Shay, Don. "Dick Smith--50 Years in Make-up." Cinefex Jun 1995. <http://www.dicksmithmake-up.com/Cinefex_article.pdf>.
Cinefax is one of the first professional industry publications providing the latest information about physical and computer-generated image special effects. This particular issue was in commemoration of Dick Smith's fifty years in the TV and film arenas. Included in the spread were several interviews with his previous colleagues, dozens of photos displaying his work-in-action, year-by-year blurbs describing the details behind his most significant creations (1945-1995), and an in-depth interview with the artist himself.
Smith spoke about his beginnings in the make-up business, where he started off as an untrained yet passionate artist working long hours in his New York basement. He used any sort of material he could find in order to create astonishingly realistic molds and figures that were eventually used in many major productions. His dedication and drive are especially evident in what he still claims to be one of his best works, The Exorcist.
For this film, Smith had only three months to handle several types of challenges, ranging from demonic and old-age make-up to special effects make-up involving various technologies inspired by his own previous inventions. Most of his time went into the transformation of the innocent Regan into the frightening product of demonic possession. He used multiple appliances to mimic facial scratches and boils on her face; these became progressively worse by the use of other techniques as well. In continuation, he employed the use of “primitive bladder technology”, in which a condom was glued to the underside of a foam-latex appliance in a scene where Regan’s throat scarily swelled up (as if the demon was crawling down her throat). Smith also manufactured contact lenses of different colors and shapes—these were used in particular scenes in order to enhance the storyline. In one of the most memorable scenes involving her slithery, long tongue, the artist took a cast of Blair’s actual tongue and used special rubber to create eerie snake-like effects.
Smith claims that his most significant achievement in the film was something unnoticeable—the make up of forty five year old actor, Max von Sydow. He was given the role of the older priest, even though he looked the part of the younger, Father Karras. Smith was able to age him twenty five years by using appliance pieces and old-age stipple in a creative fashion. He also created several formulas to accommodate the set’s extreme weather changes, which went from the blazing hot Iraqi desert to the sub-freezing temperatures of the bedroom scenes.
All in all, Dick Smith’s contributions to The Exorcist changed the face of special effects and raised the expectations for films that were to follow. His work undeniably continues to influence the production of highly realistic effects. In fact, in the article, he claims that “even when the characters were fantastically weird, I always tried to make them believable…actors have to feel like they are the person they are portraying. I think my work has helped many to achieve that.” There is certainly no doubt that he was successful in transmitting this sentiment to audiences as well—instilling fear in millions of moviegoers.
Klemesrud, Judy. "They wait hours--to be shocked." New York Times on the Web 27 Jan 1974.
University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia 9 May 2008.
This is a NY Times article written about a month after The Exorcist was released in theatres. Klemesrud stood in a massively long line, interviewing ticketholders and employees at Manhattan’s Cinema I complex. She found out that previous moviegoers had not only vomited, but also hurriedly left, fainted, screamed, endured heart attacks—and one even reportedly had a miscarriage due to the horrific scenes.
Many people waited for up to twelve hours to be able to see how the impossible would be represented on screen. The crowds wanted to see flying objects, spinning heads, levitation, and not to mention the morbid scenes capturing blood, vomit, guts, and gore. Several fans wondered if parts of the book would actually be represented in the film—such as the taboo masturbation-with-the-cross incident and gratuitous language use, among other possibilities.
Some of the interviewees were seeing the movie for the third or fourth time. In fact, one reported feeling “contaminated” when they left the theatre, unable to get rid of the images and feelings aroused during previous views. Even though he had been having terrifying dreams ever since, he still wanted to see it again because of its extreme shock factor.
People leaving the theatre commented on how accurate the film was in comparison to the book, and remarked how “there’s nothing else like it”. Klemesrud goes on to quote a Chicago newspaper, which reported a psychiatric hospital admitting six people who had seen the film.
In considering this historical report, The Exorcist seems to have realistically transmitted a sense of fear and threat; so much so that it managed to provoke all of these reactions and predicaments among its viewers. It can be inferred that the cinematic techniques employed throughout the film played a large role in bringing about these truly terrifying sentiments. Had these special effects not been believable and successful in capturing people’s greatest fears, the film would not have been enjoying so much box office prosperity.