The Exorcist started out as a novel of the same name by William
Peter Blatty. Blatty, at that time best known for his comedic novels and
screenplays, drew inspiration for The Exorcist from a 1949 article
in The Washington Post regarding the exorcism of a young Maryland
boy believed to be possessed by the devil. Blatty had been collecting
information on the phenomenon of possession for years, but it was a
conversation with the editorial director of Bantam Books in 1967 that
prompted Blatty to seriously consider writing a novel on the subject.
From his own parish priest, Blatty learned the identity of the priest who
performed the exorcism in Maryland and wrote that priest a letter. The
priest wrote back stating that "he had promised the family of the victim
that there would be complete secrecy." The priest went on to tell Blatty
that "the only thing I can tell you is that the case I was involved in was
the real thing. I had no doubt about it then. I have no doubt about it
Blatty published the novel and went on to write the screenplay as well.
While both the novel and the film were phenomenal successes, Blatty makes
clear in interviews his dismay that the horrific elements of The
Exorcist overshadowed its spiritual message. In Blatty's eyes, evil
does not triumph over good. Rather the opposite. Blatty sees Father
Karras' sacrifice as his salvation and a reaffirmation of his
The Exorcist was a huge success and the making of it was no less
intriguing than the film's plotline itself.
Other notes from the production:
The film was originally given a budget of $4.2 million, but special
effects pushed it to $12 million. It went on to gross $160 million in its
original release and another $39 million during its 2000
An adult actress, Eileen Dietz, was used as a stand-in for the infamous
"pea soup vomit" scenes, because makeup artist Dick Smith felt the effect
would have been too difficult to rig for Linda Blair.
Actress Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the demon-possessed
Both Mercedes McCambridge and Eileen Dietz had to sue to receive their
proper screen credit.
Ellen Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury during filming. In the
sequence where she is thrown away from her possessed daughter, a harness
jerked her too hard. She fell on her coccyx and screamed in pain, which was
filmed for the movie.
The refrigerated bedroom set was cooled with four air conditioners, and
temperatures would plunge to around 30 to 40 below zero. 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.
Makeup artist Dick Smith told Fangoria about one unfortunate
incident while filming on the refrigerated set. One morning he forgot to
put Linda Blair's yellow contact lenses in prior to sending her onto the
refrigerated bedroom set and was sent onto the set to try to put them in
after she'd been strapped onto the stunt bed. He ran in with his bottle of
wetting solution and the contact lenses. Unfortunately, the set was so
cold that the solution kept icing up on the lenses. Blair had to be taken
out of her harness and taken off the set so Smith could get her lenses
While most people know that Linda Blair spent hours in makeup every
morning, few realize that Max von Sydow spent three to four hours in the
makeup chair every morning as well. The actor was nowhere near as old as
his character, Father Merrin.
Special effects man Marcel Vercoutere used warm beer as a stand-in for
the scene in which Regan has an "accident" in front of her mother's party
While there aren't any glaring bloopers in The Exorcist,
Friedkin did use semi-subliminal single-frame shots in the film. For
example, when Father Karras is dreaming of his mother coming up out of the
subway, there is a single frame shot of a grimacing face painted black and
white. There are two other places where this image is displayed: when
Regan, lying on the bed, turns to look at Father Merrin and Father Karras,
and just after the head-turning scene.