The image of Father Merrin arriving at the MacNeil home is one of the most enduring in horror cinema, and it was first seen on The Exorcist‘s original poster. That poster was designed by the legendary Bill Gold, whose art for films like Deliverance, Casablanca, Dirty Harry, and A Clockwork Orange is as iconic as the films themselves – the same can be said of The Exorcist.
But Gold also came up with a couple alternate concepts you’ve maybe never seen.
As he explained to AFI recently, Gold was instructed to be vague with the poster, and it was only after William Friedkin and Warner Bros. rejected two concepts that the iconic art was settled on.
I’d been specifically told by William Friedkin and Warner Bros. that we must not use an image of the girl possessed, or show anything that had any hint of religious connotation. They were very concerned about that. Friedkin was very involved, and he and Warners rejected all our other comps. They knew what they wanted and certainly picked the right image, which was used all over the world. And the movie, at the time, became the biggest hit in Warners’ history.
Gold also explained how he came up with the art that was used:
I picked the still of the priest, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), arriving at the house in Georgetown for the exorcism with a briefcase in his hand because it struck a chord with me. When you looked at this still, you knew somehow that whatever is about to happen inside that house is not going to be good! I adapted it by taking a lot of the detail out of the photo and turning it into a design, and after that no one wanted to see anything else.
As you’ll see below, the two other concepts are very different from one another: one of them appears to be advertising a comedy while the other is actually quite chilling. Both alternate concepts feature a particularly strange font choice, however, which was thankfully done away with.
Check out the unused art below!