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The Rejected Score for ‘The Exorcist’ is Absolutely Terrifying

William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist is considered by many to be the ultimate horror film. It has topped “Best Horror Films of All Time” lists for years now and it has been entered into the National Film Registry in 2010 after being selected by the Library of Congress.

The film not only ushered in a new wave of horror, one that was more extreme and visceral than anything that had been seen before, it also had a big impact on music. The usage of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” sent that track into the stratosphere in terms of popularity. Furthermore, it utilized many modern composers and their unsettling, uneasy pieces to create an aura of dread and terror.

But what many don’t know is that the film was meant to have an original score by renowned composer Lalo Schifrin (“Mission Impossible”, Bullitt). Well, that is until Friedkin had a temper tantrum and quite literally threw the original audio reels out of the studio window.

Let’s talk a bit about the series of events that led to such an extreme reaction.

While the film was being worked on, Friedkin hired Schifrin to compose a score for the movie, including a trailer that was shown to advance audiences to gauge their reaction (see below). Apparently they reacted so strongly that some people were allegedly running to the bathrooms to vomit. Others had strong physical reactions to the strong flashing images, resulting in possible seizures. This led the studio to demand a new score, one that was softer and more relaxed.

Several years ago, Schifrin spoke to Score Magazine and explained how the full experience was less than cordial, to put it mildly:

The truth is that it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, but I have recently read that in order to triumph in your life, you may previously have some fails.

What happened is that the director, William Friedkin, hired me to write the music for the trailer, six minutes were recorded for the Warner’s edition of the trailer. The people who saw the trailer reacted against the film, because the scenes were heavy and frightening, so most of them went to the toilet to vomit. The trailer was terrific, but the mix of those frightening scenes and my music, which was also a very difficult and heavy score, scared the audiences away.

So, the Warner Brothers executives said Friedkin to tell me that I must write less dramatic and softer score. I could easily and perfectly do what they wanted because it was way too simple in relevance to what I have previously written, but Friedkin didn’t tell me what they said. I´m sure he did it deliberately. In the past we had an incident, caused by other reasons, and I think he wanted vengeance. This is my theory.

This is the first time I speak of this matter, my attorney recommended me not to talk about it, but I think this is a good time to reveal the truth.

Finally, I wrote the music for the film in the same vein as that of the trailer. In fact, when I wrote the trailer I was in the studio with Friendkin and he congratulated me for it. So, I thought I was in the right way… but the truth was very different.

Apparently that differing truth was that Friedkin was so displeased with the score that he decided defenestration was the only viable option, tossing the material right out the window. His loss, as I feel that the music Schifrin composed is nothing short of terrifying, leaving me unsettled even as I write this in the middle of the day.

While listening to the opening piece of the score, I can see how it inspired other composers, such as Roque Baños’ for 2013’s Evil Dead as well as Joseph Bishara’s Insidious.

If you get a chance to listen to the above rejected score, make sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments. Would it have made a substantial difference had they used Schifrin’s score instead of the array of composers we’re so used to hearing?

[H/T Dangerous Minds]



  • Seriously hate that face…

  • crys_t

    Meh. I think the bits of Tubular Bells they used were actually scarier. Schifrin’s score sounds a bit too much like Psycho’s & IMO is pretty over the top. Also, that was one crappy trailer!

  • Boris The Spider

    I think this score makes much more sense. It really puts you in the room as far as conveying the mood of the film. Tubular Bells never sat right with me within the context of the movie.

    • You’re on crack. To use the none conventional Tubular Bells was the most brilliant move Friedkin could have done.

      • Boris The Spider

        My enjoyment of sweet sweet crack aside, what is unconventional about Tubular Bells?

        • PsychoMantis18

          Comeback of the day.

        • Kenya_Diggit

          If you were around in 1973, and you knew the music at that time, Tubular Bells was kind of out there. While Lalo’s music was in your face ‘scary’ like the music in ‘Psycho’, Tubular Bells was more eerie, and had a feeling of quiet disturbance. It’s not attacking you, but quietly stalking you from behind.

  • Boypopproject

    This is too literal. I like it but the imagery itself didn’t need addtional cues.

  • Nathan Bradley

    Although I like the Lalo Schifrin score it doesn’t have the iconic sound of Tubular Bells, it’s instantly forgettable and seems to rip from Psycho.

  • shawn lawson

    I agree with boris. Id love to rip rocks and put Lalos score on loop sometime, my man!

  • Evan3

    Would it have made a difference? Absolutely. As you essentially admit here, the score that was used is iconic and itself, heavily influential. This isn’t bad, but it is busy. It telegraphs far more overtly the emotions one is to feel.

  • marklola12 .

    nah not keen on it really. tubular bells is a much better fit

  • murdermakesmecum666

    i think this score fits pretty well. it has an edge of your seat feel to it. its easy to picture scenes from the movie to go along with the music.

  • Science Advisor

    I would hazard that since the Exorcist was using subliminals to make their movie scarier than it truly was, that they probably did the same for the advertisements. They probably overdid it, and blamed it on the music. It is not as if the studio could admit they were cheating, and promise to tune it down.

  • AZ

    No mention of the Amityville Horror connection? Though Schifrin has denied it, you can totally see that he reworked some of this music for Amityville.

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