The Big Issue : Edition 447
SCARY OLD THING 40 THE BIG ISSUE 6 --25 DEC 2013 BEFORE THE EXORCIST was released in 1973, the modern horror movie didn't really exist. Sure, there were monster movies, ghost stories, psychological dramas and plenty of other creepy flms. But before Saw (2004) and Paranormal Activity (2007), before Stephen King, before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Exorcist was raking it in at the box ofce (it’s the highest-earning R-rated flm in the US of all time). It collected Academy Awards for both Best Adapted Screenplay and Sound Mixing, and single-handedly created a genre that's still pulling crowds today. Based on a potboiler by William Peter Blatty that was itself loosely based on an actual exorcism conducted in the late 1940s (and with the mother in the novel based in part on Shirley MacLaine, who was Blatty's neighbour in California), The Exorcist didn't come out of nowhere to spew pea soup over unsuspecting audiences. The 'evil child' trend in pop culture had been a force since the success of Rosemary's Baby in 1968 (and would continue with The Omen, 1976), fuelled in large part by the real-world social upheaval of the 1960s that made the idea of kids turning on their parents not so far-fetched. But while Rosemary's Baby was a paranoid thriller and The Omen would be, well, pretty trashy, Exorcist director William Friedkin managed to make a flm that showed audiences things they'd never seen before. And, in many cases, things they never wanted to see before. The Satanists in Rosemary's Baby were creepy but comedic old folks; The Exorcist has a demonically possessed 12-year-old girl doing dodgy things with a crucifx, her head spinning 360 degrees before vomiting on a priest. Filming The Exorcist was not easy. The original schedule was for 85 filming days; in the end it took 225. The budget was originally US$4 million; while the final amount was never officially announced, it's believed to be more than US$10 million. Friedkin pushed his cast hard, too; both Ellen Burstyn (who played Chris MacNeil, actor and mother) and Linda Blair (who played her possessed daughter, Regan) had their actual screams of pain used in the film when they injured their backs while being flung around in harnesses. Regan's bedroom set was built inside a freezer to create the cast's freezing breath; Friedkin fired a gun without warning at one point to get a suitably shocked reaction from Jason Miller (faithless priest, Father Damian Karras). Then there are the rumours about strange supernatural occurrences on set during the shoot. Certainly the set was FORTY YEARS ON, THE GROUNDBREAKING HORROR FILM THE EXORCIST IS STILL TURNING HEADS.