Subliminal Images and The Exorcist

I’ve read that The Exorcist reportedly caused episodes of fainting and hysteria amongst the audiences of 1974 or so when it was released. Admittedly, it could have been the scariest movie of its kind ever released up to that date.

However, I have some friends who are convinced that subliminal images played a part in why the original release of this picture was so frightening - stinging bees, coiled snakes, that kind of stuff.

I’ve tried to track any trace of this rumor down amongst either urban folklore and Exorcist film buff’s pages, to no avail.

Does anyone know if this is a correct rumor, and could point out a source?

Thanks, crash

It’s true.

From the IMDB’s Exorcist trivia page:

That’s not the weirdest bit of trivia on the movie. Follow the link; it’s worth it.


Didn’t you just say “Good Bye!” this afternoon, DF. Short trip, huh?

When Exorcist came out, my father (who hasn’t shown any emotion while I’m around) was on a business trip and decided to go see it. He was so terrified of being alone in a hotel room, ha called my mom, his brother, his parents, a couple of uncles and a few cousins. ALL ON THE SAME NIGHT. I saw it (the edited for TV version) when I was about 10. No big deal, but I was a darkness-leaning kid.
Joe Bob Briggs showed it on MonsterVision a couple years ago. What a hoot, as I was on vacation in a strange hotel room. Laughed my butt off.

“On the edge of sleep, I awoke to a sun so bright…”

I was in a video rental store and saw a copy of “The Exorcist”. I remember thinking, “Ok, I wasn’t allowed to see it as a kid. I’m a grown-up now and I’m going to see it!”. I about died of boredom. It was the same thing with “Halloween” and 'The Amityville Horror".

Sometimes life is so great you just gotta muss up your hair and quack like a duck!

The book is MUCH scarier than the movie was, IMO. I recall Joe Bob Briggs talking about why there were so many people that fainted or became sick when the movie was shown in theatres…he pointed out the scene where Regan was taken to the hospital for medical tests and those HUGE vials of blood were drawn from out of her neck, etc. He said that people were so grossed out by those scenes that they were fainting in the aisles, which I can believe. It’s pretty disturbing to see things like that done to a child. The actual demonic possession scenes didn’t seem that scary or even all that creepy to me, but I saw the movie after I read the book.

Funny, but I remember reading stories of people fainting in the aisles at the premieres of “Frankenstein” (B. Karloff version) and “King Kong” (1933 version). I guess it’s true–our society IS becoming inured to violence.

“I guess it’s true–our society IS becoming inured to violence.”

maybe part of it has to do with the fact that many, if not most, of us have seen documentaries and the like on how these violent films are made. We know it is fake and we know how it was done. In my opinion, this makes it kind of hard to be scared by a movie.

The Exorcist is one of my all-time favorite movies, not because it is scary (it is when you’re 11, but not when you’re 30), but because it poses interesting (to me) philosophical questions about the nature of human beings and good and evil. I am the only person I know who had a different take on the end of the movie, which is that the demon actually won, that God was unable to free Regan from his grip through the two priests, and that only by taking matters into his own hands and issuing a personal challenge could Karras free her, at the cost of his own life (and soul–he committed suicide).

The DVD version with Bill Friedkin’s commentary is very interesting, BTW.

I saw it on TV when i was ten, and thought it was scary in a “just right” way. 'Course, that was the edited version.

I saw the unedited version in college, and only then did I appreciate how campy it is. I love this movie, but not because it scares me-- because it is so wonderfully weird and overdone. I love good camp.

The hospital scene is the part that makes me most squeamish too. And I deal with people’s trach- and g-tubes all the time. A lot of people faint at the sight of any kind of medical procedure.

Shopping is still cheaper than therapy. --my Aunt Franny

On second thought-- is it possible that more than the usual number of people attended this movie drunk or stoned? Maybe they just plain passed out.

Those people might have been shills.

Remember, I’m pulling for you; we’re all in this together.
—Red Green

“(and soul–he committed suicide).”

But did he commit suicide?
My catholic friends and I debated this point after seeing the movie. Is someone who falls on a grenade to save his comrades rewarded with damnation? Is it the same thing?
I don’t believe in heaven and hell, but if there is a God I doubt he would turn on you for saving His ass.

Work like you don’t need the money…
Love like you’ve never been hurt…
Dance like nobody’s watching! …Unknown

      • William Poundstone has a chapter on subliminal images in movies and TV in one of his “Big Secrets” books. A couple scenes from the Exorcist are mentioned. - MC

I loved the Exorcist and the Exorcist III scared the crap out of me, but what the hell was that crap called The Heretic supposed to be?


He who walk through airport door sideways going to Bangkok. - Confucius

I always thought the Exorcist III was scarier, as it had more “surprise” appearances or occurances that make you jump.

When things jump out of a closet at the camera, it’s not scary, it’s startling. There’s a big difference.

A startling movie is one that makes you jump or scream, but only in surprise at that occurrence. Most slasher movies are like this; when Jason leaps out of a lake to kill a canoer, you may jump in surprise, but you probably wouldn’t have trouble getting in a canoe the following day.

A truly scary movie, on the other hand, will frighten you for some time afterward. If you leave the theater to go home to bed, and you’re afraid to shut the lights off, then it was a scary movie. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any recent movie that made me feel this way.

No, Father Karras did not commit suicide at the end of THE EXORCIST; he performed an act of martyrdom in order to save Reagen Teresa MacNeil. There’s a big difference.

Even if Karras had committed a mortal sin (suicide or any other), he would not have been damned at the end of the film, as he makes a final (albeit silent) confession before dying.

As for subliminal messages, Video Watchdog magazine did a good article on this (sorry, can’t remember the issue). While pointing out the subliminals that actually are in the film, they also dissed an earlier article written by the guy that did that “Subliminal Seduction” book. Seems he had tried to identify the subliminals in the days before home videotape, laserdisc, and DVD; needless to say, without frame-by-frame analysis, he ended up way off the mark.

By the way, I doubt the subliminals had much to do with the stories of people fainting in theatres. Remember, THE EXORCIST was released in the days before wide national releases opened films on 2000 screens the first weekend. The film played in only 60 theatres for several months; if people wanted to go, they had to drive downtown and stand in line for hours. I would be willing to bet that the advance word-of-mouth, apprehension over the subject matter, the notoriety of the book, and the long time waiting…waiting…waiting to get inside and finally see the movie–all these contributed to a mindset conducive to being scared witless. If people had been waiting out in the sun, without eating anything, they might even be light-headed to begin with, hence the potential fainting. At any rate, I doubt this happened very often (I saw the film three or four times during its intial release and never observed such an incident); probably the media exaggerated a very few incidents.

I saw the film again a few years agot at a midnight screenining in Westood, California, and I have to disagree with those today who insist that it is no longer scary or that it is camp. I think what has happened is that the audience attitude has changed. Whereas once people went to the film in anticipation of being scared, now they go in as if challenged, and put up resistance to the film. Well, almost no film can overcome a willful desire not to be entertained.

As far as boring, well, yeah, if you go in expecting special effects and violence from scene one, then you will be bored. That’s not what the film is about, despite its reputation. One of William Friedkin’s master strokes was knowing that viewers would already be worked up into a state before enterting the theatre, because the novel was so controversial and no one knew how they would film it without getting an X-rating, so he played off the expectation, toying with the audience for the first half-hour with nothing but an enigmatic prologue in Iraq and scratching noises in the attic. The much remembered projectile vomiting doesn’t occur until much later, by which time those who have come merely for cheap shocks have long since tuned out.

As for a film that is actually scary, I hear the Blair Witch project is pretty intense. A friend o mine got a “pre-release” version on VCD after the showing in Cannes. He said he couldn’t sleep well for 5 days afterward.

To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.