Released in 1973, the nightmare-inducing film The Exorcist still holds the spot for the second highest-earning R-rated horror film of all time. The film, directed by William Friedkin, is adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel of the same name and is based on a real-life event which took place in 1949.
It follows the story of a 12-year-old girl named Regan MacNeil, played by Linda Blair, who is believed to be possessed by an evil spirit. Once the Catholic church learns of Father Damien Karras’ suspicions, he’s allowed to perform exorcism on the girl.
Once it hit theaters, the Oscar-winning movie became a massive hit everyone talked about. Most of the actors, who were rather unknown before the film was released, rose to stardom. The same was true for then 14-year-old Blair who turned into a star almost overnight.
Her chilling performance brought her the praise from the critics, but at the same time, the controversial role took a toll on her life.
The making of the film was notoriously difficult. As special effects weren’t powered by technology during the 70’s, many of the actors were demanded to film under difficult conditions, which left them vulnerable to injuries and illness. For example, the room where the scene of exorcism was filmed was kept at a temperature of 30 below the zero so the cameras were able to pick up the cloud of ice when an actor breathed and Blair wore a gown only.
During the filming, a few tragedies took place and nine people related to the film in one way or another died.
Before the exorcism scene was shot, a bird flew into a light box and that caused a massive fire which burned the place so the filming was stopped for six weeks until the set was rebuilt.
At the time, Blair was too young to understand that many were in fact scared of the events which surrounded the making of the horror movie. “The Exorcist was a work of fiction. I didn’t realize then that it dealt with anything in reality,” she said.
In one scene, Blair was violently lashed back and forth in a harness. As a result, she suffered a spinal injury, which later developed into scoliosis. She later said: “The back injury was far more serious than I ever imagined and really affected my health negatively for a long time.”
Blair’s acting was so realistic that many claimed a healthy child could not possibly be able to give such strong and intimidating performance.
A number of religious hard-liners declared the film to be blasphemous and accused young Blair of the religious crises they experienced. As a result, she and her family kept receiving death-threats and were forced to live under police protection for some time.
“The amount of pressure that came down on me wasn’t anything I was prepared for. Especially all the pressure the press put on me. They thought I had all the answers about faith and Catholicism. …It was probably the most awful thing you could imagine,” the actress told Dread Central.
Because of her role of Regan MacNeil, Blair was typecast and was only offered roles where she played a vulnerable victim despite her brilliant performance in The Exorcist. In order to try and revitalize her image, she posed nude for the October 1982 issue of Oui magazine but that only made things worse. For most of her career, she starred in exploitation and B-films.
Eventually, she turned to her first passion, that for animals, and founded the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation.
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