Considered one of the most frightening horror movies ever, The Exorcist mesmerized and disturbed audiences upon its release in 1973. The film featured Linda Blair in her breakout role as Regan MacNeil, the 12-year-old girl possessed by Satan.
Because of its iconic scenes with the “spider walk,” projectile vomit, and head twist, the movie is part of pop culture lore. But the chilling sequence that showed Father Merrin and Father Karras praying over Regan in an ice cold room was set up to make everything frigid. Blair recalled how she endured the low temperature.
‘The Exorcist’ used 4 air conditioners to cool Regan’s bedroom
When Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller) attempted one part of their exorcism, Regan’s room chilled out. In real life, the production team set up four air conditioners to convert the bedroom into a refrigerated space with a temperature that sat at 20 degrees below zero. And it served only one purpose.
The Exorcist’s director of cinematography Owen Roizman spoke about shooting in the cold room. They wanted to ensure each actor’s breath showed up on film. He — along with cast and crew members — explained it in the documentary, Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist.
“The only reason we wanted the room to be cold is because we had to see the breath,” he said. “The catch-22 there is we had to refrigerate the room with air conditioners in order to see the breath. Well, you see the breath usually with moist cold, and air conditioners take the moisture out of the cold.”
Roizman shared that because the air conditioners removed the moisture, they had to cool the room to an extremely low temperature. But the actors had to work quickly because the room would begin to warm up. Between the lights and bodies in the space, they generated heat.
That lengthened the filming process, but everyone worked through it. “It’s such a tribute to them as artists and actors that they could just turn it on and turn it off, and get into it,” he said.
Linda Blair recalls only wearing a nightgown and long underwear
Blair shared her memories of the famous scene where her character made the room cold and her bed levitate. In the documentary, she imitated how the director and production team walked around bundled up in insulated gear while she stayed in costume.
“The men all had their old ski suits that looked kind of like a space uniform,” she said. “And me, I got long underwear and a nightgown. Lucky me!” Blair joked. The only other thing she found slightly annoying was the robotic dummy version of Regan.
“The dummy sat up in the makeup room so I’m constantly looking over at my face. I didn’t enjoy the experience of being in its presence,” she laughed and said.
CGI would change ‘The Exorcist’ scenes
Most consider the movie’s special effects to be impressive for its time. Director William Friedkin noted that in modern times, he wouldn’t have to film the cold room sequence so intricately because of CGI technology. They could just add artificial breath.
When it came to frosty breath, a floating bed, and all of Regan’s antics, they shot it using handcrafted mechanical techniques or camera tricks. Check it out by streaming The Exorcist on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, or YouTube.