20 Fascinating Facts About The Exorcist

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

From Krampus to Santa Claus, the holiday season is filled with all sorts of memorable characters. On December 26, 1973, the studio executives at Warner Bros. added a new kind of yuletide tot into the mix: Regan MacNeil, a demonic tween famous for her distaste for pea soup and unholy attitude toward religious relics. Here are 20 fascinating facts about William Friedkin's groundbreaking horror film on its 45th anniversary.

1. It is based on a true story.

William Peter Blatty’s novel is based on the real-life 1949 exorcism of a young boy, known by the pseudonym Roland Doe. The story became national news, and caught the interest of Blatty, who was a student at Georgetown University at the time (hence the change in location).

2. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel in a cabin in California.

In Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, one of the featurettes on Warner Bros.'s special 40th edition Blu-ray, Blatty returns to the scene of The Exorcist’s beginning: the cabin in the hills of Encino, California where he wrote the novel more than four decades ago.

3. The demon's name is Pazuzu.

Though it’s never stated in the film, the demon that takes possession of Regan MacNeil has a name: Pazuzu, which is taken from the name of the king of the demons in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. 

4. Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the demon.

The woman Orson Welles once dubbed “the world’s greatest living radio actress” was hired to provide the voice for Linda Blair’s most demonic moments, a decision that became the source of much controversy when McCambridge was not credited for her performance. Some say that this decision was solely McCambridge’s, who claimed that she didn’t want to take away from Blair’s performance, then later changed her mind. Under the threat of legal action, her name was quickly added to the credits.

5. Chain smoking and whiskey helped McCambridge achieve Pazuzu's raspiness.

Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' (1973)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Sounding like a demon has its downsides. In the case of McCambridge, she believed that chain smoking and a diet of raw eggs and whiskey were the key to a great vocal performance.

6. Pig squeals were a key part of the sound design.

Much of Regan’s moaning and grunting were created by remixing pig squeals. When the demon is finally exorcised from her body, the sound you hear is a group of pigs being led to slaughter.

7. It was the first horror film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

The horror genre has never gotten much love from the Academy. Though there still seems to be a bias against scary movies during awards season, The Exorcist earned 10 Oscar nominations in 1974, including a Best Supporting Actress nod for Linda Blair, who was just 15 years old at the time. Unfortunately, the teenager’s nomination was met with much controversy as word about McCambridge’s contribution to the role spread. 

8. Violet Beauregarde was considered for the role of Regan.

Denise Nickerson, who most famously played Violet Beauregarde in Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was in contention for the role of Regan. But then her parents got a hold of the script and, troubled by what they read, pulled her from the production’s shortlist of young actresses.

9. Linda Blair's mother loved the script.

Ironically, Linda Blair’s agents never even considered her for the role, though they did send the producers more than two dozen other young actresses to consider. It was Blair’s mother who brought her to the attention of the studio’s casting department and Friedkin.

10. Blatty insisted that William Friedkin direct the film.

Blatty made a smart decision when he sold the rights to his novel, but stayed on as one of The Exorcist’s producers. That way, his opinion would have to matter. And while the studio had its own short list of directors to approach for the gig—Arthur Penn, Peter Bogdanovich, Mike Nichols, and Stanley Kubrick among them—Blatty only had eyes for Friedkin, believing that the film would benefit from a grittier style, similar to what Friedkin had done on The French Connection. When the studio told Blatty that they had hired Mark Rydell for the film, Blatty stood his ground—and won! 

11. Marlon Brando was the studio's first choice for Father Merrin.

It was Friedkin who vetoed this decision, believing that any movie starring Marlon Brando would immediately become a “Brando movie,” which would detract from the story at hand. The role eventually went to Max von Sydow.

12. Max von Sydow was only 44 at the time of shooting.

It took many hours in the chair with makeup artist Dick Smith to age the actor the 30 or so years the role required. Some have even joked that there are scenes in which von Sydow is wearing more makeup than the demonic Regan. Von Sydow’s three-hour daily aging process was achieved with a mix of stipple and liquid latex.

13. Jason Miller was a last-minute—albeit intentional—substituion.

There were a few big names being bandied about for the role of Father Karras, with Jack Nicholson in the early mix before Blatty settled on Stacy Keach. But then Friedkin happened to see a performance of That Championship Season, which was written by and starred Jason Miller. Friedkin knew they had found their man and, as he recounted in his 2013 memoir, The Friedkin Connection (part of which is excerpted in the 40th edition Blu-ray), they purchased Keach out and in stepped Miller, in his feature acting debut.

14. The movie's most famous image is based on a series of René Magritte paintings.

The Exorcist’s most iconic image—the one that would eventually serve as its poster and movie box art—is of the moment that Father Merrin arrives at the MacNeil residence and, illuminated by a street lamp, looks up at the home. This image was inspired by René Magritte’s Empire of Light paintings.

15. "The Exorcist Steps" are still a popular tourist attraction.

Lee J. Cobb in 'The Exorcist' (1973)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

At the end of M Street in Washington, D.C. is where you’ll find one of the film’s location landmarks: a set of stone stairs onto (and down) which Regan “throws” Father Karras from her window. Understandably, they have come to be known as “The Exorcist Steps.” Rumor has it that on the day of filming the scene in which a stuntman rolled down the steps, Georgetown students who lived nearby rented out their rooftops to the tune of $5 per person so that interested onlookers could get a better view. 

16. Throwing anyone down those stairs from Regan's window would be impossible.

Yes, even for a kid with demonic strength, because, in reality, Regan’s window was located about 40 feet from the top of the stairs. It was a bit of Hollywood magic-making—a.k.a. the addition of a wing built by the production’s set decorators—that made the trajectory of Karras’s untimely tumble seem possible. 

17. Many of the film's cast and crew members believed the set was cursed.

Filming in the U.S. took place in both New York City and Washington, D.C. After a number of eerie incidents on the New York City set, including a studio fire that forced the team to rebuild the sets of the house interiors, Blatty and Friedkin regularly brought in a priest, Father King, to bless the cast, crew, and set when production moved to D.C. By the end of the film’s production, nine people associated with its making had passed away.

18. Regan prefers Andersen's pea soup.

By now it is well known that the substance Regan projectile vomits onto Father Karras in one of the film’s most famous—and disgusting—scenes is pea soup. But more specifically, it’s Andersen’s pea soup, mixed with a little oatmeal. Campbell’s soup was tried, but the crew apparently didn’t like the effect as much. 

19. Jason Miller's disgusted reaction to being covered in said pea soup is authentic.

Friedkin was known for sometimes using manipulative tactics in order to elicit the most authentic reactions possible from his actors. Miller was told that the substance would hit him in the chest only; whether that was a lie or the equipment misfired is debated. But Miller’s disgusted reaction is absolutely real. Unsurprisingly, the scene only required one take. 

20. The Exorcist made a few audience members nauseous, too.

So many, in fact, that some theaters began handing out The Exorcist barf bags with every ticket. 

Fact-Checking 13 Plot Points in All Is True, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Biopic

Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

After being the face of Shakespeare film adaptations to a whole generation in films like Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996), and Love's Labour's Lost (2000), Kenneth Branagh has stepped into the shoes of the Bard himself. The British actor plays William Shakespeare in the new movie All Is True, which the five-time Oscar nominee also directed.

The film, which began rolling out in U.S. theaters on May 10, functions as a sequel of sorts to Shakespeare in Love. Call this one Shakespeare in Retirement. It depicts the Bard in the final few years of his life, which historians believe he mostly spent in Stratford-upon-Avon. Before his death in 1616, Shakespeare reunited with the wife and children he’d spent so much time away from while working in London.

All Is True takes its name from an alternate title used during Shakespeare’s lifetime for his play Henry VIII. The film frequently winks at its title, exploring the role of truth—or lack thereof—in the life of Branagh’s Will.

Spotty historical records leave many details about Shakespeare’s life in the realm of uncertainty, so filmmakers depicting the playwright must make use of broad artistic license to fill in the blanks. Mental Floss spoke with Harvard University professor and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare author Stephen Greenblatt to fact-check All Is True. It turns out that the film’s depiction of Shakespeare is a mix of truth, presumed truth, and pure imagination.

1. Partially true: Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon after the Globe burned down.

All Is True opens with the striking image of Will’s silhouette in front of a massive, crackling fire that destroys his prized playhouse. A title card tells viewers that at a performance of Shakespeare’s Life of Henry VIII (a.k.a. All Is True) at the Globe on June 29, 1613, during Act 1 Scene 4, a prop cannon misfired, starting the blaze. The next title card states, “The Globe Theatre burnt entirely to the ground. William Shakespeare never wrote another play.”

A prop cannon likely did misfire, and the resulting fire did destroy the Globe; while there were fortunately no deaths or serious injuries as a result, the fire delivered a serious financial blow to Shakespeare and other shareholders in the King's Men, the company of actors who performed at the Globe. But "never wrote another play" is a stretch. “The movie suggests he rode out of London, as it were, in the wake of the fire,” Greenblatt says. “But actually, it’s widely thought that he retired to Stratford before but he continued to write for the theater.”

The Tempest, for example, was likely the last play Shakespeare wrote solo, without a collaborator, and some scholars theorize he wrote it at home in Stratford-upon-Avon, not in London. Academics are divided as to which play was the final play Shakespeare ever wrote, but the general consensus is that it was either Henry VIII or The Two Noble Kinsmen, both collaborations with John Fletcher, which were possibly written during return trips to London.

2. True: Shakespeare’s daughter was accused of adultery.

Left to right: Jack Colgrave Hirst as Tom Quiney, Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway, Clara Ducz- mal as Elizabeth Hall, Lydia Wilson as Susanna Hall
Left to right: Jack Colgrave Hirst as Tom Quiney, Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway, Clara Duczmal as Elizabeth Hall, and Lydia Wilson as Susanna Hall in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The film depicts a man named John Lane accusing Shakespeare’s eldest child, Susanna Hall, of adultery. That really happened, and the real-life Susanna Hall sued Lane in 1613 for slanderously saying that she had cheated on her husband with local man Ralph Smith.

As for whether Susanna Hall really did have an extramarital relationship with these men, that’s not known for sure, and the film leaves this somewhat up to viewer interpretation. But her real-life slander case did succeed in getting Lane excommunicated.

3. Likely true: Shakespeare had no schooling beyond age 14.

When a fanboy approaches Will with some eager questions, he says, “They say you left school at 14.” The line may be a bit misleading: Shakespeare did not quit school as a student would today if he "left school" at age 14. But it is true that boys in Shakespeare’s time completed grammar school at around age 14. They then could begin apprenticeships. Shakespeare’s schooling would have been intense, though: He would have been in lessons from 6 a.m. to as late at 6 p.m. six days a week, 12 months a year (getting an extra hour to sleep in only during the winter, when school started at 7 a.m. in the dark and cold months).

As Greenblatt wrote in Will in the World, “the instruction was not gentle: rote memorization, relentless drills, endless repetition, daily analysis of texts, elaborate exercises in imitation and rhetorical variation, all backed up by the threat of violence.”

No surviving records confirm that Shakespeare attended the school in Stratford-upon-Avon, but most scholars safely assume that he did. The grammar school there was free and accessible to all boys in the area, the exception being the children of the very poor, since they had to begin working at a young age.

Regarding the fanboy moment in the film, Greenblatt says, “The implication of that moment was precisely to remind us that [Shakespeare] didn’t go to university, as far as we know. I’m sure he didn’t. He would have bragged about it at some point" (as many of his contemporaries did).

4. Likely true: Susanna Hall was literate, while Shakespeare’s wife and younger daughter were not.

While boys received a formal education in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, girls did not. The film depicts Susanna as skillful at reading, unlike Will’s younger daughter, Judith, or his wife, Anne.

This is likely true: Greenblatt says that “the general sense is that Susanna was literate and that Judith and Anne were not,” though this is another area of Shakespeare’s family history that scholars cannot know for certain.

“This is a trickier matter than it looks,” Greenblatt says, “because lots of people in this period, including Shakespeare’s father, clearly knew how to read, but didn’t know how to write. This would be particularly the case for many women but not exclusively women in the period—that writing is a different skill from reading and that quite a few people were able to read.”

5. True: Shortly after his son’s death, Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in 'All Is True'
Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

When Will insists that he did mourn Hamnet, his only son, who died in 1596 at age 11, Anne bites back, “You mourn him now. At the time you wrote Merry Wives of Windsor.”

It’s a gut-punch from Anne not just because Merry Wives (featuring the ever-entertaining character Falstaff) is a raucous comedy but also because it was, in the most cynical view, a cash grab. Shakespeare likely wrote Merry Wives after the Falstaff-featuring Henry IV Part 1 but before moving onto the grimmer Henry IV Part 2, “to tap an unexpected new market phenomenon,” scholars Martin Wiggins and Catherine Richardson wrote in British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue regarding the "humours comedy," which debuted to immediate popularity in May 1597.

There is another way to interpret this: Both parts of Henry IV deal with a troubled father-son relationship, and the conclusion of Part 2 depicts a son taking up the mantle of his deceased father. Perhaps Prince Hal and King Henry hit too close to home for Will (who in this film hopes his son will follow in his poetic footsteps), and a lighthearted comedy is what he needed.

6. Very unlikely: The Earl of Southampton visited Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was one of Shakespeare’s patrons, and Shakespeare included a lengthy dedication to Southampton in his poem The Rape of Lucrece. Despite that affiliation, the idea that Southampton (played by Ian McKellen, yet another acclaimed Shakespearean actor) would have visited Shakespeare’s home in Stratford is just “a piece of imagination,” according to Greenblatt. He points out that “it’s difficult to imagine any longer the social abyss” between an earl and someone like Shakespeare but explains, “The difference in social class is so extreme that the idea that the Earl would trot by on his horse to visit Shakespeare at his house is wildly unlikely.”

It is more likely that fellow playwright Ben Jonson would have visited Shakespeare, as he does later in the film.

7. Uncertain: Shakespeare’s sonnets were published “illegally and without [his] consent”

This is what Will reminds the Earl of Southampton of in the film. Regarding that term illegally, it’s worth first noting that though copyright law as we know it did not exist in 16th century England, “there definitely were legal controls over publication,” Greenblatt says.

“This is a notoriously complicated matter—the publication of the sonnets,” he explains. “It is still very much open to question. It’s not a settled matter as to whether Shakespeare did or did not have anything to do with the publication of those sonnets.”

8. Uncertain: Shakespeare wrote some of his sonnets for and about the Earl of Southampton.

Ian McKellen as Henry Wriothesley in 'All is True'
Ian McKellen as Henry Wriothesley in All is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

One juicy debate about Shakespeare that endures is the question of who (if anyone) is the subject of his sonnets. Some speculate that his poems that describe a fair youth refer to the Earl of Southampton.

The film imagines a slightly more complicated—and perhaps more believable—situation than the idea that Southampton and Shakespeare had a fling: Will harbors feelings for Southampton, unrequited by the Earl, who reminds Will, “As a man, it is not your place to love me.”

“There is no way of achieving any certainty,” Greenblatt wrote in Will in the World regarding whether the sonnets were written as love tokens for anyone in particular. “After generations of feverish research, no one has been able to offer more than guesses, careful or wild.”

9. True: 3000 attendees could fit into the Globe for one performance.

In an elaborate, impressive clapback directed at Thomas Lucy, a local politician who repeatedly insults Will, the celebrated playwright cites his many responsibilities in London, then says he somehow “found time to write down the pretty thoughts you mentioned.”

It’s true that Shakespeare was both a businessman and poet. His status as a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men) was actually unprecedented: “No other English literary playwright had ever held such a position,” Oxford professor Bart van Es wrote in Shakespeare in Company, adding that becoming part owner of the Globe, “the most impressive venue in London … placed him in a category entirely of his own.”

Among the accomplishments Will lists for Lucy is filling the Globe with “3000 paying customers per afternoon.”

“That is the upper end of the size of those public theaters, as far as we now know from archaeological evidence,” Greenblatt says. “Three thousand is at the high end, but yes. Whether they actually got 3000 people every afternoon is another question.”

Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the Globe that opened in London in 1997 has a capacity of about half that. Its dimensions are the same as the Globe of Shakespeare’s day but modern fire codes don’t allow playgoers to be packed in quite so tightly.

10. True: Shakespeare wrote Thomas Quiney out of his will.

The film depicts the retired playwright adding his son-in-law-to-be, Thomas Quiney, to his will in anticipation of Quiney's marriage to Will's youngest daughter, Judith. A couple of months later, Shakespeare amends his will again after it’s revealed that Quiney fathered a child by another woman before marrying Judith.

This may have really happened. Shakespeare summoned his lawyer in January 1616 to write Quiney into the will. Then in March, a month after his wedding, Quiney confessed in the vicar’s court to being responsible for the pregnancy of unmarried Stratford woman Margaret Wheeler, who had just died in childbirth (along with the child). Shakespeare then met again with his lawyer to strike out Quiney’s name and insert Judith’s name instead. However, some historians dispute that Shakespeare made this change as a result of the scandal; they instead suggest that it was due to practical concerns about Judith’s financial future.

All Is True reverses scholars’s common assumption that Shakespeare had a better relationship with Susanna’s husband, physician John Hall, than with Judith’s. It depicts Will’s removal of Quiney from his will as a reluctant necessity. “What the movie does is suggest [that John] Hall is an obnoxious, Puritan prig and that Thomas Quiney is actually a very nice fellow,” Greenblatt says.

One aspect of Shakespeare’s relationship with Hall that the film leaves out entirely is scholars’ assumption that Hall would have tended to the playwright during any sickness that led to his death. The cause of Shakespeare’s death is unknown, however, and Hall’s surviving casebooks date back only to 1617, the year after Shakespeare’s death.

11. Unlikely: Shakespeare’s family recited his verse at his funeral.

At what appears to be Will’s funeral, Anne, Judith, and Susanna (all with varying levels of literacy) read aloud the words of a dirge sung for the supposedly dead Imogen in Cymbeline. “Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun,” they quote, “Thou thy worldly task hast done … All lovers young, all lovers must / Consign to thee and come to dust.”

The words are evocative of Scripture. (“Be not afraid” / “Have no fear” is said to be the most repeated phrase in both the Old Testament and the New Testament—and of course there’s the Genesis passage often read at funerals: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”) Greenblatt says it is “very unlikely” that verse not from the Bible would have been recited at a funeral at the time of Shakespeare’s death, adding, “but I found that moment quite touching.”

SPOILER WARNING: The remainder of this article includes spoilers about some major twists in All Is True.

12. Uncertain: Shakespeare’s offspring wrote poetry.

Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All is True (2019)
Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In All Is True, when Will voices grief for his son who had died 17 years prior, he often references Hamnet’s apparent talent as a poet. “He showed such promise, Anne,” Will cries.

Branagh’s film imagines that Hamnet wrote poems full of wit and mischief. Then Judith drops the revelation that she actually crafted the poems, dictating them to her twin brother, who knew how to write. All Is True thus displaces the controversial authorship question from Shakespeare to his children.

“There’s no historical trace of any of this,” Greenblatt says. “That is just an invention.”

13. Uncertain: Hamnet Shakespeare died of the plague.

The other revelation that stuns Will in All Is True is about Hamnet’s death. Will looks at the record noting young Hamnet’s death and becomes suspicious about whether his only son really died of the plague. He confronts Anne and Judith, pointing out the small number of deaths in Stratford in the summer of 1596, saying that the plague strikes with “a scythe, not a dagger.” At this point, Judith confesses that her twin took his own life after she threatened to tell their father about the true author of the poems. She then tearfully recalls Hamnet, who did not know how to swim, stepping into a pond and drowning.

Though the historical record doesn't supply a cause of death for Hamnet, many historians assume he died of the bubonic plague. For the film's revelation about Hamnet’s suicide, which Greenblatt deems as another imaginative invention, Branagh and screenwriter Ben Elton seem to have taken inspiration from the real parish register recording burials at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, which lists no more than two dozen burials between June and September 1596. Meanwhile, a plague epidemic hit Shakespeare’s hometown shortly after the poet’s birth in 1564 and lasted about six months, killing more than 200 people in Stratford, which was about a sixth of the population.

As Greenblatt points out, the storyline about Judith’s poems and Hamnet’s death serves as a commentary on Virginia Woolf’s compelling essay, “Shakespeare’s Sister,” which appears in A Room of One’s Own, published in 1929. The essay imagines a tragic story for Shakespeare’s fictional sister who is as gifted as her successful brother but is not permitted to go to school and whose parents scold her each time she picks up a book. “She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was,” Woolf wrote.

Greenblatt observes that the central theme of All Is True seems to be “the tragic cost of not having full access to literacy if you were a woman.” He notes, though, that in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, “there were actually quite a few [literate] women, and the work of the last generation, particularly feminist scholars, have recovered a much larger field than Virginia Woolf could have understood or than the movie suggests, of women who were reading and writing in the period.”

Kenneth Branagh’s All Is True is in theaters now.

David Lynch Drew a Damn Fine Map of Twin Peaks, Washington

David Lynch and Mädchen Amick in Twin Peaks
David Lynch and Mädchen Amick in Twin Peaks
1990 ABC/Spelling Ent./CBS Paramount Domestic Television

It can be tough even for die-hard fans of Twin Peaks to navigate its convoluted narrative. In the original 1990-1991 television series, the 1992 film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), and the 2017 Showtime continuation (Twin Peaks: The Return), director David Lynch offered a sprawling examination of weirdness in a small town. Now fans have discovered Lynch has drawn a map, J.R.R. Tolkien-style, of his weird wonderland that helped his cast feel a little less lost.

Actor Kyle MacLachlan, who portrayed FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper on the show, posted Lynch’s hand-drawn map of Twin Peaks on Instagram.

“Two years ago, we made a journey back to a little town with some amazing Douglas Firs,” MacLachlan wrote. “Today I wanted to share a fun part of Twin Peaks history: to create a sense of place for the show, David Lynch drew this map of the town.”

Lynch is no stranger to illustration. In his career, he has worked in a variety of media including painting, drawing, sculptures, and anthropomorphic lamps. More than 500 of his pieces were on exhibit in Maastricht, the Netherlands recently, with another exhibit due to open in Manchester, England on July 6.

[h/t Vulture]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER