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Monday, October 29, 2012

The Exorcist

Before I continue with this week’s Monday Matinee, I just wanted to extend my concerns to those of you living in the Northeastern part of the United States.  As I type this out, Hurricane Sandy is likely making landfall.  I hope that those of you who are in Sandy’s direct path stay safe, and I hope that everything will be okay for all of you.  Stay indoors if you haven’t evacuated yet.

For now though, I wish to tell you a personal story in relation to this edition of the Monday Matinee...a story that dates back a dozen years.

The year 2000 was a memorable one for me.  The last of my nieces and nephews were born during that year, I was living in Ottawa, Ontario at the time, and I was nineteen years old.  It was also the year that I managed to discover something about myself.  It was the year that I left high school and ventured out into the world, and realized that people in the real world weren’t nearly as sheltered, spoiled, and condescending as some of my high school classmates.  They were kind, nice, real down-to-earth people.  I loved every minute of it.

And imagine my surprise when my social life improved so much that I ended up going out regularly with groups of friends.

One outing I’ll always remember took place right around Halloween that year.  I was asked by someone who lived on my residence floor if I wanted to go to a movie with three of his friends at the Rideau Centre movie theatre.  Since I had no other plans that day, I was more than thrilled to attend.  So after we arrived at the Rideau Centre, popped into Shoppers Drug Mart to stock up on Sour Patch Kids, Doritos, and Hershey’s Miniatures (which we then proceeded to smuggle into the handbags and purses of our female companions to avoid the overpriced concession stands at the theatre), we tried to make up our minds over what movie we should see.

The decision we eventually came to was to watch a movie that was a re-release of a classic film.  At the time, the film was 27 years old, but we didn’t care.  If memory serves me, one of the group had seen the film already, but I and the three others had not.  The reason for the film’s re-release was to incorporate bonus footage that had been left on the cutting room floor two and a half decades earlier, but as someone who had never seen the film in its entirety prior to 2000 it was all new to me.

The film was a classic horror film.  Some would even say it was one of the best horror films ever made.  It seems hard to believe that next year the film will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary! 

I bet that must make Linda Blair feel very old, huh?

You see, when this film was released, Linda Blair was just fourteen.  Now she’s a woman of fifty-three!  It is really scary how time flies.

Of course, Linda Blair didn’t exactly have the most glamourous role in the film.  Just have a look at one of her many scenes in this film.

Lovely, ain’t she?  Oh, don’t worry.  That “vomit” is really harmless pea soup.  And that’s just one of the many secrets that I will reveal as we take an in depth look at William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist”, a film adaptation based on Blatty’s book directed by William Friedkin.

For those of you who have not yet seen the movie or read the book, I won’t spoil the plot for you too much.  But just to give you an indication of what the basic storyline is, it’s all about a twelve-year-old girl named Regan MacNeil (Blair) who begins to exhibit dangerous and dramatic mood swings.  Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), an actress who is shooting a film near Washington DC, is quite concerned, and she sends her daughter for a slew of medical tests which only serve to prove that nothing is physically wrong with her.  She is then sent to a psychiatrist, whom Regan assaults.  By the first half of the film, Chris is at her wits end, witnessing Regan’s bed violently shaking, hearing strange noises, and undergoing physical abuse by her daughter. 

It gets so extreme that Chris is soon lead to believe that Regan may be possessed by the devil, and an exorcism must be performed in order to save Regan’s soul.  As a result, psychiatrist/priest Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is asked by Chris to help perform the exorcism, and Karras brings an experienced exorcist, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) to perform the ritual while Karras assists.  But the devil’s spirit within Regan is not prepared to give up without a fight...and before the night is out, tragedy will occur.

But of course, that is all that I will tell you.  Believe me when I say that this is one movie that you will not want to watch with the lights turned off.  I admit having to shield my eyes at some of the scary parts.  In fact, I even wrote a movie review of “The Exorcist” for my school newspaper twelve years ago.  I must warn you though, my writing style at nineteen was a lot more...shall we as pea soup than it is at thirty-one, so be gentle.  J

Now here’s where the fun part comes in.  I mentioned a few of the cast members of this movie as well as the characters that they played in the film.  But did you know that almost every character was designed for other actors to play, and that each actor had their own reason for turning down the film?

Let’s start with the title role of Regan, shall we?

One of the actresses who was up for consideration was Pamelyn Ferdin, who once voiced the character of Lucy Van Pelt and who starred in a series of supernatural thrillers, but producers nixed the idea feeling that she was too well-known.  Denise Nickerson (who played Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) was also up for the role of Regan, but her parents made the decision that the subject matter was too controversial for her, and pulled her out.  Anissa Jones of Family Affair was also considered.

The role of Father Merrin which eventually went to Max von Sydow was meant for Marlon Brando to take on if the studio heads had their way.  However, William Friedkin vetoed the idea because he didn’t want the movie to become a “Brando film”.  Meanwhile, regarding the role of Karras, Jack Nicholson was briefly considered before Stacy Keach initially landed the role.  But when Friedkin spotted Jason Miller acting in a play, Keach’s contract was bought out and Miller was given the role instead.

The role of Chris McNeil was also difficult to cast.  Both Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda flat out refused to do the film.  Anne Bancroft showed some interest in the role, but as she was pregnant at the time she was asked, she couldn’t commit to the role.  And the only way Audrey Hepburn would do the role was if the movie could be filmed in Rome.  So, after those four women turned down the role, Ellen Burstyn was next in line to be cast.

Here’s some other trivia for you.

-          Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the possessed Regan.

-          Although it is a horror movie closely associated with Halloween, the film was actually released the day after Christmas, 1973!

-          The movie won two of the ten Academy Awards it was nominated for.

-          Ellen Burstyn permanently damaged her spine while filming this movie.  In the scene where she is thrown away from Regan, she ended up falling on her coccyx, which caused her to screech in pain.

-          Four air conditioners were used in the refrigerated bedroom scene.

-          William Peter Blatty actually used the winnings he won on the quiz show, “You Bet Your Life” to work on the novel that inspired the film!

-          A moviegoer actually tried suing Warner Brothers in 1974 after he sustained a broken jaw after fainting during the film screening!

-          If the film was adjusted for inflation, “The Exorcist” would be the highest grossing horror film of all time.

-          The film schedule was supposed to last three months.  In actuality, it took 224 days!

-          Although the late Dana Plato claimed to have auditioned for the role of Regan, Blatty did not recall seeing her at any of the auduitions.

-          The production process of “The Exorcist” was done at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  Make of that what you will.

-          Linda Blair delivered her foul-mouthed dialogue in such a way that it caused Max von Sydow to temporarily forget his lines in shock!

-          The plot for “The Exorcist” was based on the alleged real exorcism of a 13-year-old boy named Robbie.

-          Although you wouldn’t know it from the make-up he wore in the film to look older, Max von Sydow was only 44 when he appeared in the film.

-          Director William Friedkin went to great lengths to get the emotional reactions he wanted in his film, even going so far as shooting loaded guns near the actors and unexpectedly slapping them across the face just before shooting pivotal scenes!

-          A woman named Linda Tuero was hired as an extra in the film.  She later became Mrs. William Peter Blatty!

-          Linda Blair had bodyguards protecting her six months after the film was released, due to death threats she received from religious zealots.

-          The entire exorcism scene lasted a grand total of nine minutes.

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