Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
Plot: A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness. And, book-ending the story, a frail, elderly priest recognizes the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy.
The scene where Regan projectile vomits at Father Karras only required one take. The vomit was intended to hit him on the chest. Instead, the plastic tubing that sprayed the vomit accidentally misfired, hitting him in the face. The look of shock and disgust while wiping away the vomit is genuine. Actor Jason Miller, (Father Karras), admitted in an interview that he was very angered by this mistake.
Due to death threats against Linda Blair from religious zealots who believed the film "glorified Satan", Warner Bros. had bodyguards protecting her for six months after the film's release.
Actress Mercedes McCambridge, who provided the voice of the demon, insisted on swallowing raw eggs and chain smoking to alter her vocalizations. Furthermore, the actress who had problems with alcohol abuse in the past, wanted to drink whiskey as she knew alcohol would distort her voice even more, and create the crazed state of mind of the character. As she was giving up sobriety, she insisted that her priest be present to counsel her during the recording process. At William Friedkin's direction, McCambridge was also bound to a chair with pieces of a torn sheet at her neck, arms, wrists, legs and feet to get a more realistic sound of the demon struggling against its restraints. McCambridge later recalled the experience as one of horrific rage, while Friedkin admitted that her performance--as well as the extremes which the actress put herself through to gain authenticity--terrifies the director to this day.
Upon its initial theatrical release the film affected many audiences so strongly that at many theaters, paramedics were called to treat people who fainted and others who went into hysterics.
Jack Nicholson was up for the part of Father Karras, before Jason Miller landed the role. William Friedkin thought he was too unholy to ever play a priest. The studio wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Father Merrin. William 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.
Linda Blair received her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination before it was widely known that previous Supporting Actress winner Mercedes McCambridge had actually provided the voice of the demon. By Academy rules once Blair was given the nomination it could not be withdrawn, but the controversy about Blair being given credit for another actress' work ruined her chances of winning the award.
Director William Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths to get realistic reactions from the cast. He fired off guns behind the actors to get the required startled effect. When Father Dyer is attempting to administer last rites to Father Karris, Friedkin was not satisfied after several takes. He took William O'Malley aside and asked, "Do you trust me?" O'Malley said yes just in time to get slapped across the face. Friedkin immediately said, "Action!" and the result is in the film. He even went so far as to put Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn in harnesses and have crew members yank them violently.
William Friedkin had to take an all-British crew to film in Iraq because the US had no diplomatic relations with Iraq at that time. They were allowed to film on conditions that included teaching Iraqi filmmakers advanced film techniques as well as how to make fake blood.
The refrigerated bedroom set was cooled with four air conditioners and temperatures would plunge below 30 degrees. It was so cold that perspiration would freeze on some of the cast and crew. On one occasion the air was saturated with moisture resulting in a thin layer of snow falling on the set before the crew arrived for filming.
There are tales about ominous events surrounding the year-long shoot, including the deaths of nine people associated with the production and stories about a mysterious fire that destroyed the set one weekend. Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros died before the film was released.
The demon seen, but not named, throughout this movie is Pazuzu, a demon known in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology as the demon that brings famine during the dry seasons and locusts during the rainy seasons. He was the king of the demons of the wind.
After filming, William Friedkin brought production to 666 Fifth Avenue.
The ruins in the beginning of the movie are in Hatra, Iraq. These ruins have been preserved over the past 1400 years by various Islamic regimes. In 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) made threats to destroy this city stating that "graven images were not Islamic" and should not be allowed to exist. On March 7, 2015, Kurdish sources reported ISIS had begun the destruction of this ancient city.
The sound of the demon leaving Regan's body is actually the sound of pigs being herded for slaughter. This alludes to a story in the New Testament where Jesus cast out several demons, collectively called Legion, from a man and transfers them into the bodies of pigs. The pigs are then drowned, similar to Father Karris dying after accepting the demon.
The entire exorcism scene, from start to end, lasts 9 minutes.