On this day in 1973, The Exorcist, a horror film starring the actress Linda Blair as a girl possessed by an evil spirit, makes its debut in theaters…it will go on to earn a reputation as one of the scariest movies in history.
The Exorcist was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty of the same name, about the last sanctioned Catholic exorcism to take place in the United States, in the late 1940s.
In the film, Blair played Regan, a sweet 12-year-old girl who begins suffering bouts of bizarre behavior. When her concerned mother (Ellen Burstyn), contacts a priest, he recommends performing an exorcism. Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller played the two priests who eventually conduct the exorcism at the home where Regan is living in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC.
Directed by William Friedkin, The Exorcist was a huge box-office success. The film terrified audiences to the point of fainting, in some cases, with scenes in which Regan’s head spins, her body levitates and she vomits green bile. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, both of which it lost to The Sting.
The Exorcist spawned the sequels Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Exorcist III (1990), which was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar for the original movie in the series, Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), directed by Renny Harlin, and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), helmed by Paul Schrader.
The 3rd Exorcist movie wasn’t too bad, but the original has never been bettered.
The Exorcist catapulted Linda Blair, who got her start in show business by acting in commercials as a child, to fame in Hollywood and earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination (she lost to Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon). Though she went on to star in a string of made-for-TV films and to reprise her role as Regan in Exorcist II: The Heretic, none of Blair’s later projects achieved the same commercial success as The Exorcist.