As I mentioned yesterday, it is not often that horror films are released in December. The month is typically reserved for family-friendly films and Oscar contenders, but every now and then a studio will release a horror film, taking a gamble hoping that counter-programming will work in its favor and make a film a box office success. What happens when a horror film is also a potential Oscar contender? The world found out 43 years ago today, when Warner Bros. Pictures released William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist in theaters. As many of you already know, The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films ever made. It would go on to become the second highest grossing horror film of all time (after Jaws) when adjusted for inflation. today we celebrate the masterpiece’s 43rd anniversary.
Blatty’s novel was partially inspired by a real-life exorcism that took place in 1949, though he changed many of the details of the event for his novel. When Warner Bros. approached Blatty about adapting his novel, he insisted that Friedkin direct because he had such respect for him after seeing his The French Connection. While the studio was initially hesitant (they wanted The Cowboys‘s Mark Rydell to direct), Blatty eventually got his way after a brief standoff.
Friedkin took over 200 days to shoot The Exorcist (well over its planned 105-day schedule), but it paid off in spades. Friedkin was known for going to extreme measures to get authentic reactions from his actors, and the extended shooting time only added to the stress behind the scenes. The film actually had a fairly troubled production (much like the following decade’s Poltergeist films), leading many to believe that the set was cursed.
The Exorcist was released on December 26, 1973 and would go on to earn 10 Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also has the distinction of being the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. Shockingly, it received a mixed reception from critics at the time. Contemporary criticism has been much kinder to the film, though it has a surprisingly low (well, low for a film of The Exorcists‘s caliber) 86% Rotten Tomatoes score. Nevertheless, it has been included on many publications’ “Best Horror Films” lists and is usually in the number one spot.
The film took in a domestic haul of $193 million upon its initial release (it would see two additional released in the new millennium) and spawned two sequels (one very bad, the other quite good), two mediocre prequels and a (very, very good) television series. The footprint it left on the horror genre is enormous, and its cultural significance is undeniable.
So join us today in celebrating The Exorcist on its 43rd anniversary. Did any of you see it in theaters when it was originally released? If not, when did you first see it? Share your memories of the film in the comments below!