Few horror movies have ever achieved the level of suspense and terror that William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece, The Exorcist, did. The book with the same title by William Peter Blatty, published in 1971, served as the inspiration for the film.
Regan MacNeil, the eleven-year-old daughter of a well-known actress, was outlined as being possessed by a demon in the book, along with the two priests who tried to drive the demon out.
What many people might not realize, though, is that Friedkin made one significant change to the movie that turned it into the mesmerizing masterpiece we know today. A 1949 exorcism case that was documented served as the basis for the novel. In the 1973 film, a young girl was possessed by a demon, and the plot revolved around her mother’s attempt to exorcise two Catholic priests in order to free her.
What Real Event Inspired William Friedkin’s The Exorcist?
The origins of The Exorcist can be traced to Maryland in 1949, where reports provided insight into the life of ‘Robbie’ or ‘Roland Doe’, who underwent several exorcisms at his home, church, and various hospitals. According to reports, the teenage boy, whose real name was withheld for his safety, became possessed after using an Ouija board. The child reportedly began acting strangely after the death of an aunt, which was also related to the incident.
During that time, the child would experience strange noises, flying objects, and scratches—all of which William Friedkin, the late director, used in The Exorcist.
In Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Damien Karras (Jason Miller) fought the demon that had taken possession of a young girl named Regan MacNeil’s (Linda Blair) body.
As the possession became more obvious, Regan began acting out worse than ever; she began swearing, speaking in a deep voice, and was able to turn her head. But even when one of the priests had a crisis of faith of his own, it was up to them to cast this demon out and save Regan’s soul.
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist Avoided Typical Horror Tropes
One aspect of The Exorcist‘s greatness was William Friedkin’s direction, which prevented the movie from falling into common horror clichés. The horror of The Exorcist came from Regan MacNeil’s (Linda Blair) suffering, not from jump scares or cheap killings.
William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist and passed away in 2017, got the inspiration for it while attending Georgetown University, which was where Ronald Doe was evaluated. After hearing a lecturer discuss the latter’s tale, Blatty decided to borrow a diary that one of the priests had. Then he penned one of the best-selling novels in 1971 and sought Friedkin out to adapt it for the big screen.
There is no doubt that The Exorcist captured the dread and mood of Roland’s journey. However, Friedkin changed the story to hide Roland from prying eyes by using a 12-year-old girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair).
Other changes included scarring the letter ‘X’ into Regan’s body to represent the number of demons she was harboring. These were supposed to help avoid the St. Louis connection. Regan undergoing scientific procedures and her mother eventually bringing Fathers (Lankester Merrin and Damien Karras) were just two of the many similarities to Roland’s story that already existed in The Exorcist.
The discussion that surrounded the movie contributed to it becoming the first horror movie to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. There have been several sequels made.
The Exorcist: Believer, the sixth installment in the series and a direct sequel to The Exorcist (1973), will be released in theaters on October 6. It is directed by David Gordon Green. There will be three new The Exorcist movies; the second, titled Deceiver, will arrive on April 18, 2025.
You can stream The Exorcist on Max.