Marcel Vercoutere, The Exorcist special effects director, died on April 13, according to a recent report from The Los Angeles Times. He was 87.
Though most do not think of Vercoutere’s name when the film comes up in conversation, his work in the iconic head spin scene is the stuff of nightmares. Without it, the demon possession horror classic would have been a much lesser film.
According to his son, the FX maestro had been in failing health during recent years, suffering from dementia.
But for colleagues Vercoutere will be remembered as a calm, level-headed man, who believed there was nothing that couldn’t be accomplished with a little movie magic.
Discussing the death of Marcel Vercoutere, The Exorcist cinematographer Owen Roizman related to The L.A. Times some insider info on the scene for which Vercoutere’s career will be remembered.
“He had made this unbelievable robot and everything about it worked — it almost had facial expressions,” Roizman said. “I was standing there looking at it and I said, ‘You know what, we forgot something. We don’t have any breath coming out.’ Marcel just said, ‘I’ll deal with that.’ He was so calm. And before you know it … the dummy had breath.”
The setup for that famous head spin scene was disturbing enough. Keep in mind American entertainment at this time hadn’t strayed too far from the comforts of The Andy Griffith Show and other sanitized family comedies.
The thought of a possessed child shouting obscenities and blasphemies against Christ as a priest tries to exorcise the demon within, while another priest looks on helplessly at the girl’s head as it almost wrenches from her body, was taboo.
Bringing that to life in the visceral, authentic way Vercoutere did, made it all the more horrific. It’s what kept audiences in the moment.
More conservative moviegoers didn’t have time to think about being offended. They were far too terrified of what they’d just witnessed. Try to remember that context when you re-watch the scene here:
While the special effects wizard would continue working another 16 years after The Exorcist, nothing else could match what he did for director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty in taking their film and story, respectively, and making it into a nightmare that would haunt generations of young and old.
The film was ungodly. Evil. Nothing you would want to watch alone. Evangelist Billy Graham even claimed a demonic force was living inside the reels, according to IMDb.
The deaths of nine people associated with the production were also spotlighted by the superstitious. Had Vercoutere’s work been less convincing, it’s likely The Exorcist would be just another forgotten horror film.
Recreating Linda Blair as Regan, the film’s protagonist, with such evil intent and effectiveness made it impossible for Vercoutere’s other films, like Night Moves, Convoy, and Police Academy 6, to measure up, but what he accomplished during this movie was monumental.
How do you think the work of Marcel Vercoutere on The Exorcist holds up today?