15 Wild Behind the Scenes Facts About 'The Exorcist'

When The Exorcist opened in 1973, people were fainting in the theater. This story of an innocent girl possessed by a demon continues to horrify audiences to this day, and as is the case with many beloved horror classics, The Exorcist conspiracy theories abound.

It is true that what appears on screen isn't the entire story. Things were equally as strange and shocking with The Exorcist behind the scenes. From extreme acting techniques to rumors of a curse, these weird facts about The Exorcist are almost as alarming as the film itself. 

Photo: The Exorcist / Warner Bros.

  • Linda Blair Received Threats From Critics Who Believed Her Role Glorified Satan

    Linda Blair was 13 years old when The Exorcist hit theaters in the United States, but that didn't stop critics who believed her performance glorified Satan from threatening her. The threats were so plentiful, Warner Bros. hired bodyguards to live with the Blair family for six months after the film premiered. 

    These threats continued for years, in part encouraged by sequels, and Linda's parents were forced to hide her with friends in Vermont, New Jersey, and Connecticut. 

  • Director William Friedkin Fired Shots Behind Actors To Startle Them
    Photo: Warner Bros. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Director William Friedkin Fired Shots Behind Actors To Startle Them

    Director William Friedkin had no qualms about going the extra mile to get the reaction he wanted from the actors in The Exorcist. He would fire shots without warning to startle them. 

    Actor Jason Miller recalled for Film Buff Online, "Friedkin's a lunatic... He'd shoot guns off behind [an actor's] head to get a surprise out of them. He’s not very respectful to actors. He’s afraid of them. He doesn't understand the process."

  • Friedkin Insisted On Seeing The Actors' Breath, So Regan's Room Was Refrigerated

    In order to achieve the effect of seeing the actors' breath, Friedkin had the set for Regan's room refrigerated. Four giant air conditioners were run all night, reaching temperatures of -30 or -40 degrees. The air on set got so cold, when cast and crew members sweated, it froze on their skin. At one point it snowed on the set, on account of all the moisture in the air from the cast and crew crammed into the small space. 

    This was all particularly uncomfortable for Linda Blair, who was wearing nothing more than a thin nightgown.

  • The MacNeil House Burned Down During Filming

    The set for the interior of the MacNeil house caught fire during filming. The fire was started when a bird flew into a circuit box. Historian and horror expert Sarah Crowther said, "This set production back significantly, and led to a draining shooting period of over a year." 

    Regan's bedroom, where the actual exorcism scenes were filmed, was not damaged. 

  • Friedkin Actually Hit O'Malley To Elicit The Reaction He Wanted 

    Friedkin often resorted to unusual methods to inspire genuine reactions from the cast. During the last rites scene, the director was unsatisfied with William O'Malley's performance and took him aside and asked, "Do you trust me?"

    As soon as O'Malley said "Yes," Friedkin slapped him across the face. He yelled action, and that take was used in the film. O'Malley's hand visibly shakes during the scene.

  • Several Cast And Crew Members Perished During Or Immediately After Filming

    Actor Jack MacGowran and actress Vasiliki Maliaros both passed shortly after filming wrapped on The Exorcist - MacGowran of the flu, Maliaros of natural causes. Linda Blair's grandfather and actor Max Von Sydow's brother passed during production. The son of Mercedes McCambridge, who voiced the demon, ended his wife and two daughters before taking his own life after being accused of fraud in November of 1987.

    All told, nine people associated with the movie perished during or immediately after filming.