Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1997.E96 K476 1997
This small reader gives an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Exorcist. It includes details about disagreements between director Friedkin and producer Blatty, interviews with child star Linda Blair, rare photos shot on set, and background information on the methods used to manufacture the many subliminal images and special effects sequences. Written by film critic Mark Kermode, he gets at the bottom of many of the rumors and mysteries surrounding the film.Make-up artists, special-effects advisors, and the optical-effects team worked tireless hours in order to create shockingly realistic visuals that broke many cinematic boundaries. First off, it turns out that the entire MacNeil house was re-constructed from scratch in a New York studio. The real house in Georgetown was only used for exterior shots. Friedkin’s team constructed mock-ups of Regan’s bedroom, complete with false walls to promote the jerking of the bed, an air-vented window that would blow and billow on cue, and false ceilings that would allow Blair to levitate with the help of piano wires (previously rumored to have been possible by the use of a ‘magnetic field’). Furthermore, the entire room was encased in a refrigerator-like cocoon, which kept the temperature below freezing point in order to create visibly condensed breath.
Another salient special effect was Regan’s projectile vomiting. Make-up artist Dick Smith developed a plastic mouth harness that would pump split pea soup into Blair’s mouth, then out through a central nozzle. On other side of her face, the harness would be covered by heavy makeup, while the main feeder tube would lay underneath her hair. When in use, Regan could be seen vomiting large amounts of green matter from her mouth, in a supernatural--yet realistic way.
In addition, Regan had both a human-double (played by Eileen Dietz) and dummy-double. In the famous 360 degree head-turn sequence, the camera moves from Father Karras’ indifferent reaction, to the dummy, which is seen in a full face shot overlapped with the heavily made-up features of Eileen Dietz. Apparently, the optical effects team used a beam-splitter to match a live, glass reflection of Dietz speaking in demon-like make-up, over a head-shot of Blair’s life-size dummy, which remained stationary in contrast. This technique makes the viewer see the dummy ‘move’, which contrasts with the previous head-revolving shot. Thus, in a single image, Friedkin takes the film from the absurd to the awe-inspiring, thereby accomplishing horror when laughter could have easily replaced it.
These are only a few examples of the unconventional special effects employed in The Exorcist. With an approximate $12 million budget, and the ingenuity of a unique collective of artists, Friedkin was able to direct a film that blurred the line between illusion and reality, therefore successfully creating a true horror film.