The Exorcist (1973) - Illustrated Reference

William Friedkin with Linda Blair
William Friedkin with Linda Blair

The Exorcist was directed by William Friedkin and premiered on 26th December 1973. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Kitty Winn, Jason Miller, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb and Jack McGowran. Screenplay by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel. Music by Jack Nitzche. 122mins (132mins Dir. Cut)

Regan MacNeil was a normal 12 year old girl who has suddenly started to behave very strangely and aggressively. Exhibiting a split personality her features have started to change, doctors suggest she see an exorcist. Her desperate mother pleads with Father Karras to help save her daughter.

Author William Peter Blatty (1928-) based his bestselling novel The Exorcist (1971) on an exorcism which was conducted in 1949 on a 13 year old boy in Georgetown, Washington DC. The event was reported in the Washington Post.

The boy's family reported hearing scratching noises on the walls of the bedroom and his bed shaking violently. A priest witnessed a heavy chair tip and fall over while the boy was sleeping. During the exorcism the 'possessed' boy was screaming, cursing and speaking Latin phrases, when the last rite was given the boy grew quiet. He was taken to a Catholic church to complete the exorcism.

Ellen Burstyn
Ellen Burstyn
Linda Blair
Linda Blair
Jason Miller
Jason Miller
Jason Miller with Max von Sydow
Jason Miller with Max von Sydow
Max von Sydow
Max von Sydow
Jason Miller with Lee J. Cobb
Jason Miller with Lee J. Cobb
Lee J. Cobb
Lee J. Cobb
Jack McGowran
Jack McGowran
Friedkin with Burstyn
Friedkin with Burstyn

Ellen Burstyn (1932-) / Chris MacNeil

Born in Detroit Michigan, Ellen Burstyn won a Best Actress Oscar for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), she was also Oscar nominated for The Last Picture Show (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Same Time Next Year (1978), Resurrection (1980) and Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Demon: What an excellent day for an exorcism.
Father Karras: You would like that?
Demon: Intensely.
Father Karras: But wouldn't that drive you out of Regan?
Demon: It would bring us together.
Father Karras: You and Regan?
Demon: You and us.

Linda Blair (1959-) / Regan MacNeil

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Linda Blair won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for The Exorcist (1973), she also received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Regan in The Exorcist. Her films include – Airport 75 (1974), Exorcist II The Heretic (1977), Hell Night (1981), Chained Heat (1983), Night Patrol (1984) and Repossessed (1990).

Kitty Winn (1944-) / Sharon Spencer

Born in Washington DC, Kitty Winn won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for Panic in Needle Park (1971). Her films include – They Might be Giants (1971) and Exorcist II The Heretic (1977).

Father Karras: Well, then let's introduce ourselves. I'm Damien Karras.
Demon: And I'm the Devil. Now kindly undo these straps.
Father Karras: If you're the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?
Demon: That's much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.

Jason Miller (1939-2001) / Father Damien Karras

Born in Long Island, New York, Jason Miller was Oscar Nominated Best Supporting Actor for The Exorcist (1973), his films include The Ninth Configuration (1980), Monsignor (1982), Light of Day (1987), Exorcist III (1990) and Rudy (1993). He was the father of actor Jason Patric.

Father Merrin: I cast you out! Unclean spirit!
Demon: Shove it up your a$$, you faggot!
Father Merrin: In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is he who commands you! It is he who flung you from the gates of Heaven to the depths of Hell!
Demon: F@ck him!
Father Merrin: Be gone! In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Max Von Sydow (1929-) / Father Lankester Merrin

Born in Lund, Sweden, the great Max von Sydow was Oscar Nominated Best Actor for Pelle the Conqueror (1987) and also nominated Best Supporting Actor for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). He received Golden Globe nominations for Hawaii (1966) and The Exorcist (1973). His films include – The Seventh Seal (1957), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965 as Jesus), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), The Emigrants (1971), Three Days of the Condor (1975), Exorcist II The Heretic (1977), Flash Gordon (1980 as Ming the Merciless), Victory (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Never Say Never Again (1983 as Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Dreamscape (1984), Dune (1984), Needful Things (1993), Judge Dredd (1995), What Dreams May Come (1998), Minority Report (2002), Shutter Island (2010) and Robin Hood (2010).

Lee J. Cobb (1911-1976) / Lt. William Kinderman

Born in New York City, Lee J. Cobb was Oscar Nominated Best Supporting Actor for On the Waterfront (1954) and The Brothers Karamazov (1958). His films include – Anna and the King of Siam (1946), Captain from Castile (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), 12 Angry Men (1957), Exodus (1960), How the West Was Won (1962), Our Man Flint (1966), Coogan’s Bluff (1968) and Lawman (1971). TV Series The Virginian (1962-1966) as Judge Henry Garth.

Jack McGowran (1918-1973) / Burke Dennings

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Jack McGowran’s films include – The Giant Behemoth (1959), Tom Jones (1963), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Cul-de-sac (1966), Dance of the Vampires (1967) and Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)

Demon: Your mother sucks c@cks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.

Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004) / Voice of Demon

Born in Joliet, Illinois, Mercedes McCambridge won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for All the King’s Men (1949) and was Oscar Nominated for Giant (1956). Her films include – Johnny Guitar (1954), A Farewell to Arms (1957), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Cimarron (1960) and Airport 79 The Concorde (1979).

Father Merrin - Father Karras: The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!

Worried studio bosses considered changing the title of the film after a survey showed that people didn’t know what an exorcist was.

Stanley Kubrick was among the directors Warner Bros considered for the film, along with Mike Nichols, Peter Bogdanovich and John Boorman, they all turned it down, Boorman would end up directing the sequel. WB were about to hire Mark Rydell but author William Peter Blatty insisted on William Friedkin and the studio finally agreed.

Director William Friedkin (1935-) had a smash hit with The French Connection in 1971 which scooped up many awards including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing and Best Actor (Gene Hackman).

Anne Bancroft, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley Maclaine and Jane Fonda were approached for the role of Regan’s mother Chris MacNeil, they all turned it down for various reasons.

Gene Hackman, Al Pacino and Stacy Keach were considered for the role of Father Karras.

Marlon Brando was considered for the role of Father Merrin.

Actress Eileen Dietz played the white-faced demon glimpsed in split second subliminal shots during the film. The directors cut included more subliminal shots of the demons face. Dietz also played the possessed Regan in a couple of scenes.

Mercedes McCambridge, who provided the voice of the demon, sued the studio for a screen credit after they tried to keep it a secret.

Both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn injured their backs during filming. Blair as she was jerked around on the bed and Burstyn as she was yanked back on a harness when struck by Regan she claims to have suffered permanent spinal injury because of this.

Regan’s projectile vomit was made up of pea soup.

Demon: Do you know what she did, your c@nting daughter?

The most disturbing and controversial scene in the film is Regan masturbating with a crucifix, how this scene got passed by the censor is surprising. Eileen Dietz doubled for Linda Blair in the scene.

The directors cut includes Regan’s “Spider-walk” which was intended for the original release but was removed because the wires holding Regan up were too visible, they were digitally erased for the new cut.

In the book the name of the demon possessing Regan is named Pazuzu, but this is never mentioned in the film. Pazuzu is a demon of Babylonian and Assyrian mythology.

Father Merrin confronts a statue of the demon Pazuzu in the opening sequence of the film set in an archaeological dig in Northern Iraq. A manifestation of the statue briefly appears in Regan’s bedroom during the exorcism.

Filming was scheduled for 85 days and ended up lasting 224 days.

The bedroom set was specially built with a shaking bed and the temperature of the room could be dropped to below zero for some scenes.

Make up maestro Dick Smith created Regan’s possessed look, he also aged 44 year old Max von Sydow as Father Merrin making him look about 80. Smith had previously worked on the make up for Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972) and made Dustin Hoffman look 121 years old in Little Big Man (1970). Smith received an Honorary Award at the 2012 Academy Awards.

On its first release audience members would faint or vomit or leave the theatre before the film had finished, ambulances and paramedics would be outside theatres treating people for shock. Reports of these events helped make the film a massive success as people queued up to see what the fuss was about.

Ironically the scenes that made most viewers gag and look away were the hospital scenes involving Regan undergoing carotid angiography.

After briefly appearing on VHS in the early 1980’s The Exorcist was banned in Britain until the new head of the British Board of Film Censors approved it’s re-release in cinemas and on VHS and DVD in 1999 without any cuts.

The Exorcist ranked #3 on the American Film Institutes 100 Most Thrilling films list and the possessed Regan MacNeil is #9 on the AFI’s Top 50 Villains chart.

The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Supporting Actress (Linda Blair), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Miller), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction and winning for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay (William Peter Blatty).

At the Golden Globes The Exorcist won Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Linda Blair), it was also nominated for Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn) and Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow).

The Exorcist was a phenomenal success grossing an astonishing 440 million dollars on its worldwide release, adjusted for inflation it’s the 9th biggest film of all time, the highest grossing Warner Bros film ever and the highest grossing R-rated movie in history.

It was among the films chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2010.

Director Martin Scorsese included The Exorcist among his list of the 11 scariest movies ever made which included The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961) and Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

A sequel was released in 1977, Exorcist II The Heretic, directed by John Boorman and starring Richard Burton as Father Lamont, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair reprise their roles from the first film. It was poorly received and is considered one of the worst movies ever made.

Another sequel Exorcist III was released in 1990, directed by the author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty. Starring George C. Scott in Lee J. Cobb’s role of Lt. Kinderman and Jason Miller reprising his role as Father Karras, the film fared better than Exorcist II.

Two prequels appeared later, the first was directed by Paul Schrader but the studio wasn’t happy with his version and hired Renny Harlin to reshoot it, the film was released in 2004 and titled Exorcist: The Beginning, it was not a success. A year later the studio allowed Paul Schrader to release his version of the story and this was titled Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. The reviews were a little better.

All five films are available in a DVD box set, along with William Friedkin’s directors cut of the original film.

The Critics Wrote –

"All I can say after squirming through this sickening excess of blood, vomiting, lewd language and gruesome Satanic phenomena is that I hope never again to have to see anything half so hateful." (The Daily Mail)

"Startling, terrifying and downright superb." (L.A. Times)

“The well cast film makes credible in powerful laymen’s terms the rare phenomenon of diabolic possession... The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror.” (Variety)

“The picture is designed to scare people, and it does so by mechanical means: levitations, swivelling heads, vomit being spewed in people’s faces. A viewer can become glumly anesthetized by the brackish color and the senseless ugliness of the conception. Neither the producer-writer, William Peter Blatty, nor the director, William Friedkin, shows any feeling for the little girl’s helplessness and suffering, or for her mother’s.” (Pauline Kael)

“An extremely powerful film which relentlessly batters the eyes and ears. It is high class horror.” (Sunday Mirror)

“One of the best movies of its type ever made... but are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all? ”..... (Roger Ebert)

"I hated it... For the first time I believe a film should be banned... it is unpleasant and nasty without the saving grace of having some artistic merit." (The Daily Mirror)

“A masterwork of the genre.” ......... (Alan Frank)

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Breen Bergstrome 4 years ago

This is one of the movies that hangs heavily in the back of my mind to this horrible it was. Always felt it was the beginning and end of Linda Blair's career in one movie.

Excellent review, Steve..

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

Het steve. This is a film I have not seen and I have no intention of seeing.

Because of this, I will just talk about the careers of the actors instead of several aspects of the hub like usual.

I am a fan of Max Von Sydow. I love his work. Most recently, I watched him in Three Days of the Condor. He was the only other person besides Plummer I would have liked to win this year's supporting actor award. Another one that you list here is my favourite Von Sydow film of all - The Seventh Seal.

I am also a fan of Lee J.Cobb. My favourite Cobb performances he was always playing a gruff on the wrong side character-not the charters you root for, but either those you want to hate or are complex with both good and bad. Some of his films I admire more than enjoy like On the Waterfront. Others like Our Man Flint are a delight although not fabulous. And then there are films that are wonderful that I enjoy watching like 12 Angry Men.

I am somewhat familiar with the career of Ellen Burnstyn.

I've never seen a linda Blair film though I know who she is.

I don't known the name of Jack McGowran but I recognize his face.

The other names and faces I do not recognize.

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

Het? What word is that? H-e-y is what I meant.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Breen, Flora, thanks for commenting on my blasphemous hub of demonic evil! :)

Breen, whatever did happen to poor Linda Blair? She appeared in Chained Heat, a violent exploitation film set in a womans prison and later she spoofed her Exorcist role in the comedy Repossessed, which has Leslie Nielsen as an exorcist.

Flora, you can call me Het steve I don't mind. :)

I can't imagine you sitting thru this film, it is quite nasty. But I had read the book when I was a kid and sneaked into a decrepit old cinema and saw the film, it scared the bejesus out of me even though I knew what was going to happen.

It became one of my favourite films, must have watched it a hundred times on VHS, crazy I know. I'm not religious at all but the devil and demonology has always fascinated me. The Omen starring Gregory Peck is another big fave, I will do a hub on that one too some day.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Hey Steve....I finally watched this movie a couple of years ago after ignoring it for years(not much of a horror fan) but I found this to be a very entertaining movie....I watched it a second time with the DVD commentary(which I recommed).

Wow Linda Blair is over 50 now.....and I did not know Jason Miller was Jason Patric's father....a quick google search also says Miller was the author of That Championship Season as learn something new everyday.

I think a Pacino/Brando reunion would have been an interesting movie...and probably way different from this one. Lots of awesome information, complete with awesome photos and very interesting tidbits. I actually watched some of the Exorcist 2....but it turned out to be one of the few movies that I turned off with out finishing....not because it was scary...but because it was so bad....voted up and awesome and interesting.....job well done.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Bruce, your comment, votes and observations are always appreciated.

I'm glad you found the Exorcist entertaining, I thought only horror fans would really enjoy it. When I first saw it at about aged 13 I was frightened by it, which made me want to see it more. I saw it so many times in the 80's I memorised every line of dialogue which isn't healthy when its this particular film. :)

I'm surprised google left their ads in this hub but took them off my Vertigo hub, unpredictable.

T B DeForge profile image

T B DeForge 4 years ago

It's been a few months since I saw this, but the film is still vivied in my mind, and I shudder to think of it. The Exorcist is a well crafted thriller, no argument there. And your review is very informative. Thank you.

But I approach horror films from another angle, and I am one of a small crowd in this. I believe that a great horror film does greater justice to good than to evil. My favorite horror/thriller films are Night of the Hunter and Nosforatu. My problem with the Exorcist lies in the strenght of the Demon and the weakness of the younger priest in his faith, which led to his final demise both physically and spiritually. A better Exorcist film in my oppinion is the Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the film is not as effective solely as a thriller.

That's my thoughts on it. Good hub though!

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for the comment T B DeForge. So your main gripe about The Exorcist is that there is no real triumph of good over evil? And that the best horror films should be pro-good and anti-evil?

Hmmm not being religious myself I only know that the goal of a good modern horror film is to give audiences a good scare, feel a cold shiver running down their back, to startle. Of all the genres horror is the most reactionary, movies can make you cry or laugh but horror movies can make audiences scream, look away, gag or even faint. A twist ending where the evil may not have been destroyed can be more satisfying than a pat 'it's all over' ending. And after all, to quote Hitchcock... "it's only a movie". :)

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Hi Steve; This movie came out when I was a kid and it scared the Pazuzu out of me at the time. Strangely, I don't find it all that entertaining anymore when I see it. For some reason, It doesn't hold up for me as well as other 70s horror films like 'Halloween' or 'Jaws'.

I've always found it interesting that in a film about the devil, the medical scenes were the most disturbing.

Another fun hub,


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Rob I had to laugh at "scared the pazuzu out of me" good one. So what possessed you to comment on this film? Geddit 'possessed' oh why do I bother? :)

So you're saying it hasn't dated well? I remember a quote from Beetlejuice where he says "I've seen the Exorcist 167 times and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it!" That's how I probably felt back in my video days. :)

The Exorcist is among my top 10 favourite horror films along with The Omen, The Shining, Night of the Demon (1958) and the Bride of Frankenstein.

T B DeForge profile image

T B DeForge 4 years ago

Let me clarify, Steve. My grip with The Exorcist is that, playing on themes that are specifically Catholic, it falls short of Catholic values. There are hundreds of demons in movies, and those can be contrived of a variety of faiths. Exorcism, however is a Catholic practice (albeit uncommon).

As far as other horror classics such as Halloween, Alien, and especially the Descent, I admire the movie for its effective reactionary qualities. I just wouldn't call them favorites, but us reviewers can't always be playing favorites when promoting or reviewing good films.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for clarifying T B Deforge.

Vange 4 years ago

The greatest horror movie ever made. Excellent review, would love to get hold of some of those rare stills.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hey thanks Vange, it might well be the greatest horror film ever made, in that people are genuinely horrified by it. It is the very definition of horror. Boris Karloff hated the word "horror" to describe his films, because horror also meant revulsion or disgust.

gail641 profile image

gail641 4 years ago from Mason City

Hi, I read the book when I was 17 years old many years ago. The book really scared me. I saw the movie with my oldest sister at a theatre. I thought that it was really scary! The thought of being possessed by a demon was and still is a very frightening aspect. The demon Pazuzu sure was ugly!!! Really good hub-I voted up.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hello Gail. I think I've got you in a mood for horror. :) This film scared me the first time I saw it when I was a wee lad. The book scared me too. But I saw it so many times on video it became one of my favourite movies, I practically memorised every line.

I like your cat profile pic, I have a cat in my profile too. :)

Thanks for commenting.

gail641 profile image

gail641 4 years ago from Mason City

Your welcome. Thanks, the cat's name is Bessie. She's a really good cat. It's nice to have cats in profiles. It sure scared (The Exorcist) me, too!

Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

Reading this article is the closest that I am albe to come to this movie. It truly scares me to death! Yet, I managed to name my oldest daughter Regan. LOL

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

What 'possessed' you to name your daughter Regan, Angela? It's enough to make your head spin.[wink] :)

Nearly 40 years old, The Exorcist is still a frightening film. Thanks for commenting.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Steve, still my favourite ever 'horror' movie. I saw it in an 'elite' theatre screening when it was rereleased a few years ago, amazing seeing it on the big screen for the first time. It still gives me the creeps cos I think it's possible it could happen.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Jools, I saw it at the cinema on re-release later in the 70's. It was one of the first films I bought on VHS, for £40! a lot of money for a film in the early 80's, I watched it so many times I memorised every line of dialogue. :)

Thanks for commenting.

gail641 profile image

gail641 4 years ago from Mason City

The demon is still ugly.

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