“What an excellent day for an exorcism.”
In April 1972, Dick Smith began work on designs that would forever change the face of demon possessed horror. Regarded throughout the world as the Dean of modern make-up, Dick Smith worked closely with director William Friedkin to turn 12 year old, cherub faced Linda Blair into a believable, demon possessed child. In my opinion, its still the most frightening and believable possessed designs in cinema history.
Unlike CG where anything is truly possible (often to a fault), prosthetic make-up is an additive process applied to a living person – a delicate balance of dimensional illusion, careful lighting and coloring without making the head or body part appear fatter.
Five months before they began shooting, Dick Smith took life casts of Linda Blair and using Roma Plastilina, sculpted several different possession designs on those casts. When a few appeared promising, molds were made, foam appliances created and test applied to Linda for Friedkin’s approval. The final version included a distorted, asymmetrical look with self inflicted, infected wounds. Throw in a set of dentures, a rubber tongue and contact lenses; the Exorcist broke box office records and terrified millions.
For an extensive coverage on the making of The Exorcist, hunt down the long out of print Cinefantastique Vol. 3, Number 4 from 1974.
Click here for a pdf of Dick Smith discussing his ground breaking make-up work on the Exorcist from this issue, as interviewed by David Bartholomew on April 4, 1974.
The life casts below are from my private collection, preserving a few of the early make-up tests forever in stone.
They are NOT FOR SALE.
The Linda Blair Eyes Closed life cast
Linda Blair Dummy Head Life Cast.
She was cast with her eyes open (using special schleral lenses), dentures and lower lip prosthetics so the distortion to her jaw line is built in. This was used for the famous head spinning scene.
Cast of an early test make-up.
From what I can tell, the extensive cheeks, wide nose where not used in the final version. The now famous “demon possessed brows” appears to have made it in the final version.
Following is a gallery of make-up tests, behind the scenes shots and stills from the film.