It’s hard to imagine what the landscape of horror cinema would look like if Warner Brothers had gone ahead with their plan to shelve William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Excorcist. Released a few years after Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Friedkin’s story of demonic possession took the trope and made it even more shocking – depicting a young girl possessed by a demon with a penchant for obscenities, defecation, and masturbation.
The unflinching impiety of Friedkin’s film made it an instant horror classic, cementing its status as one of the most unnerving and controversial films of the 1970s. In this not-for broadcast TV interview with Friedkin, we are given an insight into the making of the legendary film, the director’s approach to the subject matter, and a few revelations into the film’s true message.
The Excorcist was Friedkin’s first step into the world of horror cinema. He made his name as a documentarian in the 1960s, releasing three socially-engaged documentary films (The People vs. Paul Crump, The Bold Men, and Mayhem On Sunday Afternoon). By the late ’60s, however, he’d successfully made the jump into narrative cinema, with films like Good Times (1967), The Night They Raided Minksy’s (1968), The Boys In The Band (1970), and The French Connection (1971). But, as he explains, The Excorcist proved to be his most challenging work to date.
“The most challenging was The Excorcist of course. I don’t think about filmmaking in terms of enjoyment. It’s very very hard work, mentally and physically, to try and achieve one’s fantasies on film on what is essentially a two-dimensional medium, to try and suggest depth – not simply depth of character and story but depth on the screen. There’s so many problems with associating with putting something on film – creative and technical problems – that one doesn’t have time to enjoy it really. I can’t ever say the experience was enjoyable; the editing is what I enjoy.”
Elsewhere, Friedkin is asked about the possibility that – despite being protested by Christian groups – The Exorcist is, in essence, a Christian film in which good overcomes evil. “I believe very strongly in God and the power of the human soul,” Friedkin began. “I also believe that they are unknowable. But the film, The Exorcist, is primarily about the mystery of faith, the mystery of goodness, that mystery which is inexplicable but it’s there.”
For more fascinating insights into Friedkin’s work on The Exorcist, check out the rare footage below.