Linda Blair has always been (rightly) lauded for her performance as a sweet 13 year old girl possessed by the devil in The Exorcist. But when it came to creating the demon’s guttural sounds – including blasphemous expletives – the voice emitting from the angelic-faced Blair wasn’t actually her own. It was radio actress Mercedes McCambridge.
McCambridge was described as “the world’s greatest living radio actress” by none-other than Orson Welles. And in a 1974 interview with The New York Times, McCambridge explained the extreme lengths she went to, in order to channel the depths of hell through her vocal chords. “I didn’t just do the voice, I did all of the demon’s sounds,” said McCambridge.
“That wheezing, for instance. My chronic bronchitis helped with that. I did it on one microphone, then on another, elevating it a bit, then a third and fourth, two tones higher each time, and they combined them, as a chorus. The wailing just before the Demon is driven out, that’s the keening sound I once heard at a wake in Ireland.”
McCambridge continued; “I used moaning cries I had used when playing Lady Macbeth for Orson [Welles]. For the groaning sounds, I pulled a scarf around my neck, tight, and almost strangled. And when I spoke the scene in which the little girl spits out green vomit, when I made the ugly sounds of violent expectoration, I swallowed 18 raw eggs, with a pulpy apple.”
And McCambridge concluded; “To convey the feeling of the Devil being trapped, I had the crew tear up a sheet and bind me, hand and foot. Sometimes I was so exhausted and my circulation was so sluggish, that I wasn’t able to drive home – I stayed in a motel near the Burbank Studios. My voice was ruined. For weeks, I couldn’t talk above a whisper.”
For further demons from the pits of hell, check out our guide to the best horror movies.