an X-ray picture.
Due to death threats against Linda Blair from religious zealots who believed the film “glorified Satan”, Warner Bros. had bodyguards protecting her for six months after the film’s release.
Linda Blair injured her back when a piece of the rig broke as she was thrown about on the bed.
On the first day of filming the exorcism sequence, Linda Blair’s delivery of her foul-mouthed dialogue so disturbed the gentlemanly Max von Sydow that he forgot his lines.
The sound of the demon leaving Regan’s body is actually the sound of pigs being herded for slaughter. This alludes to a story in the New Testament where Jesus cast out several demons, collectively called Legion, from a man and transfers them into the bodies of pigs. The pigs are then drowned, similar to Father Karris dying after accepting the demon.
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Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.