Spooky facts about The Exorcist to celebrate its return to Cineworld screens

One of the most (in)famous horror movies of all time is returning to Cineworld this Halloween season. We're talking about The Exorcist, the 1973 shocker that broke down boundaries in horror cinema and awoke audiences to the genre's lucrative potential.

The late William Friedkin collaborated with author William Peter Blatty to adapt the latter's novel. The movie's blend of theological discourse and overt body horror was unprecedented at the time of its release, as it presents the battle for the soul of young girl Regan (Linda Blair) who is possessed by a demon.

Ahead of the incoming sequel The Exorcist: Believer, brush up on the tormented and fascinating production history of this cinematic milestone with our list of spooky facts. And don't forget to check out our Halloween Horror Season for details of other classic chillers headed your way this October.


  • The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty took inspiration from the real-life case of 'Roland Doe', later revealed to be Ronald Edwin Hunkeler
  • In 1949, the 14-year-old boy underwent exorcisms in Cottage City, Maryland, and St. Louis, Missouri
  • Blatty first heard about Hunkeler’s apparent demonic possession when he was a senior at Georgetown University in Washington DC
  • Among other horrific events, words were seen emerging on Hunkeler's chest, which directly inspired imagery in the movie
  • Blatty later adapted his book into the screenplay for The Exorcist, although it took some persuading for studios to back it
  • Blatty insisted that William Friedkin direct the movie adaptation, having been impressed with the latter's work on The French Connection
  • Other directors considered for the job included Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman, who eventually directed the much-derided sequel in 1978
  • Veteran Swedish actor Max von Sydow was cast as Father Lankester Merrin after Friedkin saw a resemblance with French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


  • The Exorcist was eventually made on a budget of $12 million, one of the most expensive movies ever produced up to that point
  • Friedkin was notorious for harassing his actors to attain a more potent emotional result, such as slapping Catholic priest Father William O'Malley who portrayed Father Joseph Dyer
  • The director also fired a gun on the set to terrify his actors and get them into an appropriate state of mind
  • Friedkin was, however, very protective of 12-year-old Linda Blair who portrayed the possessed Regan MacNeil, structuring the most horrific sequences as a game
  • Older stand-ins were used for Blair's more disturbing sequences
  • Actor Ellen Burstyn portrayed Regan's mother Chris and suffered a permanent back injury when she was pulled off a bed via a wire


  • Jason Miller brought greater insight into the role of Father Karras by virtue of his Jesuit priest training at the Catholic University of America
  • British actor Mercedes McCambridge provided the raspy vocals of the invasive entity Pazuzu
  • Pea soup was used during the infamous projectile vomiting sequence
  • Friedkin refrigerated the set to −20 °F to capture the breath of the actors during the exorcism sequences
  • Rumours of a curse circulated on the set, augmented by strange and tragic events including the death of Max von Sydow's brother on the first day of shooting
  • Several years after the film's release, Paul Bateson, the technician in the angiography scene, was convicted of murdering journalist Addison Verrill
  • Jesuit priest Father Bermingham (also the film's technical advisor) was brought in to bless the set as a precautionary method
  • Nevertheless, Blatty attributed rumours of the curse to Friedkin, saying the director had conjured it to deflect attention away from the lengthy, demanding shoot
  • The first scene that Von Sydow was the classic image of Merrin emerging from the taxi cab and standing beneath the street lamp, later used on the film's poster


  • Audiences were said to have been disturbed more by Regan's angiography scene, in which a needle spurts blood from her neck than by any of the supernatural imagery
  • Regan's rotating head, which didn't feature in Blatty's original novel, was designed by the note effects artist Dick Smith, who had just finished work on The Godfather
  • The notorious 'spider-walk' sequence was absent from the initial theatrical recut but later restored for the director's cut, released in 2000
  • Stuntwoman Ann Miles performed the spider-walk scene after two weeks of practice
  • Friedkin invited Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann to compose the score but later rejected his ideas
  • Friedkin also rejected a completed score from Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin, decrying it as too loud and insistent
  • The director later alighted on the as-yet-unleashed Tubular Bells after sifting through the Warner Bros music library, and secured the track's infamy in the process
  • The movie's initial trailer, which cuts together a nightmarish black-and-white montage of the possessed Regan and Pazuzu, was banned for being too terrifying


  • When the movie was released it was said to have induced fainting and vomiting from the crowds
  • Many lapsed Catholics are said to have called priests and nuns to help with their spiritual crisis after experiencing the movie
  • Nevertheless, it became a blockbuster and to date has grossed $428 million against its $12 million budget
  • Critic Pauline Kael described The Exorcist as "the biggest recruiting poster the Catholic Church has had since the sunnier days of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's"
  • The Exorcist has established an enduring legacy in horror cinema although Friedkin never saw it as a horror film
  • He said: "You can read what [William Peter Blatty] did then and see that this appeared to be something beyond anyone’s knowledge of a normal illness or disease, which I believe as well. I’ve studied the case at length. I know the family and the people who were actually involved, and something happened here that was not a horror film."


Are you prepared to watch The Exorcist again on the big screen? Then click the link below to book your tickets. It's screening at Cineworld on September 30th and October 4th.