Every person who is deeply invested in the cinematic experience knows that somewhere down the line these audiovisual presentations we witness in our everyday lives hold a certain amount of influential power but sometimes even the movie buffs, in the wildest of their imaginations, question themselves about a film that holds enough power to disturb the psychological balance of an individual, cause mishappenings such as deaths and miscarriages, cause the viewers to faint and vomit. In short, the one that appeals visually but touches upon psychologically. These visual pieces are not mere AV presentations but worldwide cult phenomenons. One such phenomenon was “The Exorcist” which changed it for millions, forever, for good or bad.

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It was the month of December, in 1973, when Warner Bros. released their most expensive film of that time costing somewhere between 12-14 million USD. The film was based on the controversial best-seller by William Peter Blatty titled “The Exorcist” which had been launched two years prior to the release of the film i.e., in 1971.

Warner Bros. executives had no hopes for the film as it had already been delayed firstly, due to regular accidents that took place during filming such as sudden fires on the set, and secondly because the film had no renowned face. Many big faces of that time had declined the role of Chris Macneil which was later bagged by Ellen Burstyn – who was already in talks after her Academy Award nomination for best-supporting actress in the film “The Last Picture Show” the preceding year. The other primary roles of Regan Macneil (the 12-year-old happy-go-lucky girl who gets possessed by the Demon Pazuzu) and Father Damien Karras (A religious counselor who had begun to lose his faith) went to Linda Blair and Jason Miller, respectively. Warner Bros. authority was in a conflict as both the people had no past acting experience with Linda being a young girl of 13 and David Miller being a playwright. 

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Other than casting problems the production team had to face various delays due to regular accidents caused by unknown reasons such as sudden fires. The film was supposed to be completed within a budget of 6-7 million USD but took double the time and money to complete it before the post-production finally ended.

It was finally time for everyone ranging from the Director to behind the scene production crew to see the fruit of their hard work when the film was finally announced to be released on the 26th of December, 1973. Although a majority of the people involved with the film had already lost hope in the same.

The Exorcist had turned out to be a nightmare for the producers so much so that it was not even showcased for the Thursday night critical previews. But, something unexpected happened and things took a turn, for good or bad, when the film- that had almost turned out to be a drag for the producers and the crew- evolved into a national phenomenon.

The film was released, initially, only in 24 theatres on 30 screens, mostly in large cities. It went on to score the biggest opening day gross for a single theatre in the history of Los Angeles Motion Picture Houses and broke established records in every other theatre where it opened across the country. The film raked in, reportedly, 1.9 million USD in its first week. It had already, in six days, surpassed all previous box office records at three theatres in New York.

Various stories reached people which consisted of incidents that delayed the production schedule, the sudden deaths of people associated with the film and its cast, the regular blessing of the sets by Church priests, and the involvement of real priests within and outside the film. These were some of the real or made up stories, that eventually worked out commercially for the film because of the buzz these stories/news created among the common people especially the religious ones.

But even if there were rumors that were falsely spread for publicity, which does not seem to be the case, the film was such that it needed none of this monkey business as its presentation was in itself amazingly strong. The film had started to touch upon the lives of its viewers publicly so much so that it made people gross-out, vomit, faint during the showings. This reached a point where priests had to be summoned to bless the movie halls and ambulances had to be accommodated for immediate assistance of anyone who fell victim to this film and its harsh and grossly real appeal.

Following the unmatched humongous success of the movie, two more theatres were opened in Los Angeles and similarly in Chicago. The high public demand and increasing attraction towards this phenomenon forced the producers to expand this film into a ‘wide release’. The film earned more than 66 million USD during its theatrical run in 1974 in the domestic territories of the U.S and Canada and went on to rake in 46 million USD from overseas markets.

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It is often said that Box office and rental collections are not the only parameters to judge a film’s potential and the hard work behind it but completely ignoring the box office performance and the hype one film attains when it succeeds and another fails is also something which is in itself not justified. The Exorcist in 1973-74 not only gained Mass attention but also gave birth to Mass hysteria that left the critics, audiences, and professionals divided. The film received quite a backlash from the Christian Religious groups not just in the USA but also in the UK.

But it only worked to the film’s benefit as every publicity is good publicity and in the case of The Exorcist, it is clearly visible. Blasphemous or not the film succeeded in leaving a mark paralleled to none other.

There are some aspects as to why this film’s success is not just a historical event but also a lesson that every film aspirant and filming professional should very keenly observe and that is the genre it belongs to and how the genre escalated in the aftermath.

The horror genre is not just restricted to slasher killers and ghosts. An empty old mansion having no supernatural presence can be as scary as one with a supernatural presence only and only because of the human mind, its fantasies and imaginations. The weird and eerie scenarios one creates in his/her mind can lead a lonely person to feel surrounded by hundreds and those actually surrounded by hundreds can feel desperate for human contact and interpersonal communication, this realization in itself is as frightening as it can be.

The horror genre is all about a sickening realization. It is not what we call Terror, it is what follows that terror. What follows after being terrified, after being anxious or fearful is plain horror. What I personally infer from this is that a scary scenario when imagined is Terror but experiencing the same physically is plain horror. And that is what I believe shapes the Horror genre be it in association with slasher, gothic, werewolves & vampires, mythical creatures, religious occult, witchcraft, Lovecraft, Mansion Murders, Cosmic & Apocalyptic horror, homicide and, psychological thrillers with The Exorcist being originally a Psychological Thriller. It is quite a shock when one realizes that The Exorcist has been a Psychological Thriller all these years according to the Director and makers of the film. 

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But, then again what makes this film a part of the horror genre is the clear feeling of revulsion, the sickening realization, and experiencing that terrible situation of “What if it was my little girl or boy who lay in that bed possessed and in an extremely sickening mental, emotional, and physical condition?” and most importantly the audiences.

The Exorcist not only performed well commercially but also critically and eventually gained a cult classic status in the years to follow. It became the very first horror film to be nominated for the Best Film category at the Oscars in 1974. And went on the eventually win 2 Academy Awards – Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound out of its 10 nominations. The Exorcist was also featured in the 2015 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and was ranked 9th in the list of highest-grossing films of all time in the U.S. and Canada and top-grossing R-Rated film of all time after adjusting for inflation to 2014 prices, amounting to, roughly, 1.8 billion USD after the calculation of both its theatrical and Director’s Cut (released 27 years later in 2000).

To all the debate and discussion, the conclusion that arises might always end up in a debate or even arguments between movie buffs preferring Psycho (1960) or The Shining (1980) or some other Cult horror film over The Exorcist but in the end, this 1973 Psychological Thriller still works as the perfect inspiration for horror filmmakers when it comes to sending a chill down the spines of the viewers be it through the 180 and 360-degree head spins, demonic voice modulations, the infamous EXORCIST GIRL make-up, the gritty and raw exorcism scenes or even a possessed girl floating in mid-air. This all started with The Exorcist but does not intend to stop anytime soon and that is what has kept this film alive even today as a Cult be it as a Classic, research, blasphemy, or even as a matter of unparalleled controversy and most importantly as the film that compelled people to wait for hours in long queues regardless of whether it snowed or rained. 

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