Rare Behind the Scenes Footage of 'The Exorcist'

If you're a true horror movie fan, you've no doubt watched The Exorcist (1973) at least a billion times. The making of the film is rife with controversy, mystery, and lore that is almost as captivating as the film itself. Watching its behind the scenes footage is like taking a class on screenwriting, directing, acting, and special effects all at once, and chances are if you've seen The Exorcist, you've probably seen The Fear of God, the documentary that accompanied the 25 Year Anniversary Edition DVD. However, here's some rare behind the scenes footage you may have not come across from the set of one of the most terrifying films ever made.

Before I get started, I have to preface this: The Exorcist is my favorite horror film of all time, and probably ranks somewhere in my top 5 overall. I grew up with it, love it, and to this day refuse to buy or look at pendulum clocks. So, I have to commit to brevity, since I could talk about it forever.

The story behind the film is rich and intriguing. Filmed mostly in Georgetown, the film saw more than its fair share of wicked and unexplainable occurrences on and off set. Nine people who were somehow connected to the film died during and after filming, including Jack MacGowran who played Burke Dennings. A mysterious fire also broke out on one of the sets.

However, intense and ingenuitive filmmaking was going on as well. Some of the more well-known stories are that director William Friedkin notoriously put his actors in harm's way in order to get the shots he wanted. Tickets were sold to Georgetown students and anyone else who wanted to sit atop the buildings surrounding the set to watch Father Karras' iconic fall down the stairs. Friedkin recalls how Mercedes McCambridge prepared for her voice performance of the Devil for the film:

She was chain smoking; swallowing raw eggs; getting me to tie her to a chair; all these painful things just to produce the sound of a demon in torment. And as she did it, the most peculiar things would happen in her throat. Double and triple sounds would emerge at once, wheezing sounds, very much akin to what you would imagine a demon in torment might sound like.

McCambridge also explains in an archival interview that the residual effects of her childhood affliction with bronchitis allowed her to produce that guttural demonic wheeze. (She begins talking about it at 7:40, but the whole interview is pretty interesting.)

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHkMA8hsBEg

Check out this rare footage of the work that went on behind the scenes of The Exorcist, which shows how some of the special effects worked, as well as some eerie shots of makeup artists working on the spinning Reagan head.

Thanks to Cinephilia and Beyond for sharing this video and for also mentioning that the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Exorcist for Blu-ray will be available on October 8th.

What are your thoughts on the special effects/horror/narrative/etc. in The Exorcist? Let us know in the comments.

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]

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Your Comment


For some reason I have always found this movie rather amusing then actually frighting...

September 15, 2013 at 3:15AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I thought the same until I got to watch it in a theatre in the big screen. For me the experience was completely different.

September 15, 2013 at 3:14PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thanks for this.
The more I watch it, the damn creepier this film gets.

Horror films don't seem to have boundaries anymore, but none of them have the cast-iron seriousness and commitment of this one.

September 15, 2013 at 5:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Fresno Bob

I watched this at the cinema when it came out in '73. I was 15, and it scared the crap out of me! I rang my father to come and pick me up from the cinema, as I was too scared too get the bus home. Then I laid awake all night waiting for my bed to start shaking. I think it is fair to say that it traumatised me, to some extent. In it's day, it was a ground-breaking movie.

30 years later my kids, then teenagers, watched it one night. They laughed all the way through it. I guess years of exposure to some computer games and TV shows like Supernatural can do that to you.

September 15, 2013 at 2:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Isn't that sad? I can't say that The Exorcist scares me a whole lot nowadays (though watching that footage in the middle of the night as I wrote this article had me looking over my shoulder a bit,) but I'd never say its laughable. Now, these other "horror" movies that think startling someone is the same as scaring someone -- they've got a lot to learn about what's scary. Loud/sudden sounds and gutting prom queens isn't what's scary -- at least not to me.

September 15, 2013 at 6:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

V Renée
Content Manager at Coverfly

Agreed! It is one of those films that's disturbing, yet masterful. The seriousness like you said. This is a cool montage! I think people who call it "laughable" are probably atheists.

September 19, 2013 at 4:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Great video, forget about Dick Smiths work on Regan -didn't realise Max Von Sydow was so young... Great make up job. Also the harness rig on the stairs (pre Steadicam!)

Admittedly it's a little hokey nowadays, but it masterfully built up the tension and suspense in the early parts of the movie in a way that's not often been matched.

September 19, 2013 at 1:30PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Von Sydow was one of those Actors you just kinda felt was always old.

September 20, 2013 at 6:34AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


To those who say The Exorcist is "laughable" or "hokey," I really doubt you've given the film any time. More likely, you've seen clips on youtube via your iPhones. The Exorcist is still one of the best horror movies ever made and easily stands the test of time.

Horror these days is pretty much non-existent. Stupid ghost stories or the same old found-footage gimmick. Boring as shit.

September 21, 2013 at 8:08AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Ron I

Some genuinely wonderful articles on this site, thankyou for contribution.

September 25, 2013 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM