The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows: The full story of the film

Right after I finished reading The Exorcist I watched the movie again, specifically the 25th anniversary edition which included interviews with the cast, director William Friedkin, and author and screenwriter William Peter Blatty. Bonus footage was also included, such as the spider-walk scene. I got this special edition as a box set when it came out in 1998. I decided then to read another book about the movie that I also got from my Yoko/White Christmas and Exorcist friend June, The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows: The full story of the film by Bob McCabe [1].

In the chapters on the main actors, we learn that both Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller felt that their roles were meant for them, and desperatedly wanted Friedkin to cast them. However, this was according to Friedkin’s own reminiscences, and he did exaggerate in his casting stories. His memories of meeting with Linda Blair were pure fiction, although what he claimed to have said when interviewing her he did say when auditioning another actress. Friedkin claimed that Stacy Keach had been signed to play Father Karras yet the studio had to pay him off in full when the director met Jason Miller and wanted him instead. When I first saw The Exorcist in the nineties I thought that Max von Sydow was an old man when he played the role of Father Merrin, and I never realized that he was only 43 when filming took place. Von Sydow himself said this about his character:

“‘The funny thing is that when The Exorcist was released,’ von Sydow recalled ‘The critics wrote all about Linda Blair’s make-up, but nobody, as far as I know, mentioned my make-up at all, which is a wonderful way of telling it was realistic. They probably thought I was that old.”

The last scenes filmed for the movie were the archaeological dig in Iraq, which ironically are the opening scenes in the movie. Von Sydow needed a different kind of make-up because the scorching temperature affected it. He was the only credited actor who travelled to Iraq, and thus worked in a full range of temperatures, from the refrigerated set of the exorcism scenes in Regan’s bedroom to the Iraqi heat.

This book was a speedy read, with 21 chapters over 190 pages. The final chapters dealt with the two unsuccessful sequels (the author spend a good long time ripping apart Exorcist II: The Heretic), the Exorcist parodies, and the effect of the movie today, which was at the time of the book’s publication in 1999. This year marks the film’s fiftieth anniversary and I wonder if the studio has a special rerelease or book planned. I’d surely get them as my 25th anniversary set is on VHS.

[1] The title page (the one that counts) has Shadows with a capital S.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *