An extremely rare film reel has surfaced documenting how cinemas, audiences and the media handled the release of The Exorcist in America in 1974.
Titled The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist, the short documentary features real- time audience reactions from people seeing the iconic film for the first time in early 1974. It’s a fascinating insight into just how groundbreaking and revolutionary The Exorcist was in its time, breaking box office and attendance records and becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
Theater owners admit to hiring security guards and adding extra staff to cater for the large audiences which quickly swelled to sizes that were unheard of at the time.
People queuing outside theaters are excited and nervous, unsure of what to expect. Queues became so large that people were waiting up to 7 hours just to buy a ticket. Police are required to herd masses and keep sidewalks clear. Coupons had to be issued so people wouldn’t miss out on a seat after waiting so long. William Peter Blatty (Writer/Producer) and William Friedkin (Director) even bought thousands of cups of coffee and had staff handing them out to people waiting in the cold.
One New York woman explains, “I wanna see if it’ll make me throw up.” Perhaps not in her case, but there were reports of people literally throwing up in the aisles.
There’s amazing footage of viewers leaving cinemas in shock, astonished at what they just saw. Some start crying and just can’t articulate how they’re feeling. A women even faints on camera trying to walk out of a screening. One gentleman admits, “It didn’t scare me, I just— I don’t know what happened, I just fainted. It was frightening.”
Screams are heard while employees are being interviewed. They admit to needing smelling salts for people who’ve collapsed.
“We have a lot of people throwing up and a lot of people shuddering,” an employee says to the camera, “but the the thing that really surprises me is that people faint. I’ve never in my life known a movie where people would faint. I mean, it’s hard to make people faint.”
The documentary later delves into media coverage, showing newspaper headlines and exclusive television reports that feature more petrified viewers admitting to walking out.
Nobody had ever experienced anything like The Exorcist at the time and this short documentary film does an exceptional job of capturing the staggering impact the film had on America.
I hope to find out more about where this film came from, who made it and what it was made for.
Unfortunately there are no watermarks or any indication of a studio or news team commissioning this kind of report– but I am extremely glad it exists.