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How The Exorcist Terrified Theatergoers
“The scariest movie since The Exorcist.”
Despite being released nearly 50 years ago, The Exorcist is still regarded as one of the scariest movies ever. Modern horror flicks continue to be judged against it.
The film about the demonic possession of a young girl and her mother’s attempt to rescue her offers some truly terrifying moments. But much of its lasting reputation comes from what took place off-screen.
There was the filming itself, which multiple press reports over the years have suggested was cursed. After a fire, multiple injuries and other mysterious happenings during production, director William Friedkin hired a priest to bless the set. He did little to fend off protests from evangelical groups.
These events only created more anticipation for the film.
Making Viewers’ Heads Spin
Then there was The Exorcist’s release, which saw record lines and unprecedented responses from theatergoers who reveled in their revulsion. It wasn’t just a movie, it was an experience that kicked off a cultural conversation.
There were reports of viewers vomiting and fainting. Theaters allegedly even handed out “barf bags” and kept smelling salts on hand to revive patrons. A New York Times article reported “several” people had heart attacks and emergency responders were on hand to handle the crowds and medical emergencies.
The movie’s marketing team into those reactions in promoting the film. This video promo from the time captures just how extraordinary the theater experience for the movie was.
Those experiences have contributed to The Exorcist’s lasting legacy not just as a really scary movie, but one of the first critically successful horror films (it was the first to be nominated for Best Picture).
It also made the movie a major critical success – the highest-grossing R-rated horror film until 2017.