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Trivia / The Exorcist

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The novel

  • Colbert Bump: An example from well before Colbert. After the book was published in 1971, it wasn't a particularly great seller...Until the author appeared as a last-minute guest on Dick Cavett's talk show. The book hit the NYT bestseller list after that.
  • Write Who You Know: Chris MacNeil is based on William Peter Blatty's friend Shirley MacLaine, and her marital situation on MacLaine's then-husband having left for Europe determined to not live in his wife's shadow. What's weird, is that nobody even cares to try and contact him because of his daughter's worsening health to the risk of DEATH. This caused Sachiko MacLaine a bit of trouble, as numerous people had heard Blatty had based Chris on Shirley and assumed that Sachiko had been sick or possessed. Shirley is pretty sure that the original cover photo on the first edition of the book is Sachiko, although officially it's the daughter of Blatty's editor.
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  • The Hot Shoppe restaurant that Regan loves so much was real. It started out as an A&W Root Beer stand run by Bill Marriott, and expanded to become a casual dining chain as well as the foundation of the entire Marriott Hotel empire. It was one of the first drive-ins, and its Mighty Mo hamburger (here's the recipe) was the inspiration for the Big Mac. Most Hot Shoppes have closed, but the one Regan and Chris ate at re-opened in 2014. Some Marriott hotels offer Hot Shoppe foods including the Mighty Mo (it may be on the "secret menu"). If there's a Roy Rogers hamburger stand in your area, that's the former Hot Shoppe Jr.


The Exorcist Film Series in General


The film

  • Actor-Inspired Element: Ellen Burstyn wore a bracelet in the film with a horseshoe on it, because she had the idea that she wanted her character to be "poorly armed" to fight the devil.
  • Award Category Fraud: Oddly, Jason Miller, the actor with the most face time, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Banned in China: When originally released in the UK a number of town councils imposed a complete ban on the showing of the film. This led to the bizarre spectacle of "Exorcist Bus Trips" where enterprising travel companies organised buses to take groups to the nearest town where the film was showing.
  • Billing Displacement: Max von Sydow only appears in the movie during the prologue and the last twenty minutes, but is billed second, despite Jason Miller and Linda Blair's characters being the main focus of the film. The reason for this is likely because von Sydow was already well known, and Miller and Blair were screen newcomers.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: In Spain, the movie was dubbed twice, in 1975 and 2000. Both times, the line "Did you see what she did, your cunting daughter?" was translated as ¿Has visto lo que ha hecho, la cochina de tu hija? However, everyone remembers it as the cruder ¿Has visto lo que ha hecho, la guarra de tu hija?note 
  • Cast the Expert:
    • Father Dyer is played by William O'Malley, an actual priest who until 2012 taught at Fordham Prep, a Jesuit high school.
    • In the arteriogram scene, the bearded man who assists the doctor is Paul Bateson. He was an x-ray technician at NYU Medical Center where that scene was shot and managed to get that small part.
  • Colbert Bump: The film gave a huge one to Mike Oldfield and his debut album Tubular Bells, thanks to the album's intro being repurposed as the film's main theme. Tubular Bells wound up becoming a massive commercial success in the wake of the film's release, established Oldfield as a big name in Progressive Rock, turned Virgin Records into an in-demand label, and helped lead to CEO Richard Branson establishing a multi-industrial empire.
  • Darkhorse Casting:
    • Jason Miller was a stage actor who had never been in a film before. William Friedkin cast him after seeing him in a production of That Championship Season and thought he "reeked of failed Catholicism".
    • This was Vasiliki Maliaros' only film appearance. She was discovered by Friedkin in a Greek restaurant. [Either she had never acted before, or had only been on the stage, accounts vary.] Friedkin selected her because she bore an uncanny resemblance to his own mother and William Peter Blatty felt she resembled his mother, too.
  • Dawson Casting: Chris MacNeil is 32 in the novel. Ellen Burstyn was 41 at the time.
  • Deleted Scene: Several scenes were filmed that William Friedkin would have loved to include in the movie, such as a scene showing Chris and Regan actually visiting some historic landmarks (as Chris suggests they should do in the movie). However, the soundtrack for the scene had gone missing. Another scene showed a possessed Regan slithering over the floor and upsetting several house guests by making obscene gestures with her tongue. The original negative of the scene got lost, and Friedkin refused to use a qualitatively inferior workprint he had of the scene instead.
  • Dueling Dubs:
    • The film has been dubbed into Portuguese four times, with Newton da Matta dubbing over Jason Miller in all four versions.
    • It has also been dubbed into Latin American Spanish three times.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Many times. William Friedkin was kind of a wingnut about that.
    • The shot where Ellen Burstyn is "thrown" by Regan across the room and her back hits the tallboy. Burstyn was forcibly thrown and dragged with a wire harness at ten times the expected force, giving her a spinal injury that's often incorrectly said to have plagued her her whole life. Her scream of pain is real, however, and she was angry with Friedkin for using that particular take. Needless to say, she refused to return for the sequel.
    • The real reason Father Dyer is shaking while he's administering last rites to Father Karras is because William Friedkin slapped William O'Malley just before the take.
    • By some accounts the tube with the green vomit was deliberately adjusted at the last moment to hit Jason Miller in the face rather than the chest at the last possible moment to get a genuinely surprised reaction.
    • Also extends to the music producer. He rigged a microphone beside his girlfriend's mouth while she was sleeping, then jumped on her back; her scream became part of the sound of Regan vomiting.
  • Genre-Killer: The film's huge success led, interestingly enough, to the end of Blaxploitation. Black audiences went out of their way to the mostly white neighborhoods where the film was initially released, passing up movies with black casts that played on screens in black neighborhoods. The studios saw this and decided that if black audiences weren't going to support blaxploitation anymore over generally popular films, there was no reason for them to make or distribute those films.
  • Old Shame: Father William O'Malley refers to this movie to students as the "pornographic horror film" he once did.
  • One-Take Wonder: The scene where Regan projectile vomits at Father Karras only required one take. The vomit was intended to hit Jason Miller in the chest, but the plastic tubing misfired, hitting him in the face. His reaction of shock and disgust while wiping away the vomit is genuine, and Miller admitted in an interview that he was very angered by this mistake.note 
  • Pop Culture Urban Legends: While it's always been fairly well-known that Regan's voice is overdubbed by Mercedes McCambridge in all the scenes after the crucifix masturbation up until she's freed from possession, rumors have been abound for years that Linda Blair didn't even play Regan on-screen for most of the movie's second half, and that it was actually her stand-in, Eileen Dietz, who played Regan in all the scenes where her voice is overdubbed by McCambridge. In reality, Blair did play Regan for the vast majority of the movie's second half, with Dietz only standing in for Blair for a few special effects sequences where insurance issues and/or child labor laws required it.
  • The Production Curse: The film's production was so problematic, that many felt that Satan himself was involved, and the cast and crew suffered afterwards:
    • In addition to Burstyn's back injury, Linda Blair also suffered one and has had scoliosis and chronic pain ever since. She is helped by chiropractic and neuromuscular massage, and apparently by MBC mattresses (her picture along with one of her beloved rescue dogs appears on their trucks with the words "No More Restless Nights!").
    • Linda Blair later on developed mental illness that some excited people thought was demonic possession. It had more to do with cocaine and amphetamine addiction, common to Hollywood types. Her dramatic weight gain in the 80s was caused by a hormonal imbalance. She also can stand the cold a lot less than she did before the movie, since she had to wear only the nightgown on the refrigerated room set.
    • Midway through shooting, a fire damaged every set except Regan's bedroom. It took six weeks to rebuild them completely.
    • The film employed a Roman Catholic priest as an on-set chaplain and counsellor, not to act as a technical adviser but to allay some very real fears among cast and crew, generated by the subject matter and what was acknowledged to be a genuinely creepy atmosphere. After the set fire and the injury to Burstyn, the Rev. Thomas Bermingham S.J. obligingly performed blessings in each new set in a way stopping short of actual exorcism note .
    • Jason Miller, who played exorcist Father Karras, lived in a Jesuit seminary for a while to totally immerse himself in the manners and mind-set of a Catholic priest. A senior Jesuit who felt the film's subject matter was just asking for trouble gifted Miller a protective amulet of the Virgin Mary and explicitly warned him that there would be trouble ahead. A day or two later, Miller's eldest son was critically injured in a road accident.
    • Ellen Burstyn herself is a convinced believer that this film was cursed. She lists nine people close to the production who she feels died in suspicious circumstances. Some can probably be discounted, like the ninety year old mother of a supporting actress with a very small part who died some years later. Others, like the carpenter who died in an on-stage accident building the set, or another carpenter who lost all the fingers on one hand in a freak accident with a power saw, seem more plausible "curse victims".
    • Editing and post-production on the film was done in a studio whose address was... 666 Fifth Avenue, New York. Given the pre-publicity for the film that was already circulating, this cannot have been accidental?
    • The supposed curse continued even long after the film wrapped. A few years later, Paul Bateson, the real-life radiological technician who talks Regan through the angiography, was convicted of murdering a man who picked him up at a bar.note 
    • Even the sequels got a share of it, complete with a prequel that had to be shot twice.
    • Eduardo Garza, the voice director for the third Mexican Spanish dub of The Exorcist, remembers that strange things happened to him during the production. He had two popped tires. The door to his home was banging by itself. He found himself locked in a cabin. There were strange noises in the dub's audio that he couldn't remove. His lights went out, and his VCR turned on by itself.
  • Reality Subtext: Jason Miller, at the time the still-struggling writer of a hit play who'd never acted in movies, asked William Friedkin for the chance to test for the role of Father Karras due to the way the part resonated with his own experience: he'd spent three years himself studying to be a priest until a Crisis of Faith similar to the one Karras was experiencing in the film led him to drop out.
  • Real-Life Relative: The nurse who comes into Dr. Taney's office after the arteriogram is Linda Blair's mother.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: The film famously uses the opening of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells, Part One" as its theme.
  • Red Stapler: This film changed the image of the Ouija board. Before the film, many people considered the board a funny party device and beneficial (if you're a Spiritualistnote  or at least entirely harmless, something used by teenage girls at sleepovers to predict future marriages, etc. However, Christians of many denominations, and even many occultists, had warned against its use for a long time. After the film, it received even more bad press as a "tool of the devil", and was frequently burned by horrified parents or terrified kids. It didn't affect the sales of the toy, although now often back to its original party use as a bit of a dare as "dark magic."
  • Romance on the Set: It was on this film that William Peter Blatty met his wife-to-be, professional tennis champ Linda Tuero. She'd been hired as an extra.
  • Self-Adaptation: William Peter Blatty produced and wrote the film, which was based on his novel of the same name.
  • Serendipity Writes the Plot: A scene where Chris and Regan visit the White House and Regan asks why people must die was cut because the soundtrack was lost - much to Friedkin's disappointment.
  • Stunt Double:
    • The contortionist Linda R. Hager was hired to perform the famous "spider walk" scene, which was filmed on April 11, 1973. Ms. Hager was able to perform the scene by use of a harness and flying wires hung above the staircase used in the set; she would advise Friedkin when she was just barely touching the stairs with her hands and feet; and then she maintained that light touch as she was moved down the staircase by the harness and wires.
    • Elien Dietz played both Regan in certain scenes (e.g. the vomiting scene), and the disembodied form of Pazuzu (white-faced demon).
  • Throw It In: When Regan first spits pea-soup vomit over Fr. Karras, the mechanism they had rigged up malfunctioned. The gunk was supposed to hit him in the chest. Instead, he got it right in the face. Jason Miller's disgust and anger are real, and perfect. There have been some reports that they actually adjusted the tube at the last second so it hit him in the face. Either way, it makes a great scene.
  • Trope Namer;
  • Troubled Production: The film was a hellish experience that went over budget and schedule ($4.5 million and 105 days to $12 million and over 200 days plus 6 months of post-production!), mostly due to William Friedkin being a Prima Donna Director who didn't care much for the cast and crew. And that's not counting all the things listed on The Production Curse.
  • Underage Casting: Max von Sydow was only 44 when he played the 72 year-old Father Merrin.
  • Wag the Director: Ellen Burstyn agreed to doing the movie only if her character didn't have to say the scripted line: "I believe in the devil!" The producers agreed to eliminate the utterance. It's semi-canon though: Chris says she still doesn't believe in God, but has come to believe in the devil, saying he "does lots of commercials."
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Audrey Hepburn was William Friedkin's first choice to play Chris MacNeil, and Warner Brothers supported him because of her good critical/commercial reputation with the studio, but she only agreed to do it if it was filmed in Rome. Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine were also approached. Fonda turned it down because she didn't believe in 'fairy tales' and thought the movie was "capitalist ripoff bullshit."note  and MacLaine opted to do a similar, but less successful film. Anne Bancroft was another choice but she was in her first month of pregnancy. She asked Friedkin if he could wait almost a year; he couldn't, and he also didn't think it was the sort of material she wanted to make while tending to a newborn. Karen Black, Carol Burnett, Lee Remick, Barbra Streisand and Raquel Welch were also considered.
    • According to Variety magazine, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds were contenders for Regan and Chris MacNeil. Reynolds is mentioned in the film by Lt. Kinderman in jest as playing Desdemona in Othello.
    • John Boorman had been offered the chance to direct, but declined because he felt the storyline was "cruel towards children." He did, however, accept the offer to direct the sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic. Other directors that Warner had approached included Arthur Penn (who was teaching at Yale), Peter Bogdanovich (who wanted to pursue other projects, subsequently regretting the decision) and Mike Nichols (who didn't want to shoot a film so dependent on a child's performance, a performance that he did not think any 12-year-old was capable of giving). Stanley Kubrick was interested, but only if he could produce it himself. As the studio was worried that he would go over budget and over schedule, this never happened.
    • Alfred Hitchcock turned down the chance to acquire the screen rights to the novel and also turned down the chance to direct the film when another producer bought the rights to the property.
    • The studio wanted Marlon Brando for Father Merrin. Friedkin immediately vetoed this by stating that with Brando in the film it would become a Brando movie instead of the important film he wanted to make. William Peter Blatty wanted Paul Scofield.
    • Alan Alda, Warren Beatty, James Caan, Alain Delon, Peter Fonda, Gene Hackman, George Hamilton, Dustin Hoffman, Stacy Keach, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Roy Scheider, Jon Voight and Christopher Walken were all up for Father Karras.
    • The producers sought to have Jamie Lee Curtis audition for Regan MacNeil but her mother Janet Leigh refused. Kim Basinger, Laura Dern, Denise Nickerson, Melanie Griffith, Brooke Shields, and Sharon Stone were also considered.
    • According to The Other Wiki, Anissa Jones, eager to shed her childish public persona, tried out, but Friedkin thought Family Affair was too close to the public memory, and audiences would think "Buffy" was being possessed.
    • Friedkin traveled to England to meet with Bernard Herrmann about scoring the film. Herrmann insisted on doing the music in the UK and mailing the tracks to Friedkin. He was swiftly discounted after that. Lalo Schifrin composed a score that was rejected by Friedkin. He had written six minutes of music for the initial film trailer but audiences were reportedly too scared by its combination of sights and sounds. Warner Bros. executives told Friedkin to instruct Schifrin to tone it down with softer music, but Friedkin did not relay the message. Friedkin took the tapes that Schifrin had recorded and threw them away in the studio parking lot.
    • In the soundtrack liner notes for Sorcerer, Friedkin said that if he had heard the music of Tangerine Dream earlier, then he would have had them score this film.
    • Denise Nickerson was one of three actresses short-listed to play Regan. Her Catholic mother forced her to turn it down after reading the script.

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