Even beyond its familiar DC setting, The Exorcist holds a special place in cinematic memory as one of the most successful and – just going from anecdotes – most terrifying horror films ever made. It’s difficult to envision any pop culture event today holding the nation’s full attention and enthusiasm, let along a horror movie, but The Exorcist came very close on its release in 1973.
We didn’t believe the anecdotes about the enormous turnout and reaction until we watched the above video, an undated and apparently orphaned 20-minute news featurette about the movie’s success and impact. Moviegoers lined down the block to see The Exorcist multiple times, with many apparently leaving mid-screening and returning again to see if they could stomach it a second time. This is astounding footage that demonstrates the central role movie theaters played in American culture life decades ago. And this fervor predates Jaws and Star Wars, generally considered the first blockbusters.
Even something as big as Jurassic World won’t bring out the same neighborhood-spanning queues or inspire visceral reactions from the audience, so this video of the hype surrounding The Exorcist is the closest most of us will get to seeing a movie release of such sensational scale. (The freakouts over how intensely scary it is are just icing.)