Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Four Grown Women ... One Possessed Little Girl

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Last night as part of a behind the scenes photos compilation, I included a picture from the set of The Exorcist that showed an actress who was not Linda Blair getting rigged up to spew split pea soup, briefly mentioning how Blair wasn't the only one who played Regan in the film. Tonight, I want to elaborate on that a bit and take a look at all of the women it took to bring the possessed MacNeil girl to life. While many believe that it was all Blair, which director William Friedkin wanted viewers to think and even went so far as to not include the other actresses names in the credits, it actually took four women in total to film everything that needed to be filmed to depict Blair's transformation from sweet little girl to demonic entity whose masturbation device of choice is a crucifix. It's time to give credit where credit is due!

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Obviously, the most recognizable face of Regan is that of Linda Blair, who played the character in her unpossessed form and during most scenes in her possessed form as well. Believe it or not, that actually was Blair who masturbated with a crucifix in the film, though she looks back on that scene and remembers that she barely had any idea what she was even doing at the time. So yes, Blair is in fact Regan throughout much of the runtime, but there are some scenes where it's an entirely different actress altogether.

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Most recognizable as the second face of Regan is actress Eileen Dietz, who was brought in to do a couple things that Blair apparently wasn't able to. There are varying reports from both the Blair and Dietz camps as to what exactly one did that the other didn't, but Blair herself admits that Dietz performed the scenes where the pea soup was being spewed about (which is evident when you watch the film back with this knowledge). Aside from that, Blair says there is less than 20 seconds total in the film where Dietz is actually playing Regan, though Dietz herself says she worked on the film for six months. She also claims that Blair had both a lighting double and a stunt double, which Blair denies. It is known for sure however that Dietz was the face of the demon Pazuzu, which is one of the most terrifying images from the film, so her involvement should not be discounted no matter how much of her as Regan actually made the final cut.

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One of the most iconic scenes from the film, and from horror film history for that matter, is the infamous 'crabwalk scene', which sees Regan walking backwards down the stairs of her home before spewing a mouthful of blood at the camera. This scene was pulled from the original release of the film, being that wires could be seen in the shot that couldn't be removed at the time, but was put back for the 2000 'Version You've Never Seen' release, as the technology existed by then to digitally remove the wires. A contortionist by the name of Linda R. Hager was hired to do the scene, which apparently ended on the first try with her crashing down the stairs before a better rig was devised. While the scene goes by so fast that it's hard to tell it's not Blair that at least spits the blood out, a slow-mo pass through makes it quite clear that it's not her, as the crappy image above shows. It's of such a low quality because I only own the film on Blu-ray (high class problem, eh?) and therefore couldn't pop it into my computer to take a screengrab. So I had to snap a picture of the TV with a digital camera while the scene was paused. Cause i'm all professional like that.

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And finally, what is Regan without that deep and demonic voice? Though Blair did in fact say all those horrible things when Regan was possessed, another voice was overlapped over hers to give it that extra demonic kick. This was the voice of radio personality Mercedes McCambridge. Though she was promised credit for her role, it wasn't until the Screen Actors Guild went to bat for her that she was finally properly credited. Sadly, McCambridge passed away back in 2004 at the age of 87.

So while Linda Blair, at the insistence of Friedkin, performed most of the stunts and did most of the acting in the film, it's undeniably the inclusion of the three other actresses that helped sell the feeling that the demon truly turned Regan into an entirely different being altogether once it got a hold of her. Thus, it quite frankly wouldn't be fair to give her and her alone credit for bringing one of the most iconic characters of all time to the screen. Again, just giving credit where it's due!

2 comments:

Cat said...

Awesome article, though I'm ashamed to say that I had to scan past that first picture really fast. Out of all the creepy images that ever existed, that picture at the top of this article is the one I can never look at. It burns in my brain (I can see it in my head and I only saw it for a split second) and totally gives me nightmares. Crazy, isn't it?

Johnny said...

I hear ya. I'll admit, while writing this article I went back to watch the crabwalk scene and though the sun was shining bright through the window, I still got highly creeped out just by watching that one little scene. The Exorcist truly has a power to scare unlike any other horror film ever made!