Warner Brothers. "The Exorcist: The Sound of Silence." 1973, 2000. 10 May 2008 <http://theexorcist.warnerbros.com/cmp/silencebottom.html>.
This webpage offers the perspectives of many contributors to the soundtrack of The Exorcist. There are several instances of the unique mechanisms used to convey the unusual sound effects.
For example, Friedkin stresses the use of sonic contrast throughout the film. He wanted to use sound to match the extreme visual shifts onscreen, such as that between light versus dark. This creates a “startle effect”, where sound functions as a weapon that penetrates the audience with sudden assaultive effects, unpredictably followed by a surrounding quiet. Perfectly capturing this is the scene where the traumatizing noises of the x-ray machine suddenly disappear into thin air. The screen blacks out, making the moment much more intense.
In addition, many examples of diegetic sound exist throughout the film. In the opening scene, which displays countless workers digging in the rubble of the Iraqi desert, the sound of the axes hitting the rocks simultaneously occurs with the echoing sound that is produced. Apparently, Friedkin checked this scene over one hundred times in order to ensure its accuracy, in hopes of creating the most realistic soundspace possible.
Friedkin also perfected the voice of the demon. Initially, he tinkered with the combination of Blair’s voice and that of a male. However, the synthesized result sounded too fake. He resorted to calling an old friend—Mercedes McCambridge—in order to create a more convincing demonic tone. She went to great lengths to try and produce the most horrific noises; she chain smoked, swallowed raw eggs, and even tied herself to a chair, among other things. Eventually, her painful sounds were combined with frequencies of angry bees and slaughtered pigs to produce the relentless devil within Regan.
Overall, Buzz Knudson was responsible for bringing together all of these sounds and inserting them into a continuous flow. Hundreds of different sound experts were called in to contribute to even the smallest auditory effects. Artists would experiment with atonal beats using materials like crystal stemware, old leather wallets, and pencils. The track took over fifteen weeks to make, though most movies took around six weeks. Indeed, the film had brilliant sound engineering.
Part of the success of The Exorcist must be credited to the work of the sound production team. Sound functions as a storytelling element, becoming just as important as the visuals when it comes to horror filmmaking. Buzz Knudson pioneered the use of new ideas and technologies; he was able to blend in music with the background—never dominating a scene—yet subtly building up its intensity. His immense efforts were crucial in portraying the evil nature of the devil, certainly shocking audiences across the nation.
Based on his best-selling novel, The Exorcist was written and produced by William Peter Blatty, who worked alongside Hollywood director William Friedkin. The film was influenced by an actual exorcism case involving the supposed demonic possession of a fourteen-year-old boy in a suburb of Washington D.C. A student at the Jesuit Georgetown University at the time, the young Blatty felt that the boy's eventual healing was proof of the devil's existence, and thus the power of God, heaven, and faith.
The film recounts the story of Regan, a pre-pubescent girl living with her single mother, Chris MacNeil, in a posh Georgetown suburb. All is going well until Chris hears strange sounds in the attic, which is followed by a series of peculiar behaviors elicited by Regan. She becomes unruly, urinates in front of guests, and uses gratuitous profanity among other things.
Her mother is shocked and desperate, so quickly consults a team of doctors for her care. Regan undergoes several intensely painful medical procedures, but nothing seems to give definitive physical results. After the death of a family friend and her continually dangerous behavior, the doctors 'give up' and resort to religious means. They suggest the ritual of an exorcism in helping Regan get back to her usual self.
Chris approaches Father Karras to perform the exorcism. After much hesitation and doubt on his part, he eventually agrees to do so under the instruction of the experienced Father Merrin. What ensues is a fight between good and evil, where both sides pay a price for the liberation of little Regan.
Overall, The Exorcist proved to be a breakthrough in contemporary horror film, setting the stage for future successes in this genre. On the surface, the film was popular because of its cinematic craftsmanship, successfully achieving basic elements of a horror film and portraying supernatural events as highly realistic for its time. Additionally, on a deeper level, its exploration of controversial issues tapped into the true fears and concerns of crowds at large. Both of these cinematic and thematic aspects contributed to the film's wide appeal.
This annotated bibliography provides a brief list of sources that investigate these topics.
(It should be noted that there are certainly several controversial themes highlighted in the film. Such include, but are not limited to: female and child victimization, uncontrollable youth, violation and disfigurement of the body, offensive language, sexual vulgarity, desecration of the Catholic Church, breakdown of the family, destruction of the home, etc. Since this project only entails ten items, I have chosen to focus on one overarching issue that the film forces us to contemplate--the roles of religion and science/modern day medicine in the healing process. I present four sources that offer differing views on this; the other six describe cinematic techniques, of which two assess their credibility based on audience reaction.)