19 Fascinating Facts About "The Exorcist"

It’s been 40 years since it was an excellent day for an exorcism. posted on

1. The Exorcist novel — on which the film is based on — was initially a failure when it was first published in 1971. After the book’s author, William Peter Blatty, made a chance TV appearance, the book shot to No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list.

While promoting the book, Blatty was pre-interviewed as a possible guest on late-night talk show The Dick Cavett Show. However, he was told by the interviewer that it would be unlikely he would be picked as a guest.

As luck would have it, Blatty was asked to come in at the last minute after one of the guests suddenly dropped out. While at the taping, another guest dropped out and he was given the remaining time (nearly 45 minutes) to talk about the book.

After Blatty’s appearance on the show, the book shot to the top of The New York Times best-seller list.

Source: Los Angeles Times

2. Prior to the book becoming a best-seller, every Hollywood studio rejected Blatty’s screenplay for the film.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

After the book became a best-seller, it caught the attention of then-Warner Bros. studio head John Calley, who bought the rights.

Blatty not only wrote the script, but also served as the film’s producer.

Source: Los Angeles Times

3. Blatty’s novel was inspired by the alleged 1949 case of demonic possession and exorcism of a young boy from Maryland.

The 1949 case involved a 13-year-old boy who underwent 30 Catholic exorcisms to free him of demonic possession. The church gave the boy the pseudonym of “Roland Doe.”

Doe has no recollection of his possession.

In 2012, the film’s director, William Friedkin, told a panel during a Q&A at the ArcLight that Doe recently retired from working at NASA.

4. Legendary director Stanley Kubrick turned down the chance to direct the film.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Source: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

5. The character of Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn) was based on Shirley MacLaine.

 

MacLaine was a friend and neighbor of the book’s author, Blatty. She was offered the role of Chris MacNeil but turned it down.

Source: Washington Post

6. Audrey Hepburn and Jane Fonda both turned down the role of Chris MacNeil.

Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

 

Source: Washington Post

7. Jason Miller, who played the troubled priest Father Damien Karras, had actually studied to become a priest at the American University in Washington — he dropped out after three years, due to a loss of faith.

The film also marked Miller’s film debut.

Source: Los Angeles Times

8. Linda Blair beat out over 500 child actresses for the role of Regan.

Source: Los Angeles Times

9. Makeup artist Dick Smith originally created a more monster-looking face for a possessed Regan, but Friedkin rejected it, saying he preferred her face look like it was gangrene with self-inflicted wounds.

10. The iconic head-spinning scene was almost cut from the film after Blatty asked Friedkin to remove it.

Source: The Making of the Exorcist

11. Blair was scared of the dummy used for the head-spinning scene.

Source: The Making of the Exorcist

12. Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury — she was hurt after being pulled too hard by a cable during filming of the scene where Regan slaps her. The scream of pain that is heard in the scene is real.

13. The original teaser trailer for the film was banned by several theaters for being “too frightening”:

Source: Moviefone

14. Max von Sydow, who played the elderly priest, Father Lankester Merrin, was only 43 years old when he shot the film.

 

Sydow went through a four-hour makeup process to transform him into the 79-year-old priest.

 

15. During production a mysterious fire burned down all the sets, except Regan’s bedroom*.

*This miniature diorama of Regan’s room was created by artist New York based artist Paul Pfeiffer, as part of his Scenes of Horror series.

16. The demon’s name is Pazuzu, but it is never said in the film.

17. Paul Bateson, who appeared briefly in film as an X-ray technician, is a suspected serial killer in real life.

Bateson was an X-ray technician at NYU Medical Center and served as an extra on the film.

In 1979, Bateson was convicted in the murder of film critic Addison Verrill. Authorities believe that he was also responsible for “the bag murders” of six other men — whose mutilated and dismembered body parts washed up in black plastic bags along the Hudson River.

Source: Mubi

18. The film received 10 Oscar nominations and was the first horror movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The film took home two Oscars: for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay.

19. In 2010, The Exorcist was selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress as part of its National Film Registry of culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.

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