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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

50th Anniversary of “The Exorcist” Demonstrates Modern Impact in Commentaries, Student Culture


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Georgetown-set religious horror movie “The Exorcist,” which was filmed on Georgetown’s campus in 1972 and was the first horror film nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. 

Directed by William Friedkin and based on a novel by William Peter Blatty (C ’50), “The Exorcist “shocked viewers during its original release, causing audience members to faint and sparking a media frenzy. The film, which features scenes of Healy Hall and the now historically landmarked “Exorcist Steps” located a block away from Georgetown’s front gates, quickly became a film and horror classic.

“The Exorcist” follows the story of the 12-year-old Regan, played by Linda Blair, who begins to develop other personalities and voices. Chris (Ellen Burstyn), Regan’s mother, looks for explanations for this sudden change and soon realizes her daughter is being possessed by a demonic being. 

Priests Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) believe they must perform an exorcism of the demon to save Regan’s life. The film ends with Karras’ climactic fall down a set of steep, narrow stairs leading to Georgetown’s M Street after taking the demon into himself. 

“The Exorcist” gained influence in the film industry but soon also became recognized for the dialogue it sparked on the representation of women and female sexuality in film. 

Caetlin Benson-Allott, director of Georgetown’s film and media studies department, said “The Exorcist” is a good example of the implications of representation and social justice in films. 

“One of the questions that we are always asking in our classes is about representations and who systems of representations privilege or who they harm,” Benson-Allott told The Hoya. “Over the last 50 years, “The Exorcist” has been pivotal for a lot of the conversations about those kinds of questions.”

Benson-Allott said the film aligns with the central questions the film and media department asks all students to reflect on when evaluating cinema.

Benson-Allott said the film challenges typical representations of women in film at the time and reflects changing societal perspectives on women and women’s rights, referencing the character of Chris, a divorced single mother advocating for her daughter.

“Divorce and divorced women were a really controversial topic in 1970s cinema,” Benson-Allott said. “I think it’s important to think about the film’s representation of faith in relation to gender roles and how it’s trying to address those particular religious issues in the context of a society that was going through rapid changes concerning women’s rights.”

The choice to center the film around the storyline of divorced mother, Chris, was not an uncontroversial one. Blatty, who wrote the original screenplay for the film, intended “The Exorcist” to be the story of an evil demon who tests the faith of a priest. Friedkin, the film’s director, took artistic liberties advancing Chris’s storyline and focusing on the ambiguity of Regan’s possession. 

@Georgetownuniversity/Instagram | This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Georgetown-set religious horror movie “The Exorcist,” which was filmed on Georgetown’s campus in 1972 and was the first horror film nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.

A devout Catholic, Blatty believed exorcisms to be real and possession of individuals to be an urgent threat. Blatty’s notion that Georgetown contained demons, which he said ran all over campus, was furthered by the recurring, unexplainable mishaps that occurred during the filming of “The Exorcist.” 

The stark difference in views between Friedkin and Blatty created a rift between them, which contributed to the film’s controversy and divided individuals based on their opinions on the portrayal of religion in film.

Abani Tabassum (CAS ’26), a film and media studies minor, said she believes “The Exorcist” further represents the debate about how religious horror symbolism can represent the view of good and evil. 

“Taking things that traditionally represent Christianity and purity and turning it on their heads is really interesting because that would make an American audience uncomfortable,” Tabassum told The Hoya. 

Diego Tejada (CAS ’27), a self-proclaimed horror genre fan, said he decided to watch “The Exorcist” to honor its 50th anniversary and connection to Georgetown. 

“I have obviously seen the steps, so I know it had some relation to Georgetown,” Tejada told The Hoya. “I decided to watch it because I was interested in seeing our school in the movie, and beyond that, it’s such a staple of horror movies in general.”

Tejada said “The Exorcist” remains effective in relating to a modern audience because it produces effective scares. 

“I thought that ‘The Exorcist’ kept to modern times very well,” Tejada told The Hoya. “It seems like it was the first of its time.”

Despite the role of the film in Georgetown’s history, Tabassum said she does not believe the legacy prominently exists in student culture today. 

“Beyond NSO and them showing us the stairs and saying, ‘Look, ‘The Exorcist’ stairs,’ I think the movie has not really impacted us,” Tabassum said. “I feel like, in our generation, ‘The Exorcist’ is something that we’re aware of, but it’s not part of the pop culture that we engage with on the day-to-day.”

Benson-Allott said Friedkin’s challenge of gender in “The Exorcist” demonstrates that horror films and media can have social commentaries that last beyond their production era. 

“The Exorcist proved that horror didn’t just have to be this driven, exploitation cinema for teenagers,” Benson-Allott said. “Hollywood studios could take the horror genre seriously and make serious films for adults that asked serious questions using this genre.”

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