June 06, 2004

The Exorcist Revisited

Snapshots In My Time, Of My Time.....Hauntings.

'The Exorcist' 25 years later: Director William Friedkin

Linda Blair in The Exorcist
Wednesday, Oct. 11, 5 p.m. ET

Have you wondered how filmmakers made Linda Blair float in 'The Exorcist'? Or how the infamous "spider walk" was filmed? Now's your chance to chat with award-winning director William Friedkin about the story behind one of the greatest horror films ever made. Or you can ask him about some of his other films, like The French Connection, which five Oscars, including one for Friedkin as Best Director (he was also nominated for The Exorcist); or just talk about Hollywood today: Is it really true that "they don't make 'em like they used to"? Catch The Exorcist when it goes into wide theatrical release October 13th.

Read the chat transcript below:

Kosciusko Mississippi: what do you do beside scare people

William Friedkin: Well, my main hobbies are basketball, music and literature, not necessarily in that order. But I've made other films that aren't scary. I've only really directed one horror film, which is the subject of this chat.

MD: Sorry to say that I have never watched the first release of Exorcist. I'm pretty scared. Should I go ahead and watch the second release in viewing the Exorcist the first time or rent out the first release on video before I go see this one.

William Friedkin: I would say that this version is much more definitive and has a more positive spiritual underpinning, so that while it is likely to be just as intense, it may in fact be less disturbing.

Williamstown, KY: Do you personally belive demonic posession, as portrayed in the film, actually exists ?

William Friedkin: Yes. The film was in some way based on an actual case. I've read the diaries of the priest and the doctors and nurses in that case. Along with the Catholic Church, I'm convinced that this case was authentic. There are very few exorcisms authorized by the Church is this country. Most recently, you may recall, the Pope participated in an exorcism himself in the Vatican. So yes, I'm convinced of the possibility.

New York, NY: Given the the tremendous success of reprises like Halloween H20 and the surge of ticket sales for The Exorcist's re-release, would you consider revisiting Regan McNeil 30 years later in a sequel?

William Friedkin: No. I think "The Exorcist" says all that needs to be said on the subject, and I believe that the two sequels that were made are completely unnecessary.

Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania: Would you ever consider doing a re-make of 'The Exorcist'?

William Friedkin
: No. Not at all.

Fairfax, Virginia
: The Exorcist was in the opinion of many the best horror film ever made. Across the board, all facets of putting a story on film were of the best calibre (writing, direction, acting), not to mention a topic involving complete opposites of a spectrum, true innocence of a child and the exploitation of the child by the devil. Is there the possibility of such an interesting story as this in the horror genre that will produce the same fear and excitement?

William Friedkin
: If there is I haven't seen it. I think "The Exorcist" as a novel and screenplay are totally unique.

Pittsburgh, PA: To this day, the book and movie remain so vivid to me. Did you have a clear picture of Regan and her transformation going into the movie, or is the end result reflective of collaborative input and character developing itself per se?

William Friedkin: I did have a clear vision of it from the time I first read it, but I was very fortunate in my collaborators who contributed a great deal to the movie's success. All of the makeup and special effects, for example, were achieved mechanically on the set as a result of trial and error, so that while we had a vision of what we wanted to achieve, it took a lot of experimentation before we got it right.

oakland ca: hi just wanted to ask how did you guys come up with the spider walk she did in the movie just released and was it hard? by the way thank you for rerelewasing it i still love it alot it was one of all time favorites thank you. april

William Friedkin
: And thanks to you, April!

The spider walk comes from reports of similar occurences in demonically possessed people. I cut it when the film was first released because this was one of those effects that did not work as well as others, and I was only able to save it for the re-release with the help of computer graphic imagery.

cape town, south africa: the exorcist was truelly shocking,was it hard to get it made and released?

William Friedkin: At the time (1973), most of the studios passed on it, and the initial release by Warner Brothers was in fact very timid. They released it in only 26 theaters in the U.S. and Canada for 6 months. So yes, they were afraid of it once they saw it.

Pulaski, Tennessee
: I recall vividly that the most frightening thing to me about The Exorcist was the sound. Tape loops and exagerated thumps and bumps (not to mention that damned phone!)lent so much to the overall effect...Obviously digital technology enhances the new edition tremendously, but did you run into any special problems in transfering the sound?

William Friedkin: I had to redo almost all of the sound effects for the new version. We also added aural textures as well as new music, and it took two months to remix everything into six track digital stereo.

Rochester, NY: Was having actual Jesuit priests like Bill O'Malley helpful in keeping the move real?

William Friedkin: Absolutely! And I would periodically have priests as technical advisors so that all of the Church ritual was portrayed accurately. Several priests were called upon to bless the set, the cast and the crew from time to time.


William Friedkin: He's still alive, and according to people close to him he has no memory of what happened to him when he was 14 years old in 1949, and has no knowledge of either the book or the film as far as we know.

Oxford, Ohio: Were there actually weird happenings on the set, or are the stories only myths?

William Friedkin: There were a great many unusual occurences that I experienced during the making of this film that I had never experienced before, and hope to never experience again. For example, one morning the set burned to the ground with no one in the studio, causing us to shut down for two months and rebuild the set. To this day, there is no explanation for why this occured. There are so many more similar stories that I could occupy this chat for the next week or so.

Champaign, Illinois: In your research for the exorcist (and to this day) have you learned of a real case (non mental problems) of a spirit taking over a person. i.e. proveable by person speaking different languages (Latin) or knowing information the person would not have access to?

William Friedkin
: Yes. The case of the boy in question involved all of this. The 1949 case, which took place in Silver Spring, Maryland and Mt. Ranier and was widely reported at the time by the Washington Post.

Baton Rouge, LA: The "subliminal" scary face appears a total of three times during the movie (i think). What was the significance of adding this into the movie and was it written into the script or just added later as an "effect". Mike Hanberry

William Friedkin: I added it later because of my interest of subliminal perception as a tool to suggest the images that occur in the mind's eye, often without any aforethought.

ottawa,ont: Was this movie seriously based on a true story? and who was possesing the girl, was it satan , captain Howdy or the leader of the Black Mass who ate his daughter's brains? ( I read the book fun.)

William Friedkin: Bill Blatty, author of the novel, believes Regan was possessed by the demon Pazuzu (an actual demon), and that the demon appeared to Regan as Captain Howdy. In cases of possession, it is believed that the person possessed is inhabited by a demon or evil spirit, not the devil itself.

Modesto, Ca: Mr. Friedkin: I thought that your movie "To Live and Die In LA" was certainly one of the most original and visually compelling movies of the 80's. It's really an excellent film. How do you now view that film within the context of your career: as an important accomplishment, as just a silly "cops and robbers" B movie that you did to make some money, or something else? Either way, I really believe it is underrated.

William Friedkin
: It is my favorite of all the films I've made. Thank you for remembering it.

Arlington, Texas: What movie has scared you the most since the first release of The Exorcist?

William Friedkin: Alien.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota: Mr. Friedkin ... First, do you "bring" any particular personal religious perspective into your involvement in this "artistic" endeavor? Secondly, I realize there is great money to be made and entertainment to be enjoyed, but is it appropriate to treat a topic as serious as demon possession with such triviality? Thank you for attention to these questions. Chris Wasberg

William Friedkin: First, I don't believe we treated it trivially at all. I certainly took it very seriously, and still do. Second, I think of myself as a religious person and a believer in God, although I believe that the power of God and the soul are unknowable, and I don't think that any particular religion has the final answer to the exclusion of any others.

Silver Spring, MD: Mr. Friedkin, without a doubt, The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever, was the hysteria overplayed about people seeing the movie then actually praying outside the theatres?

William Friedkin: No, the hysteria was not overplayed! When the film was originally released, there were many examples of people running out of theaters screaming and becoming visibly upset, often for a long time afterwards. The reactions today are not quite as graphic, but it's still scaring people wherever it's playing. I would like to think that it is also giving people the opportunity to contemplate spiritual matters.

pittsburgh, Pa: I just want to say that this movie scared me then, it still brings chills down my spine even today. Its truly the scarest movie ever made. Good work Friedkin.

William Friedkin: Well I thank you very much for that. Be careful, I may be coming to Pittsburgh soon....Also, this is high praise from the city that originated "Night of the Living Dead".

Everett, Washington: I once heard a rumor that you and the the production team for the Exorcist, while making the film, thought the movie would either turn out to be really scary or that people would laugh themselves out of the theatre due to it unbelievable "cornyness." In light of that rumor, if it's true, what was it like for you the first time you saw your finished movie in its entirety with a theatre audience and how was their response?

William Friedkin: The initial response to the first screening was one of schocked silence, so we weren't sure how it had effected people, but I can tell you that that first audience at the National Theater in Westwood, California remained in their seats without moving or saying anything for at least 15 minutes.

Washington, DC: One of the scariest parts of the movie was the scene where the priest is listening to his recording of Regan as the devil and then all of a sudden the phone rings!! Did it scare everyone on the set too? Did Mr. Blatty know that it would be so scary when he wrote it? I also liked the subliminal images of the devil on the walls and over the stove in the kitchen.

William Friedkin: No, it didn't scare anyone on the set because, as with all the other sound effects, they were put in long after the shooting was finished. I've always regarded the soundtrack as a completely separate entity from the picture.

Rochester New York: I'm a major "Exorcist" fan. The countless film imitations were pretty poor. Do you have an inclination about the upcoming "Lost Souls" movie? In your opinion, what film comes close to The Exorcist in that genre'?

William Friedkin: I haven't seen "Lost Souls". It smells to me like a ripoff. In that genre, "Rosemary's Baby" is a really fine film.

john limpert-ny,ny: What was the most challenging scene of the film to shoot? Why?

William Friedkin: Of course, the exorcism sequence took the longest time, because the entire set was refrigerated to below zero temperatures for weeks. The set was a refrigerated coccoon. Equally as difficult was everything we did in Mosul, Iraq (Pazuzu originates there), because at the time we were filming, Iraq was at war with its neighbors on all of its borders, and we were there with no diplomatic protection, as there was and is no U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
Comment from William Friedkin: By the way, keep up the great work, John!

Rochester New York: Mr. Friedkin- What is the significance of the medallion that appears in the film on numerous occasions (Iraq dig, dream sequence, Karras possession, ect)?

William Friedkin: It's there simply as a talisman or a metaphor that passes from one character to another throughout the course of the film. It was not in the novel. We added it during filming.

Westchester, IL: Did you have any concerns at the time about how filming The Exorcist might affect the young Linda Blair?

William Friedkin: Of course I was concerned. But she was a highly intelligent and totally together straight-A student at the age of 12. We are in constant touch and she looks and is marvelous to this day.

Noxapater, MS: How long, exactly, did it take to make "The Exorcist"?

William Friedkin: About 10 months of filming, followed by about 4 months of editing and sound work. This is a very long time for the production of any film.

from William Friedkin: This was partly due to the numerous unexplained difficulties we had.

San Francisco Ca: In the book the Exorcist there are pages and pages of dialog between the demon and Father Karras yet you only put in about 5% of it in the movie. I felt that was the best part of the book. How come you only put in a very small amount of it? Also, how come in the movie it was just Merrin and Karras in the room doing the Exorcist when in the book Sharon Spenser and Karl are also in the room as well as the Mother for a brief time. Thank you. Matt

William Friedkin: I felt that in reality the mother and others in the household would not be in the room, because of the disturbing things that went on there. To the first part of your question, in adapting the book, I did not feel it necessary to retain long passages of dialogue, but rather to convey the essence of that dialogue.

Santa Rosa, California: Fabulous film! What do you think of todays more gore,less thought provoking horror films?

William Friedkin: Most of the horror films today are either satires or out and out comedies, with rare exception, i.e. "The Blair Witch Project".

San Diego, CA: I have the 25th Anniversary Edition of the Exorcist on DVD, will there be a new DVD issued on the current release?

William Friedkin: There will be a new DVD and VHS in mid-December with an added audio commentary from me.

IRVINE, CA: What made you make a film like that? It was just pure evil.

William Friedkin: That's what Billy Graham said at the time. I think you're both wrong. To me, "The Exorcist" is a story of the eternal struggle between good and evil in which the forces for good, in this case, win out.

Tulsa, OK: What was the biggest challenge in shooting the Exorcist?

William Friedkin: Achieving the special effects mechanically without any opticals, and maintaining a spiritual underpinning for the story, so that it was never "just a horror film".

Columbus, Ohio: I view "The Excorist" as the most terrifying movie ever made. Mr. Friedkin, did you have any problems sleeping after you finished work on the film?

William Friedkin: I do have problems sleeping, but not because of that!

Orlando, FL: Thanks for bringing probably one of the best horror films of all time to the screen but, did you ever get scared looking at what this beautiful little girl had become on the set while you were filming. In other words did you ever stop being the director for a moment and look at the horror of what was being portrayed in front of you?

William Friedkin: This is really a wonderful question. I treated Linda Blair, who was 12 at the time, like a daughter, and I made the whole experience a game for her. Our relationship is stil like that.

Dallas, Texas: With a distinguished career longer than the age of most executives that you must work with in the development of your films, how have you been able to get your projects made.

William Friedkin: With great difficulty.

Portland, Oregon: What is it like to be the director of the greatest horror film ever made? How did Warner Brothers go about choosing you.

William Friedkin: It was actually Bill Blatty who wanted me for the film. There were 7 other directors who had been contacted first, all of whom declined, leaving only me! I'm very proud of the film and consider it an honor that new generations can continue to watch it and be moved by it.

Holland Michigan: Hi my name is wilson, I am a student at holland and I was wondering how did you deal with the religion disputes over the film at the time?

William Friedkin: The film was supported and lauded at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. People from other religious groups or with no particular religion had problems with it. Many of their problems, I believe, came from a lack of understanding of the Roman ritual and of Catholicism itself, for which I have the deepest respect. But very few scholarly Catholics had any quarrel with the film.

Comment from William Friedkin: I would like to thank everyone who participated in this chat. The questions I answered were superb, and if USATODAY.com will make some of the unanswered questions available to me, I will attempt to get to them all.

Comment from USATODAY.com Host: Thanks so much to William Friedkin for being so generous with his time, and thanks also to John Limpert from Warner Brothers for making this chat possible!


  1. This movie was the most thrilling adventure I had ever seen in my life. I saw this show at the Atlas theatre on Wisconsins Ave. Nw Washington, DC Dec 1874.
    I got to the point where I never felt comfortable in a room alone. I started going to school everyday. Never missing a day, unless I have to. I started becoming actively involved with class discussions, and everything. And eventually graduated.
    That fear stayed in me for about 2 years. That movie knocked the dog out of me, if it was a dog in me. Well its not in me anymore. I'm like a little kitten now, because of that movie.
    Its still scares me a little bit, being in a room alone.

  2. This movie was the most thrilling adventure I had ever seen in my life. I saw this show at the Atlas theatre on Wisconsins Ave. Nw Washington, DC Dec 1974.
    I got to the point where I never felt comfortable in a room alone. I started going to school everyday. Never missing a day, unless I have to. I started becoming actively involved with class discussions, and everything. And eventually graduated.And a 2 year Landscape Degree... Thats probably one reason why I like working outdoors. Smile.
    That fear stayed in me for about 2 years. That movie knocked the dog out of me, if it was a dog in me. Well its not in me anymore. I'm like a little kitten now, because of that movie.
    Its still scares me a little bit, being in a room alone.

  3. For awhile I never knew what the stairs to the Exorcist looked like in real life.
    Then one day my girlfriend was driving through that area, and stopped off at the gas station next door to it, before taking a drive to Arlington, Va.
    Then She pointed out them stairs to me, and I jumped like, I couldn't believe what I was seeing?
    She was talking about "don't be scared" Talking about "she puts on her sweatsuit and jog up and down them stairs for exercise all of the time. I said like, "well it won't be me, thats for sure. You can jog up and down them stairs all day long"
    Then she tricked me around on the otherside, in front of the house. And showed me the stairs from the top on down. I ain't even know where I was at first, then I look down them steps. And said like, " Good googly moogly, I see how that Priest died now. If anybody fall down them joints, they will be dead. And I'm a little aerophobic too. I had to hold my head completely down, while walking down them. Almost closing my eyes.If anybody fell down them joints, they would've been closing their eyes, for real, for real.
    I couldn't believe I was at the actual sceen.
    But the house was like, much smaller than I thought it was. I thought it was a large house. About the size of that Office Bldg. next to it. In a matter of fact, it looked like that is where the window was, where the Priest jumped out of, where that Office Bldg. is next to the steps. The house seems to be too far away.

  4. L. Antal Voros9/24/2010 04:38:00 PM

    Dear Mr. Friedkin:
    I have seen many Horror movies in my time, (my favorite genre. Some like "Hostel" and "The Devil's Rejects" were certainly disturbing. And gross. Some were brilliant like the original Haunting" "Poltergiest" "Halloween" or "Jaws", thought I consider that more like a thriller.
    But I will never forget standing in line at the Paris theater in New York City and going to see "The Exorcist" for the first time. Me my brother Andrew, and friends Mark, Tom,and Fred.
    When the priest asks Regan to tell him his mother's maiden name and she does what she does in the film, we just sat there mesmerized.
    Totally in shock. When Regan floats off the bed with her eyes all white, I still get that ice cube sliding down my spine.
    Your movie was, is, and always will be the KING. The best horror movie ever. Truley a great work of cinematic art, congratulations.
    Long live the King!