Marcel Vercoutere, Special Effects Man on 'The Exorcist,' Dies

The Exorcist (1973)
Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images

 

The Exorcist remains one of the scariest films in cinema history due to director William Friedkin’s bold approach to filmmaking. While making this fright fest, the production was shut down for a day after actress Ellen Burstyn learned after the fact that Friedkin told a stunt-double during a scene to actually sock her to evoke a raw response. Burstyn was not happy … well, not until she was nominated for a best actress Oscar at the 46th Annual Academy Awards in 1973. The film went on the win two Oscars from its 10 nominations.

He built the lifelike robot that stood in for a possessed Linda Blair in the 1973 film.

Marcel Vercoutere, the special effects innovator who made Linda Blair's head spin in the classic 1973 horror film The Exorcist, died April 13 at his home in Burbank. He was 87.

Vercoutere died from complications of dementia, his son Dan told the Los Angeles Times.

Vercoutere built the life-size robot that was used as a stand-in for Blair, who plays a young girl whose body is inhabited by a demon in the Warner Bros. film directed by William Friedkin. He used wires, pulleys and offstage supports to create the child's violently shaking bed and engineer her frightening levitation, and he constructed the bedroom set inside a giant refrigerated cocoon.

"If I had to name one person behind the camera whose contributions meant the most to the film, it would be Marcel Vercoutere," Friedkin told the Times in an e-mail.

A native of Detroit, Vercoutere also did special effects for such films as Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Deliverance (1972) and Night Moves (1975), and he worked on the 1979 ABC series Salvage 1, starring Andy Griffith.

In addition to his son Dan, survivors include his wife Carolyn, another son Jon, stepdaughter Charlotte and brother Albert.