When a 12-year-old girl is possessed by demons, a young priest takes it upon himself to selflessly save her at the behest of her famous movie-star mother.
opened in the USA on Boxing Day, 1973, and immediately created a groundswell of emotions. William Friedkin's film became an event, a must-see movie. It scared - many people were seen running from the cinemas screaming - and enthralled audiences in equal measures, with some cinemas providing 'Exorcist barf bags.'
William Blatty's novel was snapped up by Warner Brothers and it was Blatty himself, after seeing The French Connection
, who lobbied Warners to assign the film to director William Friedkin. The author had been impressed with the gritty, realistic storytelling of Friedkin's The French Connection
and, in turn, Friedkin was a fan of Blatty's saying, "I found Blatty's novel to be excellent and I didn't want to change a single comma."
Blatty adapted his novel for the screen, after Friedkin told him to keep faithful to his novel which Blatty had originally felt was unfilmable. With a script in place that both were happy with, Friedkin promised to not change a word and put Blatty's novel 'up there.'
Casting would be key. To play the movie-star mother, Chris MacNeil, names such as Jane Fonda, Audrey Hepburn and Anne Bancroft were touted. Blatty had, in fact, based the character of MacNeil on his friend the Hollywood star, Shirley MacLaine, who had established herself as a big screen star via Broadway musicals. Friedkin initially faced some opposition from Warners when he suggested Ellen Burstyn after seeing her shine in a small role in the Oscar-winning The Last Picture Show
Equally important would be the casting of the young girl, possessed by the devil, Regan MacNeil. Blatty had joked that they would be reduced to casting a 25-year-old midget, such were complexities of the role. After a huge search they found their Regan in Linda Blair. William Friedkin's concern was how the "delightful, perky, really bright child," would be able to turn herself into a demonic child.
In the end, her performance was so powerful that critics and audiences alike were astounded and resulted in her receiving a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Alongside Burstyn and Blair were Lee J. Cobb as Lt. William Kinderman, Jason Miller as the young and troubled Father Karras and the then 40-year-old Max von Sydow as the ageing priest, Father Lankester Merrin. Friedkin called Von Sydow, "simply the finest screen actor of the day, from his films with Ingmar Bergman." Often playing older in Bergman's films, it was only after director and star met that Friedkin realised that Von Sydow would require plenty of make-up for him to successfully play Father Merrin.
Initially only booked in a modest number of cinemas across the US, it soon became clear that The Exorcist
would open wide and become a box-office smash. It received 10 Academy Award nominations, becoming the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture and eventuality won two Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing).
We cannot wait for The Exorcist
to return to the big screen as part of Showcase Cinemas Flashback season on Monday, October 31 and Friday, November 4.