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The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist 1973

"The Exorcist"
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Peter Masterson, Linda Blair, Mercedes McCambridge, Max von Sydow
Directed by: William Friedkin
Rating: R
Released: December 26th 1973

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The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist 1973 POSTER 1 With THE EXORCIST, William Friedkin (THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE BOYS IN THE BAND) rivals Hitchcock for heart-stopping terror in this deeply horrifying masterpiece that led to religious boycotts, fainting and nauseous audiences, and a commercial success that forever changed Hollywood. Linda Blair plays Regan, a 12-year-old girl possessed by the devil. After exhausting all the options of science, psychology, and medicine, Regan's mother (Ellen Burstyn) realizes the supernatural nature of her daughter's condition and resorts to a religious solution, turning to Father Karras (Jason Miller) for an exorcism. Aided by the mysterious Jesuit exorcist Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), Karras must confront not only supernatural phenomena but also his own inadequate faith and displaced guilt over his mother's recent death, a personal torment Regan uses to manipulate him, but with disturbing results.

Like THE GODFATHER before it and JAWS soon after, THE EXORCIST enjoyed tremendous commercial and critical success that directly transformed Hollywood into the blockbuster behemoth of American culture.

The Exorcist TRAILER


One of the most widely talked about "missing scenes" from The Exorcist is the eerie "Spider Walk" which appears in both Blatty's novel and screenplay, but which was never included in the finished film. According to the director William Friedkin, "It was quite early in the story, and we hadn't yet seen any of the massive manifestations that were to come. At that point in the narrative, I just thought it was too much."

The entire sequence was filmed however, on April 11th, 1973, as special effects man Marcel Vercoutere remembers:

"According to the script, Regan was supposed to be at the top of the stairs where she would turn over, like a crab, and walk down the stairs upside down, with her arms moving about like a spider. She would come all the way down the stairs, then run into the foyer, chasing after Sharon and Chris."

"Well, one of the New York people said they had figured a way to do this scene using a fishing pole and a rig. He went out and bought this very expensive, deep-sea fishing pole with a big giant reel. Then they got this gal [Linda R. Hager] who was a contortionist, and they turned her upside down and strapped this thing onto her. I told them it wouldn't work, but they didn't believe me, so this grip stood on the landing with this fishing pole, and the poor girl went down the stairs, and she crashed and got rapped pretty good!"

"So then I took over. I made a rig that was in the exact same position as the stairs, but up in the overhead. Then I put a carriage up there, put the girl into a harness, and connected them with flying wires. That way, she stayed perfectly level as she went down the stairs, and all she had to do was to let me know how high to have her so her hands and feet would just be touching the stairs."

"We shot it that way, until she got to the landing at the bottom of the stairs, then all I had to do was release the rig and let her loose. I would let her go at just the right moment, and she would turn over, out of the rig and then finish the shot the right way up. We did it quite a few times, and as I remember, every time we shot it, it came out pretty good."


Although recorded belief in demonic possession only dates back as far as 500 BC Egypt, earlier civilizations believed in evil spirits.

The Judeo-Christian legend of Satan, a powerful evil being independent of God, probably began around 583 BC, influenced by Babylonians who ruled the Hebrew people.

Christianity furthered possession and exorcism as preeminent beliefs in the civilized world. The Bible carries many tales of Jesus driving devils out of various mortals. He then passed on the power and right of exorcism to his disciples.


Satan assumed a more prominent place in daily life when Christianity became the official religion of Rome. He and his minions were believed able to possess human beings and sometimes even assume human form themselves to carry out their evil purposes.

During the Middle Ages, public exorcisms proved to be popular crowd-pleasers and were often accompanied by severe torture. Victims, many of whom were only guilty of being non-Christians or mentally ill, were often branded as witches or sorcerers, to justify the Church's actions.


As early as 1583, the Church recognized that some forms of mental illness could cause a person to seem possessed.

In fact, the "Roman Ritual," shown in The Exorcist and first published in 1614, cautions its users to make sure the case cannot be explained by normal psychological means.

Modern psychological and medical discoveries, such as Tourette's Syndrome, have given the Church more ammunition to scientifically explain most cases of possession.

The "Roman Ritual" is now rarely used - and only in those cases where no other explanations can be found.


  • The Litany
  • Psalm 54
  • Adjuration (calling on Gods help)
  • Gospel readings
  • Preparatory prayer
  • First exorcism
  • Prayer for success
  • Second exorcism (commands to the evil spirit)
  • Another prayer for success
  • Third and Final exorcism (similar to second exorcism)
  • Final prayer.

By Church law, no priest can perform a formal exorcism until he is fully persuaded of the individual's possession and receives the Church's blessing. Signs of "true possession" include speaking in foreign tongues, ability to predict the future or displaying powers beyond the person's age or natural condition.

Before beginning an exorcism, a priest usually investigates past cases to help guard him against tricks the demon might try to play.

The "Roman Ritual" begins with the priest going to confession and Mass and dressing in surplice. The priest starts the actual procedure by making the sign of the cross over the subject, himself and any bystanders, then sprinkles holy water around the room.

Next, he recites the Litany of the Saints and a selection of psalms, prayers and invocations from the Gospel, interspersing "Hail Marys" and the "Athanasian Creed."

There are also several formal addresses made directly to the demon, ordering the demon to leave the subject's body with the words "the power of Christ compels you!"

Throughout the Ritual, the priest frequently makes the sign of the cross and tries to draw the subject into the Ritual.

The demon is not considered exorcised until it tells the priest its name and its purpose. Once the demon leaves the subject, the subject is warned to guard themselves carefully and abstain from sin, to keep the demon from returning.


The Exorcist was loosely based on true events that were reported in Washington, DC newspapers in 1949.

The story began in Maryland on the evening of January 15, 1949, when 14-year-old "John Hoffman" and his grandmother heard strange scratching and dripping noises in their house. No explanation could be found for the noises, which stopped after ten days, only to be replaced by mysterious footsteps and drumbeats.

After John's Aunt Dorothy suddenly died, the poltergeist-like phenomena increased - with John's mattress shaking violently, food flying through the air and furniture falling over. John and his parents tried to communicate with the poltergeist, which at the time claimed to be the spirit of Aunt Dorothy.


Then, in late February, livid red marks emerged on John's skin, taking the shape of actual words. After neither physicians nor psychiatrists could find anything wrong with John, his parents, although Lutheran, consulted a Roman Catholic priest. His recommendations of prayers and holy water only seemed to aggravate John's condition.

John's mother took him to St. Louis, hoping things would calm down. But the manifestations intensified. "Father Lawrence," a Jesuit priest, came to visit John in St. Louis, saying prayers over him and pinning two crucifixes under his pillow.

After he left, one crucifix propelled itself across the room and the other moved to the foot of the bed as the bed shook violently.


On March 16, the Archbishop of St. Louis gave Father Lawrence permission to begin the formal rite of exorcism.

During the first night of the ritual, marks appeared on John's skin 30 times -- including the word "Hell" and a portrait of a Satanic visage. The 45-minute ritual was performed several times a night over the next week. John's responses became increasingly rabid, including screaming torrents of profanity and foreign words, violent seizures and uncontrolled urinating. With the parents' permission, John was converted to Catholicism. But his responses to the rituals only became worse. The disturbances suddenly stopped on March 26. Father Lawrence believed John's possession was over.


However, they began again on March 31, with John's behavior during the rituals getting even more violent. "I am always in him," the demon said through John's lips.

After more days of no progress, Father Lawrence read about an 1870 case of possession that provided a key to exorcising the demon.

On the night of April 18, he forced John to wear a chain of religious medals and hold a crucifix in his hand during the exorcism ritual. When Father Lawrence commanded the demon to declare itself, John exploded in a violent spasm of amazing strength, needing five men to hold him down.

At 11 p.m., John suddenly interrupted the ritual by shouting, "Satan! I am St. Michael. I command you, Satan, to leave his body now!" After then enduring the most violent spasms yet, John uttered, "He is gone" and suddenly returned to normal, breaking into a smile.


John grew up to live a normal, happy life, with no recollection of his "possession."

William Peter Blatty, then a student at Georgetown University, read about John's story in the newspapers. The story stuck with him and 20 years later he fictionalized it to create "The Exorcist."

The Exorcist News:

Movie review: ‘Rite’ is run-of-the-mill exorcist movie
So far, Hollywood’s treatment of exorcist movies has been, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. That doesn’t change much with “The Rite,” the newest riff  on the subject, this one “suggested” by  the nonfiction book “The Rite: The  Making of a Modern Exorcist” by  journalist Matt Baglio.
Fri, 28 Jan 2011 12:31:26 -0800

South Bay Priest, Vatican Exorcist, Basis of New Movie
Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the South Bay priest who is rare Vatican-certified.
Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:06:07 -0800

'The Rite'? Revisit 'The Exorcist'!
Darren Franich and Keith Staskiewicz rewind the 1973 movie that put possession horror on the map
Sat, 29 Jan 2011 14:51:38 -0800

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