Tuesday marked the Blu-Ray release of the Extended Director’s Cut of 1973’s infamous ‘The Exorcist.’ The film, directed by William Friedkin, tells the story of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), a seemingly-innocent young girl who begins to experience strange and increasingly violent and disturbing behavior. After her mother (Ellen Burstyn) tries every medical intervention to save her, she realizes that Regan may be controlled by an other-worldly and evil power.
Desperate for help, she calls on Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) to perform an exorcism on her daughter. As Regan displays more and more frightening abilities, the priests realize they may in fact be dealing with the Devil himself.
‘The Exorcist’ became an immediate — and controversial — sensation and, over the years, a variety of modern myths have developed around the film. To celebrate the arrival of the Blu-Ray version of the film — featuring restored footage not seen on its first release — here are 20 things you may not have known about the ‘The Exorcist’ — and its legend.
1. A True Story?
The novel that the film is based on supposedly comes from true events. The author, William Peter Blatty, a 1950 graduate of Georgetown University, based it on a rumored 1949 exorcism that occurred on school grounds. Legend persists that a 14-year-old boy, given the pseudonym “Robbie Manheim,” was possessed after attempting to contact his deceased aunt via a Ouija Board.
2. Terrifying From the First Moment
The original teaser trailer, featuring a series of flashing black and white images, was banned from many theaters for being “too frightening.”
3. The Power of Faith
Father Karras’ friend in the film, Joseph Dyer, is played by Father William O’Malley, an actual priest and teacher at Fordham University, where part of the film was shot. He still teaches at the school and screens the film to his students, referring to it as a “pornographic horror film.” However, he also admits that it is approximately “80 percent true” in regards to the real events it was inspired by.
4. Disgusting Dedication
Mercedes McCambridge provided the demonic voice of Regan. She achieved the gravelly tone by chain-smoking and forcing herself to vomit up a mixture of raw eggs and mushed apples.
5. Shocking Language
On the first day of shooting the exorcism sequence, von Sydow was so disturbed by the profanities coming from Blair’s character that he forgot his lines.
6. A Cursed Set?
The set for the McNeil home burned down during a studio fire. The only room that remained untouched was Regan’s bedroom.
7. Shocked Audiences
Theaters screening the movie came equipped with “Exorcist barf bags.”
8. Literal Suffering
During a 1974 screening, an audience member fainted and broke his jaw on the seat in front of him. He claimed the movie’s subliminal imagery caused him to lose consciousness, and subsequently sued Warner Bros. They settled out of court, for an undisclosed sum.
9. Acting Controversy
McCambridge was never given a screen credit for providing the voice of the demon. She had to sue Warner Bros. to get her credit. The lawsuit broke out during the Oscar season — when Blair received a nomination for her performance. Critics speculate that that controversy is what ruined Blair’s chances for success.
10. The Evil Inside the Film Itself
The evangelist Billy Graham claimed that an actual demon lived inside the celluloid reels of the film.
11. Out-of-Control Viewers
Blair received death threats following the release of the film because people believed she was “glorifying Satan.” As a result, Warner Bros. had to hire bodyguards to accompany her for sixth months.
12. An International Scandal
Town councils throughout the UK banned screenings of the film, prompting travel companies to create “Exorcist Bus Trips” for citizens hoping to find a theater that actually played the movie. It was never officially released on video in the UK until 1999.
13. Believing in the Curse
Father Karras’ room was filmed at the residence of Friar Thomas King. After a series of mysterious events troubled the New York shoot of the film, Blatty asked King to bless the Washington, D.C., set.
14. Intense Direction
In order to get specific reactions out of his actors, Friedkin went to extreme lengths: He slapped O’Malley in the face right before shooting an emotional scene, he fired a gun without warning behind Miller in order to get a shocked response from the actor and he had Regan’s bedroom built inside a freezer to make it appear appropriately cold. The temperature was so low that snow actually started to form around Blair, who was only allowed to wear her nightgown.
15. Physically Demanding Performances
Blair and Burstyn both suffered back injuries from stunts where their characters are thrown around the room. Burstyn received permanent spinal damage and her character’s scream in the film is her actual painful shriek.
16. An Eerie Coincidence
Post-production for the film was done at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City.
17. Gruesome Sound Effects
The sounds that are made when the demon leaves Regan’s body come from an audio clip of pigs being herded to slaughter.
18. The Macabre Epilogue
Urban legend maintains that anyone involved in the production will be cursed for life. Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, who play Burke the director and Karras’ mother respectively, both died before the film’s release. They are also the two characters who die during the course of the film.
19. Controversy Creates Cash
Until ‘Jaws’ came along, this was the highest-grossing movie of all time. If you adjust for inflation, it still remains the highest-grossing R-rated film ever.
20. Critical Acclaim
‘The Exorcist’ received 10 Oscar nominations, and won for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.