A little glimpse of the mass hysteria that The Exorcist caused during its original theatrical premiere on December 26, 1973, including footage of the audience reactions and the incredibly long lines of people who waited hours upon hours to see the film.
Alleged subliminal imagery
The Exorcist was also at the center of controversy due to its alleged use of subliminal imagery. Wilson Bryan Key wrote a whole chapter on the film in his book Media Sexploitation alleging multiple uses of subliminal and semi-subliminal imagery and sound effects. Key observed the use of the Pazuzu face (in which Key mistakenly assumed it was Jason Miller made up in a death mask makeup) and claimed that the safety padding on the bedposts were shaped to cast phallic shadows on the wall and that a skull face is superimposed into one of Father Merrin’s breath clouds. Key also wrote much about the sound design, identifying the use of pig squeals, for instance, and elaborating on his opinion of the subliminal intent of it all. A detailed article in the July/August 1991 issue of Video Watchdog examined the phenomenon, providing still frames identifying several uses of subliminal “flashing” throughout the film. In an interview from the same issue, Friedkin explained, “I saw subliminal cuts in a number of films before I ever put them in The Exorcist, and I thought it was a very effective storytelling device… The subliminal editing in The Exorcist was done for dramatic effect—to create, achieve, and sustain a kind of dreamlike state.” However, these quick, scary flashes have been labeled “[not]truly subliminal”. and “quasi-” or “semi-subliminal”. True subliminal imagery must be, by definition, below the threshold of awareness. In an interview in a 1999 book about the film, The Exorcist author Blatty addressed the controversy by explaining that, “There are no subliminal images. If you can see it, it’s not subliminal.”