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The Exorcist's Linda Blair Wasn't Prepared For The Movie's Messy Controversy

"The Exorcist" has become a horror staple. It's one of those films that's so revolutionary and so defining in the genre that everyone knows what it is. Horror fans and non-horror fans alike are at least familiar with the basic plot and ideas presented in the film and understand why it was so genre-breaking at the time of release in 1973.

Starring Linda Blair as the young Regan MacNeil, a girl who accidentally befriends a demon and is slowly possessed throughout the course of the film, "The Exorcist" was ahead of its time. Becoming the blueprint for modern possession movies, even the multiple sequels — and the more recent television series — within the franchise never managed to top the original. At the time of its release, it was one of the most terrifying stories ever put to film, and even now, 50 years later, it's regarded as one of the best horror movies of all time.

Regardless of its success, though, the film was extremely controversial at the time of its release. Due to its sensitive subject matter, the focal point of Catholicism, and the graphic nature of a young girl possessed, "The Exorcist" was under scrutiny from the moment it started filming. None know this better than Linda Blair herself, who suffered greatly at the hands of the press and audiences after the film debuted.

The Exorcist was controversial... and cursed

Although "The Exorcist" is one of the most successful horror films of all time and has been nominated for countless awards (even winning Best Screenplay at the Oscars, via IMDb), the film had a lot of uphill battles. In 1973 there was a lot of pushback over the topics portrayed in the film. Religion has always been something of a sensitive topic, so it came as no real surprise when a film all about demonic possession and the exorcism of a young girl was met with loads of backlash.

The filming conditions were also called into question. Considering the young age of the lead, Linda Blair, one might assume that she would have been treated with special care. In reality, it was quite the opposite. The role of Regan became particularly demanding, especially physically. From spending five hours a day in the grueling makeup application process to being physically restrained by a harness that repeatedly hit her in the back to being dressed in little more than a nightgown in freezing temperatures, Blair didn't really get a break.

In addition to horrible filming conditions, the production suffered a lot. Many claimed that the film was cursed due to the misfortunes that plagued the cast and crew. Unexpected deaths of cast members and a bizarre fire that burned the set to the ground and put the production on hold for six weeks were just a couple of things that went wrong during the filming. At one point, a real exorcist was actually brought in to bless the set because the possibility of actually being cursed seemed so real.

Linda Blair never outran the controversy of The Exorcist

Although Linda Blair was only 14 when "The Exorcist" was released, she was not spared from the harsh scrutiny that came from audiences and critics everywhere. Due to her young age, she didn't understand that the script had any impact on reality. "Nothing like it was being made at that time so I just really had no idea of what this story would become ... I didn't understand it," Blair said during an interview with Dread Central.

The way that Blair was treated after the film's release was appalling. The press hounded her for answers she didn't have about Catholicism and the devil. "When the movie came out, the amount of pressure that came down on me wasn't anything I was prepared for ... they thought I had all the answers about faith and Catholicism," Blair recounted her time in front of audiences of hundreds of people. She pointed out that, at the time, one-on-one interviews weren't really a thing.

"To me, it was just a character that was made up from special effects and not a symbol of something more like Regan has [actually] become over the years." Because Blair wasn't raised Catholic, and she approached the story from a child's perspective, she viewed "The Exorcist" as a work of fiction, and being hounded for demands that she didn't have was taxing to the young teen.

Accusations she didn't deserve were thrown her way. She was accused of glorifying the devil and was sent so many threats that she actually had police living in her home for protection — the treatment of this teenager after the film's release was beyond horrendous.

Blair describes her experience as the worst thing you can imagine

"It was probably the most awful thing you could imagine," Linda Blair recalled to Dread Central about the press conferences she endured after the film's release. "I didn't realize then that it dealt with anything in reality, and so when the press kept asking me about all the devil stuff, it just kept adding to the pressure I was under, and it was just an awful thing to go through as a teenager."

"Looking back at all the things they put me through to market that movie around the world — it was surreal," Blair reflected on that period of her life. "I'd be thrust in front of hundreds of people I often couldn't understand, who were putting their faith into my hands — it was horrible." To be fair, putting that kind of life-defining reality into the hands of a child who was hired to play a character was not only unfair, it was outlandish. Hearing some of Blair's stories about the reaction to "The Exorcist" sound ridiculous. How could people be so irrational?

One concern many critics had about the film was the possibility of people believing in supernatural phenomena after watching it. Considering the intense reaction many had to the film's sheer existence and their expectations of a young Linda Blair, perhaps the critics were right to fear this.