30 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of The Exorcist

The Exorcist has been out for 45 years now, but there are still some chilling details that even the biggest horror buff might not know.

The Exorcist 14 Horror Movies that Should've Won an Oscar

When it comes to horror movies, everybody has something different that scares them. Maybe that something is evil dolls, ghosts, or even possessed children. There are already decades worth of horror movie, but filmmakers continue to pump out flicks that make people’s spines tingle.

Even though people are scared by different elements in horror movies, many people agree that The Exorcist is one of the scariest movies ever made. The Exorcist focuses on a girl named Regan MacNeil who is possessed by a demon and whose only hope is in the hands of an exorcist and a priest. The film was released on December 26, 1973, which meant that many movie-goers didn't have a jolly time when they visited their local cinema.

The movie was directed by William Friedkin and starred Linda Blair as Regan. There have been five films in the Exorcist series, along with a TV show that debuted on Fox in 2016. Blair returned for the first sequel, but it was almost universally panned by fans and critics.

Despite the multiple movies that deal with exorcism, The Exorcist will always be considered one of the best. Even after 45 years, The Exorcist can still give people the creeps. Not all old horror movies can live up after nearly 50 years, but The Exorcist certainly can.

Even though the movie itself is incredibly frightening, some of the behind the scenes secrets and information about the filmmaking process are just as scary.

Here are the 30 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of The Exorcist.

30 A Priest Was Asked To Bless The Set After It Caught On Fire

Linda Blair, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller in The Exorcist

There were many creepy occurrences that took place during the filming of The Exorcist. Many people were led to believe the set was haunted, especially after the entire set caught on fire. The set that was being used for the MacNeil house caught on fire, which delayed production for six weeks.

What’s strange, however, is that the only room that wasn’t burned was Regan's demonic bedroom.

Due to this fact, a priest was asked to come and bless the set in order to put the cast and crew somewhat at ease. 

29 Some Theaters Handed Out Barf Bags

Linda Blair Posessed in The Exorcist

Many movies are marketed as being a truly frightening experience, but not very many films have had the power to make people physically ill. When The Exorcist hit theaters, many of them handed out barf bags because people kept vomiting in the auditoriums. Many people were repulsed by what they saw on the big screen due to the film’s horrific and graphic content.

There are many claims of people passing out, vomiting, or leaving the theater because the film was too much for them to handle. There are some horrifying movies out there today, but none have had quite the impact that The Exorcist did. 

28 Linda Blair Got Body Guards After The Movie Was Released

Linda Blair as Regan in The Exorcist

There are plenty of examples of movies that have been deemed offensive to different people. Any film that has to do with religion typically has to be careful with the way they present certain ideas and religious beliefs. In the case of The Exorcist, there were several sacrilegious acts performed since the movie centered on a girl being possessed by a demon.

Some people who saw The Exorcist were so offended that they sent threats to young Linda Blair.

Since people thought the film glorified Satan, Blair had to have bodyguards with her at all times for six months after Warner Bros. released The Exorcist. 

27 Many People Linked To The Movie Met Tragic Ends

Vasiliki Maliaros in The Exorcist

While it doesn’t happen all of the time, some cast and crew members do pass away while making a movie. What’s strange about The Exorcist is that a total of nine people’s passings are said to be linked to the movie.

Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros both passed away after filming commenced, but what’s truly weird is that both of their characters passed away in the film as well. Linda Blair’s grandfather, Max von Sydow’s brother, a night watchman, and a special effects expert all also lost their lives during and after production of The Exorcist. 

26 It Was Based On A True Story

Building from The Exorcist

Horror movies have the power to be scary on their own, but it adds a whole other level if that film is based on a true story. While the movie was based on William Peter Blatty’s book called The Exorcist, both the book and movie were inspired by the story of a teenager with the pseudonym Roland Doe.

The exorcism of Doe is said to have taken weeks to perform in a home in Missouri in 1949.

The devil’s face apparently appeared on the boy’s leg before the voice of Saint Michael came out of the boy’s mouth telling Satan to leave the boy’s body. 

25 The Spider Walk Scene Was Originally Cut

Spider Walk Scene From The Exorcist

By far one of the most chilling and iconic scenes from The Exorcist comes when the demented Regan does a spider walk down the stairs of the MacNeil home. Even though it is one of the most frightening scenes in the film, it wasn’t in the movie when it first hit theaters.

Director William Friedkin apparently didn’t like that the wires holding the contortionist could be seen, so he decided to cut the scene altogether. In later editions of the film with the help of CGI, the scene was restored with the wires no longer visible. 

24 Ellen Burstyn’s Real Screams Of Pain Made It Into the Movie

Just as audiences were screaming when they watched The Exorcist, the characters in the movie were screaming as well. After all, Regan herself was being possessed and her mother Chris had to watch as a demon took over her daughter. In the scene where Regan mutilates herself, her mother rushes over to stop her but gets shoved onto the floor by the demon in Regan.

Actress Ellen Burstyn lets out a glass-shattering scream, but her screams were actually real screams of pain.

The stuntman had pulled the wire rigged to the actress harder than expected, which caused Burstyn to severely hurt her back when she hit the floor, leading to a permanent spinal injury.

23 Ellen Burstyn Called The Director A Maniac

Ellen Burstyn and William Friedkin In The Exorcist-1973

It’s no surprise that making a movie look as real as The Exorcist was a grueling task. Because of this, director William Friedkin had some rather intense directing techniques.

In the documentary that came with the 2010 Blu-ray edition of The Exorcist, it was revealed that the director would often fire guns or slap actors in the face right before the cameras started rolling. While this often got genuine reactions from the cast, it also angered them, resulting in Ellen Burstyn calling Friedkin a maniac. 

22 Mercedes McCambridge Voiced The Demon And Later Experienced A Tragedy

Mercedes McCambridge

While Linda Blair gave an incredible performance at the age of 14, the voice of the demon was actually done by radio and film actress Mercedes McCambridge. The actress added a startling dimension to the movie by supplying a chilling voice you would never imagine coming from a little girl.

Director William Friedkin once said that the actress swallowed raw eggs, smoked cigarettes, and drank alcohol in order to achieve the voice of the demon.

What’s even more interesting is that McCambridge even gave up her sobriety to make the voice seem as authentic as possible. In 1987, she also faced a tragedy when her son ended the life of his wife, his children, and himself. 

21 The White Faced Demon Was Actually From Rejected Makeup Tests

White Faced Demon in The Exorcist

One of the many images that got burnt into people’s eyes after they watched The Exorcist is the image of the white-faced demon. The demon is seen at various points of the movie, most of which are flashed on the screen in a subliminal fashion. It added an eerie effect; however, that version of the demon wasn’t originally a part of the movie.

The face was actually pulled from rejected makeup tests that were done on Linda Blair’s body double named Eileen Dietz. That being said, the face was used in the teaser trailer for the film and the final cut of the movie. 

20 The Set Was Refrigerated

William Friedkin on set for The Exorcist

It’s safe to say that the cast and crew working on The Exorcist were incredibly uncomfortable at times. One way that William Friedkin made life difficult for the cast and crew was by refrigerating the entire set. This allowed viewers to see the breath of Regan and the priests and add an eerie effect to the movie.

In behind the scenes photographs, fans can see the crew in big winter coats trying to stay warm while filming scenes inside Regan’s bedroom. While this effect sometimes still happens today, it was much more expensive to pull off in the ‘70s. 

19 The Filmmakers Used Low-Tech Special Effects

Behind the Scenes Image From The Exorcist

A lot of horror movies that come out today rely on elaborate computer-generated imagery to scare audiences, but in 1973, filmmakers used practical effects. Most of these effects on The Exorcist were also low-tech, but they worked incredibly well.

A rubber dummy of Linda Blair was used for when Regan’s head twists 360 degrees, which only looked real because of the lighting on set.

For vomit sequences, a hidden tube was attached to Blair’s chin that shot out the thick green slime. Cameramen were also often suspended by pulleys and wires to get the required shot. 

18 The Poster Was Inspired By A Famous Painting

Max von Sydow in The Exorcist

Even if someone hasn’t seen The Exorcist, they probably recognize the poster for the movie. The poster shows Max von Sydow’s character standing by a street light as the light from the MacNeil house shines on him. The poster is nothing short of an iconic image, but it was actually inspired by a famous painting.

The poster was created by graphic designer Bill Gold, who used the painting The Empire of Lights by René Magritte as inspiration for The Exorcist’s poster. The poster is simple, yet it has become one of the most recognized images of the movie. 

17 The Original Teaser Trailer Was Banned In Theaters

Demonic Regan in The Exorcist

The Exorcist has been scaring audiences for years, but the scares first started when the teaser trailer was released for the movie. The teaser consisted of the iconic scene of Father Merrin getting out of his cab, followed by flashes of the white-faced demon and the demented Regan.

The trailer seems fairly tame by today’s standards, but in 1973 the trailer was actually pulled from several theaters because people thought it was too scary to be shown. Those people were likely the ones who had to be carried out of the theater by paramedics when the movie started too.

16 One Movie-Goer Sued Warner Bros. 

Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist

It’s quite known that The Exorcist caused people to faint, feel ill, or even lose their lunch in the auditorium. That being said, these people bought tickets to the movie and willingly went into the theater, so any repercussions from this shouldn’t be at the cost of Warner Bros. right? Wrong.

When one woman passed out at a screening of The Exorcist, she passed out and broke her jaw.

She ended up suing Warner Bros. and claimed that the subliminal messages caused her injury. Warner Bros. is also said to have settled the dispute for an undisclosed amount to avoid going to court over the matter. 

15 Linda Blair Beat Out 500 Other Actresses To Play Regan

Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist

For any movie or TV show, filmmakers usually hold auditions to decide which actor or actress is a good fit for the role. In the case of Regan MacNeil, Linda Blair is said to have beat out 500 other actresses for the role.

Not very many child actresses would be able to handle the intensity that The Exorcist required, but Linda Blair’s mother actually brought her to the audition without an appointment because she knew her daughter could play the role. Blair could apparently keep it together while talking about the obscene things her character would have to do, and the director knew she had to be cast. 

14 Regan’s Makeup Almost Looked Very Different

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

The makeup for The Exorcist truly helped the movie turn into a one of a kind horror spectacle. Regan’s makeup was performed by makeup artist Dick Smith, but it originally looked very different.

The original makeup for the character looked more like a demon than a human, which director William Friedkin didn’t like. He wanted the makeup to look like it was the cause of more self-inflicted injuries. Both makeup styles look horrifying, but it’s hard to argue that the one that made it into the final film isn’t the better of the two. 

13 The Projectile Vomit Wasn’t Supposed To Hit Jason Miller’s Face

Linda Blair and Jason Miller in The Exorcist

Actress Ellen Burstyn wasn't the only one to show real emotion in the final cut of the movie - Jason Miller did as well. The projectile vomit scene is said to have been filmed in only one take since Miller’s reaction was genuine.

When the vomit launches at Father Karras, it was supposed to hit him on the chest, but instead, it sprayed all over his face.

The plastic tube used to shoot the vomit actually misfired, which caused it to hit him right in the face and mouth. Actor Jason Miller was genuinely disgusted and was really coughing and wiping the vomit off of himself. 

12 Max von Sydow Went Through A Four Hour Makeup Process

Old Man Makeup Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist

While Linda Blair obviously had to go through a long makeup application, Max Von Sydow did as well. The actor was only 44, yet he was cast in a role that was written for someone nearly twice his age. Makeup artist Dick Smith had to make Sydow appear 40 years older than he actually was, which took around four hours.

Apparently, after The Exorcist was released, Sydow had a hard time finding work because movie studios thought he was too old to play many roles even though he was only 44. 

11 Stanley Kubrick Was Considered To Direct

Since the early ages of cinema, there have been some incredible directors that have graced the world with their movies. Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors, as he has directed films like The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Warner Bros. sent the script to Kubrick, he responded by saying, “I only like to develop my own stuff.”

William Peter Blatty fought for William Friedkin to get the job, which of course happened. While Friedkin crafted one of the greatest horror movies ever made, it’s hard to not wonder what The Exorcist directed by Stanley Kubrick would have looked like. 

10 It Was The First Horror Movie To Be Nominated For Best Picture

Fox Orders The Exorcist Drama Series Pilot

Horror movies often get snubbed when it comes to Oscar season. That being said, a handful of horror movies have gotten Academy Awards over the years, including Silence of the Lambs, Get Out, and The Exorcist. The Exorcist was actually the first horror movie to ever be nominated for best picture in 1974.

Even though Friedkin’s movie lost to the movie The Sting, The Exorcist was still nominated for 10 Oscars.

The movie won two of those nominations, including Best Writing and Best Sound, but let’s be real: actress Linda Blair clearly should have won her Oscar Nomination and Dick Smith should have at least been nominated for Best Makeup. 

9 Pea Soup Was Used For The Vomit Sequences

Forty-five years later, it may not be much of a secret that pea soup was used for the vomit sequences in The Exorcist, but it is interesting none the less. The mixture for the gross looking green vomit was pea soup and porridge. Not just any pea soup was used, however. Andersen’s pea soup was the soup of choice for the production.

Campbell’s soup was apparently tested but didn’t have the same effect as the Andersen’s brand. This just goes to show that the production used low-tech, and in this case low cost, effects to make the movie look disgusting. 

8 Audrey Hepburn and Jane Fonda Almost Played Regan’s Mother

Actress Ellen Burstyn had been acting since the late ‘50s, which made her an ideal candidate for the role of Regan’s mom in The Exorcist. While she was ultimately cast in the movie, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Fonda were also considered for the role.

Given Hepburn and Fonda’s reputation in Hollywood, they both would have been great in the role of Chris MacNeil. That being said, Burstyn brought something special to her performance and was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

7 The Head Spinning Scene Was Almost Cut

There are many scenes in The Exorcist that are frightening and became iconic moments in the movie. One of these moments was when Regan sits up in bed and her head twists around 360 degrees. It is a truly horrifying scene that many horror films copy to this day. That being said, it almost got cut from the movie.

When the novel’s writer William Peter Blatty saw the scene where Regan spins her head around, he thought it should be cut from the film.

However, thankfully it ended up in the final product. 

6 Linda Blair Made Max von Sydow Forget His Lines

Max Von Sydow and Linda Blair in The Exorcist

No matter what kind of horror movie someone has seen, it is still surprising to hear some of the things Linda Blair says in The Exorcist. Granted, Mercedes McCambridge did a lot of the vocal work for the demon, but before McCambridge was brought on board, Blair got to say the obscenities herself.

When Max von Sydow first heard Blair go off during the exorcism scene, he apparently forgot his lines because he was so taken aback by what Blair had said. After seeing the finished product, it’s not hard to see why. 

5 Jamie Lee Curtis Could Have Played Regan

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween

While Linda Blair did an amazing job in the role of Regan MacNeil, the role could have gone to Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis is a horror star in her own right, as she starred in the original Halloween by legendary horror director John Carpenter. When Curtis was 13 years old, she was asked to audition for The Exorcist, but her mother said no.

Her mother is, of course, another horror actress named Janet Leigh, who is known for starring alongside Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Apparently horror runs in the family.

4 Sound Design Was A Huge Part Of The Filmmaking Process

Linda Blair on Set of The Exorcist

Often times, people can underestimate the importance of sound design in a movie. Throughout the film, agitated animals are often heard and mixed with the voice of the demon.

In order to get the sound for certain vomit sequences, it’s rumored that Mercedes McCambridge would voluntarily vomit up raw eggs and mushed apples.

Likewise, in order to get the sound of Regan’s neck snapping, an old leather wallet with credit cards was twisted in front of a microphone. The sound effects for the film came from some unlikely places, but they worked perfectly for the horror movie. 

3 The Name Of The Demon Is Never Stated In The Movie

Pazazu and Regan in The Exorcist

One common misconception about The Exorcist is that Regan is actually not possessed by Satan, but another demon called Pazuzu. Since it is never stated in the movie, people often think that Captain Howdy is the Devil himself, although this is later revealed to not be the case when Father Karras is skeptical about the demon being Satan.

Based on the statue seen in the film and the explanation in the novel, Regan is indeed possessed by Pazuzu who is “the demon of the wind.”

2 Marlon Brando And Jack Nicholson Were Considered For Priest Roles

Several famous actors were passed up when it came to the roles of Regan and her mother Chris, but even more famous actors were considered for the roles of the priests. Father Karras was played by Jason Miller; however, Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman were also considered for the role.

As for Father Merrin, Marlon Brando was considered to play the character. Brando was well known by 1973, especially after starring in The Godfather, but William Friedkin wouldn’t let Warner Bros. hire him since the movie would turn into a “Brando movie” if he was in it.

1 Linda Blair Was Scared Of The Dummy Used For Certain Scenes

Linda Blair Head Mold for The Exorcist

Most people who saw The Exorcist were horrified of both Linda Blair and the dummy they used for certain scenes. As it turns out, so was Blair. In behind-the-scenes footage of the scene where Regan turns her head around 360 degrees, Blair explained that she constantly had to sit next to the dummy in the makeup room.

When being interviewed about the scene, she admitted that she “didn’t enjoy the experience of being in its presence.” It’s probably safe to say that most people wouldn't enjoy the experience either given how realistic it looks.


Are there any other behind-the-scenes secrets about The Exorcist we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Next The Avengers: Every Main Character, Ranked By Intelligence