The Exorcist, 1973
visit the film locations
Washington DC: Getting there: International flights to Dulles International Airport
Domestic: Reagan National Airport, smaller but much closer to downtown DC
Tourist info: Destination DC, 901 7th Street NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20001-3719 (tel: 202.789.7000)
Georgetown: Cultural Tourism DC
New York: Roosevelt Island Tramway
The Heretic: Exorcist II returns to the Goldwater Memorial Hospital on New York’s Roosevelt Island, and uses the desert around Page, Arizona for its ‘African’ scenes. Exorcist III is back in Georgetown, Washington DC, with studio filming at Wilmington, North Carolina.
Georgetown is seen again in Joel Schumacher’s bratpacky St Elmo’s Fire and Roger Donaldson’s The Recruit, with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. The glitzy Georgetown Shopping Mall features in James Cameron’s True Lies, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and No Way Out, Roger Donaldson again, with Kevin Costner
The Exorcist filming location: The famous Exorcist house: 3600 Prospect Street, Georgetown, Washington DC
Massively hyped on release, with audiences fainting and vomiting, medics on standby at cinema exits, fundamentalist Christians picketing – the kind of publicity money can’t buy. Only the most cynical would suggest any of this was staged by the studio.
Whatever, The Exorcist set new standards for gross-out horror films. It was praised by the Catholic church and though director William Friedkin touted the film as “a deeply spiritual experience”, he dumped author William Peter Blatty’s flaky ‘Thousand Points of Light’ ending, with souls twinkling in Heaven. Good move.
The opening scene, of Father Merrin (Ingmar Bergman regular Max Von Sydow) confronting the demon Pazuzu, is pre-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The location states ‘Northern Iraq’, and indeed it is. The ruins being excavated are the temple complex at Hatra (Al-Hadr), a fortified city located in Upper Mesopotamia, about 50 miles southwest of Mosul.
The Exorcist filming location: The student protest movie set: Georgetown University, Georgetown, Washington DC
The town where Father Merrin gets taken ill is Hatra itself. The ruins are Iraq’s only UNESCO World Heritage site and, despite looting of treasures from museums, has seemingly remained undamaged by the conflict of the past few years and retains the potential to be Iraq’s premier tourist attraction some day in the future.
The Exorcist filming location: The desecrated chapel: Dahlgren Chapel, Georgetown University, Georgetown, Washington DC
Film actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn, playing a character supposedly based on multi-reincarnated Shirley MacLaine) is making a student-protest movie on the campus of Georgetown University, Washington DC – author Blatty’s alma mater. It’s on this campus that the Dahlgren Chapel is obscenely desecrated.
The Exorcist filming location: Father Karras visits his sick mother in New York’s Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island in the East River, New York
Father Karras (Jason Miller) visits his sick mother in New York’s Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island in the East River (for a long time the site of madhouses and prisons – it was here Mae West served her eight day sentence in the 1930s for appearing in her play Sex). The hospital, also a major setting for John Boorman's very different Exorcist II: The Heretic, closed in 2013 and is being demolished to make way for Cornell University’s new graduate school of technology.
The aerial tramway that takes you to Roosevelt Island is featured in City Slickers and hijacked by the Green Goblin in Spider-Man.
The Exorcist filming location: the bar: The Tombs, 1226 36th Street NW, Georgetown, Washington DC
Photograph: Nils Reucker
The bar is just across the road from Regan’s house: it’s The Tombs, 1226 36th Street NW. This was also the inspiration for the bar in Joel Schumacher’s 80s bratpack classic St Elmo’s Fire (though that film was shot elsewhere in Georgetown).
The possessed house itself stands at 3600 Prospect Street at 36th Street NW, close to the Potomac River in Georgetown, southwest Washington DC, but it’s not quite as seen in the movie. You won’t be able to spot the window of Regan’s room, from which the ominous shaft of light floods in the poster image. This wing of the house was no more than a false front built for the movie.
The Exorcist filming location: Father Karras plummets down the flight of steps leading to M Street, Georgetown, Washington DC
You can, though, find the flight of steps down which Father Karras finally hurtles, alongside the house, leading down from Prospect Street to M Street.
The complex interior set, with moving walls and refrigeration, was built at the Ceco Studios (now called Cameramart), 450 West 54th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues in New York.
• Many thanks to Nils Reucker for help with this section.