An Unholy Christmas Gift: Audience Reactions and the Phenomenon of "The Exorcist"

An Unholy Christmas Gift: Audience Reactions and the Phenomenon of “The Exorcist”

Christmas at the cinema has been a long-standing holiday tradition for many families. After a chaotic morning of shuffling around from house to house opening unwanted presents of socks and fruitcakes while dealing with overly loud in-laws, one tends to want to wind down with a good wholesome film.

Enter The Exorcist, which opened nationwide in theaters the day after “Jesus’ birthday” on December 26th, 1973.

Bit of a stray from good ol’ Rankin Bass entertainment, eh?

When it comes to The Exorcist, you can’t even to attempt to argue that BOTH the 1971 novel and 1973 film are nothing short of a massive achievement in both the horror genre and filmmaking in general. What many people call “The scariest movie of all time” has left its imprint of terror on people. In 1973 when the film first premiered it caused QUITE a stir all over the nation. It was like nothing anyone has ever seen on screen, or even witnessed at a theatre. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was the first to bring serious public controversy and horror to movie audiences with the shocking shower scene, but The Exorcist raised the bar far higher than anyone could ever imagine and audiences were absolutely not ready for this shit. You’ve heard the stories: people fainting in the theaters, vomiting, some bolting out the door like a bat out of hell to their closest church out of fear and to repent.

Goddamn. What a beautiful site. I wish I could have experienced this phenomenon.

The Exorcist opened the same day in 24 theaters in 21 metro areas in the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday, December 26th, 1973 with strategically creating a sense of scarcity by adding new theaters slowly over the course of the following months per the studios. The results made The Exorcist a smash hit, even beating out The Sting which was released on Christmas Day and as far as Holiday theatrical releases go- The Exorcist is only trailing behind TITANIC as far as gross income.

Of course, we have to value the other strategic promotions from the studios where they really ate up the “getting ill” inside the theater aspect. That alone peaked people’s interest, only making them want to watch it more- as human nature goes, you tell us not to touch something, it makes us only lust after it all the more. This movie was not expected to do well. However, after the news pounced on the rumors of people fainting in the theater, people lined up in droves in freezing temperatures to get in on The Exorcist phenomenon.

Bless those people’s frozen chops for helping make The Exorcist one of the highest-grossing R-Rated films of all time and giving the world a Christmas miracle: One where it centered around ironically, a demonic possession.


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