"The Exorcist" Theme
'Tubular Bells'
Mike Oldfield

In Iraq, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), an archaeologist, visits a site where a small stone is found, resembling a grimacing and bestial creature. Merrin travels onward to find the strange statue of Pazuzu, which has a head similar to the one found earlier.

Meanwhile, another priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a young priest at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal illness.

Also in Washington, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), an actress filming in Georgetown, notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior of her 12-year-old daughter, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). Regan has been having seizures, and exhibits strange, unnatural powers including levitation and great strength. She also begins cursing and blaspheming in a strange demonic male voice.

Chris initially believes Regan's changes are related to puberty, but doctors suspect a lesion in her brain. Regan endures a series of unpleasant medical tests. When X-rays show nothing out of the ordinary, a doctor advises that Regan be taken to a psychiatrist, whom she subsequently assaults. Paranormal occurrences continue, including a violently shaking bed, strange noises, and unexplained movements. Along with these things, the director of Chris MacNeil's film, Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), is found brutally murdered outside the MacNeil residence.

When all medical explanations are exhausted, a doctor recommends an exorcism, suggesting that if Regan's symptoms were a psychosomatic result of a belief in demonic possession, then perhaps an exorcism would have the psychosomatic effect of ending them. In desperation, Chris consults Father Karras, since he is both a priest and a psychiatrist.

During a period in which Father Karras observes Regan, Regan refers to herself as the Devil. Father Karras initially believes her to be merely suffering from psychosis, until he records her speaking in a strange language, which turns out to be English spoken backwards. Despite his doubts, Father Karras decides to request permission from the Church to conduct an exorcism.

Father Merrin, an experienced exorcist, is summoned to Washington to help. He and Father Karras try to drive the spirit from Regan. The demon threatens and taunts both priests, both physically and verbally (including the demon using the voice of Father Karras' mother), and finally resulting in causing Father Merrin to die of a heart attack. Father Karras attempts to perform CPR, but to no avail. Regan giggles as Father Karras tries to save Father Merrin. Father Karras strikes her and chokes her, challenging the demon to leave Regan and enter him.

The demon does so, whereupon the priest throws himself through Regan's bedroom window and falls down the steps outside. At the bottom, a devastated Father Dyer (William O'Malley)—and friend of Father Karras—administers last rites as Father Karras dies. Regan is restored to health and does not appear to remember her ordeal. Chris and Regan leave Georgetown and their trauma behind.

10 Nominations
2 Awards
Best Sound
Best Screenplay

Golden Globes
7 Nominations
4 Awards
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actress
"The Exorcist” is the sensational, shocking horror story about devil possession and the subsequent exorcism of the demonic spirits from a young, innocent girl. “The Exorcist” was notable for being one of the biggest box-office successes (predating “Jaws”, and surpassing “The Godfather”) as the biggest moneymaker of its time. And it remains one of the few horror films ever nominated for Best Picture.

However, it was also one of the most opposed films for its controversial content. Roman Polanski's successful “Rosemary's Baby” played upon similar fears of devil possession. Originally X-rated, the film was released as an uncut 'R' rating which allowed minors to view the film if accompanied by an adult.

The film's screenplay, and tale of good vs. evil, was faithfully based upon author William Peter Blatty's 1971 best-selling theological-horror novel of the same name. Academy-Award winning director William Friedkin created a frightening, horror film masterpiece, with sensational, nauseating, horrendous special effects, including a 360 degree head rotation.

Warner Bros. had approached Arthur Penn, Peter Bogdanovich, Mike Nichols and John Boorman (who would ultimately go on to direct “Exorcist II: The Heretic”). Originally Mark Rydell was hired to direct, but William Peter Blatty insisted on Friedkin instead, because he wanted his film to have the same energy as Friedkin's previous film, “The French Connection”. After a standoff with the studio, which initially refused to budge over Rydell, Blatty eventually got his way. Stanley Kubrick wanted to direct the film, but only if he could produce it himself. But the studio, well aware of the nature of his projects, was worried that he would go over budget and over schedule.

Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths, reminiscent of D.W. Griffith's manipulation of the actors, to get the genuine reactions he wanted. Yanked violently around in harnesses, both Blair and Burstyn suffered back injuries and their painful screams went right into the film. Burstyn later reported that she had permanent back injury after landing on her coccyx when a stuntman jerked her via cable during the scene when Regan slaps her mother. After asking William O'Malley if he trusted him and being told yes, Friedkin slapped him hard across the face before a take to generate a deeply solemn reaction that was used in the film, as a very emotional Father Dyer read last rites to Father Karras. He also fired a gun without warning on the set to elicit shock from Jason Miller for a take. Lastly, he had Regan's bedroom set built inside a freezer so that the actors' breath could be visible on camera, which required the crew to wear parkas and other cold-weather gear.

The film also featured the terrific acting debut of 12-year old actress Linda Blair, who played the helpless girl possessed by demons. Although the agency representing Blair did not send her for the role, Blair's mother brought her to meet with Warner Bros.' casting department and then with Friedkin. Pamelyn Ferdin, was a candidate, but the producers may have felt she was too well-known. Denise Nickerson was considered, but her parents pulled her out, troubled by the material. At one point the search for a young actress capable of playing Regan was so trying that Friedkin claims he even considered auditioning adult dwarf actors. But the part eventually went to Blair, a relative unknown. Friedkin originally intended to use Linda Blair's voice, electronically deepened and roughened, for the demon's dialogue. Although Friedkin felt this worked fine in some places, he felt scenes with the demon confronting the two priests lacked the dramatic power required and selected legendary radio actress Mercedes McCambridge, (pictured left) an experienced voice actor, to provide the voice for the demon. After filming, Warner Bros. attempted to conceal McCambridge's participation which led to a lawsuit from McCambridge and a grudge between her and Friedkin that was never healed.

The studio originally wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Father Merrin, but Friedkin immediately vetoed this by stating it would become a "Brando movie." Jack Nicholson was up for the part of Father Karras before Stacy Keach was hired by Blatty. Friedkin then spotted Miller in a Broadway play and even though Miller had never acted in a movie, he landed the role. Warner Bros ultimately bought out Keach’s contract. Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda were approached to play Chris MacNeil, however, both refused to do the film, with Fonda reportedly calling the project a "capitalist piece of shit." Audrey Hepburn was approached, but said she would only agree if the film were to be shot in Rome. Anne Bancroft was another choice, but she was in her first month of pregnancy. Ellen Burstyn then agreed to do the movie.

The film was enormously popular
with moviegoers at Christmas-time of 1973, but some portions of the viewing audience fled from theaters due to nausea or sheer fright/anger, especially during the long sequence of invasive medical testing performed on the hapless patient. Its tale of the devil came at a difficult and disordered time when the world had just experienced the end of the Vietnam War and at the time of the cover-up of the Watergate office break-in. Friction developed between director Friedkin and various cast and crew members during production, and there were additional post-production conflicts between Friedkin and Blatty.

Critically, it was presented with ten Academy Award nominations, two of which won (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound). The other eight nominations included: Best Picture, Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Miller), Best Supporting Actress (Linda Blair), Best Director, Best Cinematography (Owen Roizman), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Film Editing.

Until “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991, “The Exorcist” was the only horror film to be nominated for Best Picture in Academy Award history.