The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist (1998)

Director: Mark Kermode
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Starring: Mark Kermode, William Friedkin, Ellen Burstyn. William O'Malley, William Peter Blatty, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Thomas Bermingham, Jason Miller, Terence A. Donnelly, Bill Malley, Joe Hyams

Ever since its release in 1973, The Exorcist has been a film surrounded by controversy. Reports spun out of audience members fainting or vomiting, building up a notoriety which led to the BBFC withdrawing all video copes in the UK, and making it unavailable for purchase for 13 years. But what is it that led to such an adverse reaction to this picture?

For the first time, the full version of Mark Kermode's documentary is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Presented by the Good Doctor himself, he takes viewers throughout many key locations related to the film, guiding the audience through the story behind his all-time favourite film. His regular appearances frame the documentary segments, as we regularly bear witness to interviews from key people that worked on the film, recounting fascinating stories related to the all aspects of the film, from initial conception up to its release. It's also a chance for a retrospective look by those involved, with a fascinating highlight sees Blatty and Friedkin converse about the deleted scenes, debating their personal reasons related to inclusions/exclusions, and even coming up with solutions that could've made it work for both of them.

What's most interesting is how extensive it all is, as the interviewees give detailed stories covering substantial areas across the films history. The behind the scenes woes certainly stick out, as we're told that the set randomly caught fire one day, with the source never been discovered, and in a shocking statement, there were 9 deaths connected to the film. It's no wonder that William Friedkin even asked for the set to be exorcised, something which sounds like a publicity stunt in other hands. If you're curious about how iconic elements became what they now are, there's plenty of in-depth looks showcasing these, such as the progression of make-up, the eye-opening methods to create unsettling sound effects. One of the more engrossing stories is how Mercedes McCambridge managed to pull off the demonic voice, which consisted of drinking raw eggs, constant smoking, and to fall off the wagon. As such, these stories regularly segue into humorous anecdotes, as cast and crew recount memories they cherish from their time on the set.

What sticks out most is an insight on what it was like to work with William Friedkin on this set. He was a man who wanted to overcome any set-backs and craft the best possible feature he could, and was willing to enact them no matter how detrimental the stars found it. It's shocking to hear that his method of startling actors was to fire a gun near their heads, and that Friedkin even slapped Father William O'Malley to get a better performance out of him. But the story which most sticks in the mind centres around a stunt involving Ellen Burstyn, which she asked to be toned down, only for Friedkin to go in the opposite direction. These shocking tales are frankly told, but from the manner the actors recount these tales, it all seems to be water under the bridge at the time of these interviews.

Ultimately, this isn't a fantastical tale that takes place in a faraway land you can avoid travelling to. This is a film about a real little girl living in Washington, D.C., living in a house that could be just down your street. It's a story that could happen to anyone of us, about the nature of evil, and this documentary phenomenally captures why this film caused such an adverse reaction in many moviegoers, and continues to resonate with them. Be sure to double bill it with William Friedkin's feature, and have yourself a wonderful night.

The Fear Of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist (Festival Cut) is available to watch on BBC iPlayer