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.

1. THE EXORCIST 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 new featurettes on the 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 NAME OF THE DEMON 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. MCCAMBRIDGE ADOPTED A VERY SPECIFIC DIET TO ACHIEVE THAT 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.

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—SUBSTITUTION.

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 recounts in his new memoir, The Friedkin Connection (part of which is excerpted in the 40th edition Blu-ray from Warner Bros.), they purchased Keach out and in stepped Miller, in his feature acting debut.

14. THE MOVIE’S MOST FAMOUS IMAGE IS BASED ON A MAGRITTE PAINTING.

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 1954 painting, Empire of Light.

15. “THE EXORCIST STEPS” HAVE REMAINED 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, which 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 THE 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’ untimely tumble seem possible. 

17. MANY OF THE 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 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. 

11 Fun Holiday Movies You Can Stream Right Now

iStock/master1305
iStock/master1305

Christmastime wouldn't really be Christmastime without all the awesomely cheesy holiday movies. Thankfully with channels like Freeform and Hallmark, we could watch Christmas movies all day long if we wanted to. But it gets frustrating when they repeat the same movies—not to mention the awful commercials—over and over again. That’s where streaming services come in.

If you’re a subscriber to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or any other major streaming network, there are plenty of Christmas gems to be found. Here are 10 of our current favorites. (And for our list of 20 all-time favorite Christmas movies, click here.)

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It should be a crime to go a full holiday season without watching James Stewart star in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

Where to watch it: Amazon

2. White Christmas (1954)

This Bing Crosby-led musical is a classic for a reason—and fun for the whole family.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. and 4. Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Home Alone may get more attention, but Home Alone 2 is just as much fun as its predecessor. So why not make it a double feature?

Where to watch them: Amazon

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

While some people might consider The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie rather than a Christmas movie, it's still good any time of the year.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Although it's a remake of Les Mayfield's classic 1947 hit, the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street still tugs at your heartstrings.

Where to watch it: Hulu

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Though the animated holiday special might be the most beloved version of the Dr. Seuss tale, the Jim Carrey-led How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an all-ages holiday watch that has become part of many families' annual holiday movie marathon lineup.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually, which follows the stories of eight couples during the holiday season in London, is a must-watch each December—even if you already know how it all ends.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Bad Santa (2003)

If comedy is what you're looking for, don't have the kids around when you're watching Bad Santa. Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox, and Lauren Graham bring the laughs in this R-rated dark comedy.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. Four Christmases (2008)

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn document the struggle of fitting in all the family obligations you have on Christmas Day in Four Christmases.

Where to watch it: Amazon, HBO Now

10. The Princess Switch (2018)

The newest movie on this list follows Vanessa Hudgens playing two characters who, although they look identical, are actually from two completely different worlds.

Where to watch it: Netflix

25 Things You Might Not Know About Home Alone

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

On November 16, 1990, what appeared to be a fun-filled little family yarn about a kid left to his own devices at Christmastime and forced to fend off a couple of bungling burglars became an instant classic. Today, no holiday movie marathon is complete without a viewing of Home Alone, the movie that turned Macaulay Culkin into one of the biggest kid stars of all time. And while you may be able to recite its dialogue line for line, here are 25 things you might not know about the John Hughes-penned picture. So settle in and enjoy, ya filthy animals.

1. Without Uncle Buck, there’d be no Home Alone.

The idea for Home Alone occurred to John Hughes during the making of Uncle Buck, which also starred Macaulay Culkin. Always game to play the precocious one, there’s a scene in which Culkin’s character interrogates a potential babysitter through a mail slot. In Home Alone, Culkin has a similar confrontation with Daniel Stern, this time via a doggie door.

2. The role of kevin was written specifically for Macaulay Culkin.

But that didn't stop director Chris Columbus from auditioning more than 100 other rascally pre-teens for the part. Which really was all for naught, as Culkin nailed the role.

3. Macaulay wasn’t the only Culkin to appear in the film.


20th Century Fox

Macaulay's younger brother Kieran also landed a part, as Kevin’s bed-wetting cousin, Fuller. Though the film marked Kieran’s acting debut, he has since gone on to build an impressive career for himself in movies like The Cider House Rules, Igby Goes Down, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. He recently received a Golden Globe nomination (his second) for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for HBO's Succession.

4. Casting Culkin taught Chris Columbus a very important lesson.

Since Home Alone, Columbus (who also wrote the scripts for Gremlins and The Goonies) has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s premier family-friendly moviemakers as the director of Home Alone 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, and two movies in the Harry Potter franchise. But one lesson he learned from Home Alone is that when you agree to work with a kid actor, you’re also agreeing to work with his or her family.

“I was much younger and I was really too naive to think about the family environment as well,” Columbus told The Guardian in 2013. “We didn't know that much about the family at the beginning; as we were shooting, we learned a little more. The stories are hair-raising. I was casting a kid who truly had a troubled family life.” In 1995, Culkin’s parents, who were never married, engaged in a very public—and nasty—legal battle over his fortune.

5. It was a Guinness World Record holder for more than 25 years.

In its opening weekend, Home Alone topped the box office, making $17,081,997 in 1202 theaters. The movie maintained its number one spot for a full 12 weeks and remained in the top 10 until June of the following year. It became the highest grossing film of 1990 and earned a Guinness World Record as the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever domestically. It held on to that title for quite some time—27 years, to be exact—until the Chinese blockbuster Never Say Die knocked it out of the top spot in 2017.

6. The movie’s unprecedented success led to its title becoming a verb.


20th Century Fox

In his book Who Killed Hollywood? And Other Essays, the late, great, Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman—who passed away on November 16, 2018—admitted that the unexpected success of Home Alone contributed a new phrase to the Hollywood lexicon: to be Home Aloned, meaning that other films suffered at the box office because of Home Alone’s long and successful run. “More than one executive said to me, ‘My picture did 40, but it would have done 50 if it hadn’t been Home Aloned,’” Goldman wrote.

7. It spawned more than a sequel.

While all of the main, original cast members reprised their roles for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (with Columbus again directing a script by Hughes), the success of the original led to a full-on franchise, complete with four sequels, three video games, two board games, a novelization, and other kid-friendly merchandise (including the Talkboy).

8. Poland loves the Mccallisters.

Showings of Home Alone have become a Christmas tradition in Poland, where the film has aired on national television since the early 1990s. And its popularity has only increased. In 2011 more than 5 million people tuned in to watch it, making it the most watched show to air during the season.

9. The Mccallister home has become a major tourist attraction.


A Syn via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois, the kitchen, main staircase, and ground-floor landing seen in the film were all shot in this five-bedroom residence. (The dining room and all other first-floor rooms, with the exception of the kitchen, were shot on a soundstage.) In 2012, John and Cynthia Abendshien, who owned the home when it was used as one of the film’s locations, sold the property for $1.585 million.

10. Kevin’s tree house was not part of the deal.

Kevin’s backyard tree house was not originally part of the property. It was constructed specifically for the movie and demolished once filming ended.

11. All of the film was shot in the Chicago area.

Though the main plot point is that that McCallister family is in Paris while Kevin’s back home in Illinois, the production was shot entirely within the Chicago area. The scenes supposedly set at Paris-Orly Airport were actually shot at O’Hare International Airport. And those luxurious business class seats they’re taking to Paris? Those were built on the basketball court of a local high school—the same school where the scene in which Kevin is running through a flooded basement was filmed (the “basement” in question was actually the school’s swimming pool).

12. Robert De Niro turned down the role of Harry Lime.


Getty Images

As did Jon Lovitz. Then Joe Pesci swept in and made the part his own. Bonus fun fact: The character is a slight homage to Orson Welles. (It was the name of Welles’ character in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.)

13. Joe Pesci got all Method on Macaulay Culkin.

In order to get the most authentic performance possible, Joe Pesci did his best to avoid Macaulay Culkin on the set so that the young actor would indeed be afraid of him. And no one would blame the young actor for being a bit petrified, as he still bears the physical scar from one accidental altercation. “In the first Home Alone, they hung me up on a coat hook, and Pesci says, ‘I’m gonna bite all your fingers off, one at a time,’” Culkin recalled to Rule Forty Two. “And during one of the rehearsals, he bit me, and it broke the skin.”

14. Pesci wasn’t used to the whole “family-friendly” thing.

Considering that Pesci’s best known for playing the heavy in movies like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino, it’s understandable that he wasn’t quite used to the whole family-friendly atmosphere on the set of Home Alone—and dropped a few f-bombs as a result of that. Columbus tried to curb Pesci’s four-letter-word tendency by suggesting he use the word “fridge” instead.

15. Daniel Stern had a four-letter word slip-up, too.


20th Century Fox

And it wasn’t cut out of the film. He utters the word “s***” when attempting to retrieve his shoe through the doggie door (look for it at the 55:27 mark on the DVD).

16. In real life, Harry and Marv may not have survived Kevin’s brutal attack.

BB gun shots to the forehead and groin? A steaming hot iron and can of paint to the face? A flaming blowtorch to the scalp? The Wet Bandits endure an awful lot of violence at the hands of a single eight-year-old. So much so that neither one of them should have been walking—let alone conscious—by the end of the night. In 2012, Dr. Ryan St. Clair diagnosed the likely outcome of their injuries for The Week. While a read-through of the entire article is well worth your time, here are a few of the highlights: That iron should have caused a “blowout fracture,” leading to “serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision if not repaired properly.” And the blowtorch? According to Dr. St. Clair, “The skin and bone tissue on Harry's skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.”

17. The ornaments that Marv steps on would cause the least amount of damage.

"Walking on ornaments seems pretty insignificant compared to everything else we've seen so far,” said Dr. St. Clair. “If I was Marv, I'd be more concerned about my facial fractures.” Fortunately, the "glass" ornaments in question were actually made of candy. (But just to be on the safe side, Stern wore rubber feet for his barefoot scenes.)

18. The tarantula on Stern’s face? Yep, that was real.


20th Century Fox

At one point, Kevin places a tarantula on Marv’s face. And it was indeed a real spider (Daniel Stern agreed to let it happen—but he’d only allow for one take). What wasn’t real? That blood-curdling scream. In order to not frighten the spider, Stern had to mime the scream and have the sound dubbed in later.

19. John Candy wrapped his filming in one day.

But what a long day it was: Twenty-three hours to be exact. Candy was a regular in many of John Hughes’s movies, and Gus Polinski—the polka-playing nice guy he plays in Home Alone—was inspired by his character in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

20. Kevin’s older sister is a judo champ.

Two years after appearing in Home Alone, Hillary Wolf—who played Kevin’s older sister Megan—landed the lead in Joan Micklin Silver’s Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even. She also appeared in Home Alone 2, but hasn’t been seen on the big screen since. But there’s a good reason for her absence: In 1996 and 2000, she was a member of the Summer Olympic Judo team for the U.S.

21. Don’t bother trying to find Angels With Filthy Souls.

The Jimmy Cagney-like gangster movie that Kevin channels as his inspiration throughout Home Alone? Don’t bother searching for it on eBay. It’s not real. Nor is its sequel, Angels With Even Filthier Souls, which is featured in Home Alone 2.

22. Old Man Marley wasn't in the original screenplay.

Kevin’s allegedly scary neighbor, who eventually teaches him the importance of family, wasn’t a character in the original script. He was added at the suggestion of Columbus, who thought the film could do with a stronger dose of sentimentality.

23. The Lyric Opera of Chicago benefited from the movie’s snowfall.

When filming of Home Alone wrapped, the production donated some of the artificial snow they had created (the stuff made from wax and plastic) to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It has since been used in a number of their productions.

24. Marv was supposed to have gotten a spinoff.

Greg Beeman’s 1995 film Bushwhacked, which stars Daniel Stern as a delivery guy on the run after being framed for murder, was originally intended to be a spinoff of Home Alone. The storyline would have been essentially the same: After giving up a life of crime, Marv would have been framed for the same murder.

25. If you believe that Elvis is still alive, then you might believe that he is in Home Alone.

No hit movie would be complete without a great little conspiracy theory. And in the case of Home Alone, it’s that Elvis Presley—who (allegedly?) died in 1977—makes a cameo in the film. Yes, that’s right. The King is alive and well. And making a living as a Hollywood extra.

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