The Exorcist (original): a few questions

So I finally got to see this all the way through, with some previously deleted scenes restored.
Just a few things I’m wondering about:

  1. Why was Fr. Merrin excavating in Iraq? Why would he want to dig up what appeared to be a symbol of evil?

  2. What was the little thing that the police investigator found at the foot of the steps?

  3. Was Regan chosen for some reason, or was she a random pick? Did she make herself vulnerable, unwittingly, by playing with the Ouija board?

  1. He was researching the unclean spirit Pazuzu, the entity which posessed Regan. Pazuzu hates and fears him, because they tangled before.

  2. A fragment of colored clay sculpture…the same kind found defacing the statues of the Virgin Mary in the church.

  3. You mess with the Occult…no matter how innocently…and you leave yourself open and vulnerable to Darkness.

Finally Jack Chick and the Catholics agree on something!

The author William Peter Blatty has said in an interview that Regan was chosen randomly.

Washington Post: In the film “The Exorcist,” what exactly was the meaning of the opening scenes in Iraq with Father Merrin?
William Peter Blatty: The Iraqi sequence was meant to set a tone of foreboding and to introduce Father Merrin.


See also

Didn’t Sharon find a necklace near her home before Regan was attacked? Or was that after the ordeal?

Even though it’s not the best of movies, the new “Exorcist: The Begining” explains Pazuzu and Father Merrin’s previous battle (although they switch the location from Iraq to Africa), including the necklace and the demon’s head that Merrin finds again at the begining of “The Exorcist”. But I don’t know how canon that is.

Has William Peter Blatty ever written about Merrin and the demon’s previous encounters?

IIRC from the book, Regan was beginning to think about God and religion, and might have experienced a conversion. It was this that drew the attention of the demon Pazuzu. Not sure if that’s mentioned in the movie, though.

Both questions stem from Wilson Brian Key’s (non-) (or semi-) fiction book & a report in the 2/81 edition of Omni magazine (who claim subliminal techniques used by Friedkin caused some of the hysteria).

  1. When the film was first released, is there any truth to reports that a significant number of people got ill (vomited), had heart attacks, passed out or were otherwise physically/psychologically affected by the Excorcist? From what I’ve read, such occurrences were widespread enough that it became a national story in the media.

  2. Is the video of The Exorcist banned in the UK?

The reason I ask is: If the reports about the intense effect the film had on certain audience members are true, there has to be more than meets the eye. Though I’ve seen the death mask & heard the bees, I don’t see any of the other alleged techniques used on the DVD.

“Subliminal” techniques in film have been pretty much discredited as ineffectual.

It was banned up until mid 99 over here on video & (at the time fledgling) DVD. It was available on video for a time way back when, as I saw it on an original copy back in 88, but it may have been swept up in the video nasties BBFC bannings of the early 80s, due to its content. Just before this, it was re-released in the cinema for a short time.

There were indeed such news reports. I can’t say how widespread such reactions were, and how much of it was spread by the film’s publicists, though.

BTW, Mike Oldfield, the composer of Tubular Bells, only saw the Exorcist for the first time a few years ago. He thought it was hilariously funny.

I have read that some of the folks getting sick were movie theater workers who listened to it (but not watched it) over and over again. Some people theorized that the angry bee noises may have made their stress levels go up enough over time to affect them. It’s a sound that would naturally cause your adrenaline level to rise because it’s a warning of danger, and it since it’s intermittent it would be hard to tune it out, so that might explain it.

I seriously doubt anyone had heart attacks over it though.

Aveguy watched it for the first time last week and thought it was a technically well made movie, and pretty amusing. I had told him to watch for the subliminals- the faces, the bees, the non-reflective mirror, etc. He managed a freeze of the mom with ex-rays behind her, and one of the demonic faces, and they seem to be making eye contact in a wierd way. It was hilarious, the demon face resembled Uncle Fester on a really bad day. He did say the plot seemed kind of thin, as in “She said her bed was shaking and her mom takes her to a psychiatrist?”

To continue the people getting sick questions, I’ve heard it was primarily the medical scenes (blood spurting out the neck, spinal taps, etc) that caused the passing out of people. I’m sure marketing and hype and urban legend added in the widespread heart attacks.

I’ve read about physical audience reactions to The Exorcist in Mikita Brottman’s book Hollywood Hex: An Illustrated History of Cursed Movies, which not only goes into depth about the vomiting and people claiming to be possessed after seeing the movie, but also details the general weirdness surrounding the production of the film.

I’ve read that there were some people who actually had to be put into a mental institution after seeing the movie. I find that hard to believe.


  1. Why was Fr. Merrin excavating in Iraq? Why would he want to dig up what appeared to be a symbol of evil?


IIRC, Fr. Merrin was loosely inspired by real-life archaeologist/priest Teilhard de Chardin.

Maybe I should specify a little bit. I’m not saying–and neither is Brottman–that The Exorcist and other movies she writes about (The Twilight Zone, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Crow are in fact cursed or haunted or jinxed by things like on-set deaths or various sorts of turmoil surrounding actors, directors, and crew members. It goes back to what Enola Straight wrote upthread in response to the OP’s third question: “You mess with the Occult…no matter how innocently…and you leave yourself open and vulnerable to Darkness.” Belief in such a concept seems to make for possible extreme audience reactions to the portrayal of possession on screen, and results in the sort of physiological and, if some accounts are to be believed, psychological effects of seeing the film.

This is all good stuff; thank you.

Didn’t Ouija boards used to be available at Toys R Us? Are they still?
Is Exorcist II: The Heretic really as bad as it’s said to be? Or is it worse?

Apparently; not necessry to find your local occult bookstore.