When “The Exorcist” was first released in 1973, the film received its share of extreme reactions from viewers, with several news stations reporting that a few spectators became nauseous or even fainted while watching the horror movie. To craft such a viscerally unsettling film, Friedkin used all sorts of visual quirks, including several new tricks that would change the horror genre forever. In addition to layering a tapestry of unsettling sounds (like industrial noise and the hum of bees), Friedkin peppered the film in post-production with brief flashes of a pale demonic face, adding an almost subliminal sense of dread to the film. .
Audiences today, of course, can easily pause the film on their streaming box of choice and observe the demon’s white face, red lips and dark eyes up close. at the time of the film’s release, these images were nearly impossible to consciously perceive.
In a 2012 interview, Friedkin explained that the face was that of Linda Blair’s demonic stunt double, noting that although he didn’t like the general look of the makeup, he had become convinced that the effect could be terrifyingly frightening in minute doses, resulting in a feeling of subconscious terror.
This semi-subliminal imagery would serve as rocket fuel for satanic panic, with the fundamentalist preacher Billy Graham denounces the film as “odious, repugnant, disgusting, pornographic and obscene”. Of course, such comments ultimately only helped sell more tickets.