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. 

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

The Definitive Guide to All the Cats in Cats

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Universal Pictures

Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.

Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.

Admetus

admetus cats film 1998
Really Useful Films

Played by: Eric Underwood

Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.

Alonzo

Played by: Bluey Robinson

Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.

Asparagus, the Theatre Cat

Played by: Sir Ian McKellen

Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?

Bombalurina

Played by: Taylor Swift

Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”

Bustopher Jones

Played by: James Corden

Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.

Cassandra

cassandra in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Mette Towley

With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.

Coricopat and Tantomile

Played by: Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen

These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.

Demeter

demeter in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Daniela Norman

This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama series Tiny Pretty Things.

Grizabella, the Glamour Cat

Played by: Jennifer Hudson

This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.

Growltiger and Griddlebone

Played by: Ray Winstone and Melissa Madden Gray

Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).

Jellylorum

Played by: Freya Rowley

Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.

Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat

Played by: Rebel Wilson

Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).

Macavity, the Mystery Cat

Played by: Idris Elba

The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.

Mr. Mistoffelees

Played by: Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer

Played by: Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan

These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.

Munkustrap

Played by: Robert Fairchild

Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.

Old Deuteronomy

Played by: Dame Judi Dench

In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.

Plato and Socrates

Played by: Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (Les Twins)

Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.

Rum Tum Tugger

Played by: Jason Derulo

The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

Played by: Steven McRae

Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.

Syllabub/Sillabub/Jemima

Played by: Jonadette Carpio

This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.

Victoria

Played by: Francesca Hayward

Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.

Miscellaneous Chorus Cats

Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.

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