Arguably, The Exorcist—along with Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—ushered in the modern era of horror cinema. The Exorcist became a major cultural event when it was unleashed on audiences in December 1973. Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, The Exorcist tells the story of a little girl possessed by the demon Pazuzu and the priests who are charged with saving her soul. There are tales of people being so frightened of Blatty’s book that they keep it in a separate part of the house, like a garage, a linen closet, or even a freezer like Joey Tribiani did with his copy of The Shining (not recommended for your Kindle). The movie terrified audiences perhaps even more so; some believe that there is actual evil contained in the film stock. Even Paul Mooney and Richard Pryor were no match for Pazuzu.
For those who were not around to experience The Exorcist for the first time on the big screen, YouTube users historycomestolife and Behind The Exorcist have unearthed what appears to be local news footage of audiences experiencing William Friedkin’s horror masterpiece for the first time.
There is a lot to love in these clips, not only for fans of The Exorcist, but for people who just like going to the movies. These clips reveal just what a phenomena the release of The Exorcist was—everyone was going to see this movie: young, old, male, female. The scene resembles a party with people excited to get into the theater, and then that mood changes decidedly when they’re on their way out.
The videos features an interview with Westwood theater manager Harry Francis, who recounts Blatty and Friedkin buying coffee for folks waiting in line as well as plenty of moviegoers fainting, crying, and looking quite shaken by the movie, particularly by the head spinning. (There are also some groovy ’70s styles on display in the video.) Blatty and Friedkin also turn up later in the clip being interviewed by an expert on the subject of the devil—a priest. As one police officer working security states, “It’s something I never saw in my whole entire life. It’s something different, and I went to a lot of movies but I’ve never seen anything like this time myself.” And modern audiences probably never will.