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Voice of the demon: ‘The Exorcist’ and the legacy of Mercedes McCambridge
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Mercedes McCambridge and Linda Blair
Mercedes and the Monster (photo illustration by Todd McNaught)
 
It inspired an ocean of imitators and aspects of it seem quaint in the context of the age of digitally effected gore. But almost 40 years after its release, The Exorcist remains a chilling classic that transcended the horror genre due to both William Friedkin’s masterful direction and Linda Blair’s stellar acting.

In the spirit of Tara’s posting of creepy test footage from the film earlier this month, here’s the gifted Blair voicing the scene that introduces Regan to Father Karras followed by the eventual dubbing.
 

 
That dubbed voice was provided by then-57-year-old radio and film actor Mercedes McCambridge, who had seen fame in supporting roles in ‘40s and ‘50s vehicles like All the King’s Men (for which she won an Oscar) and Giant. But for some reason, Friedkin seemed to want to edge the veteran out, as Fear Magazine noted in December 1990 (via the Exorcist Tribute Zone:

Friedkin…attempted initially to convince journalists that the demonic voice provided by [McCambridge] was actually the voice of Linda Blair, an endeavour in which he was thwarted by Ms McCambridge’s demand for a screen credit.  ‘It’s not true that some of [Blair’s] words were blended with mine on the final track,’  McCambridge told the New York Times early in 1974.  ‘All of the devilish vocality is mine—- all of it.  Every word!’  After threats of legal action, Friedkin was forced to acknowledge McCambridge’s work, and she received a credit (although not as the demon’s voice) on all but the first thirty prints of the Exorcist.

Here’s the sordid, wagon-jumping story from both the apparently shady Friedkin and Madame McCambridge…
 

 
“Finish your popcorn,” eh? Not a chance, Mercedes. Upon its day-after-Christmas premiere in 1973, The Exorcist resulted in a holiday season riven with many ladies a-fainting and traumatized. Here’s some suitably grainy footage of audience reactions from the time.
 

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann

 

 

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