Often considered the scariest film ever made, The Exorcist has held up incredibly well in the horror industry since its release in 1973. Linda Blair’s performance as 12-year-old Regan was truly terrifying from start to finish, with Max Von Sydow giving a gripping performance on the other side of the demonic spectrum.
We’ve ranked the ten scariest scenes from the classic horror franchise based on how much they terrified us the first time around, and how much they can continue to do so afterward.
10 The Stairs
This isn’t what you think, and actually requires you to have seen the extended version of The Exorcist before it scares you. Which is quite a nuanced requirement and therefore the reason it only comes in at number ten. The stairs in Regan’s house are absolutely terrifying. To an outsider, they seem perfectly normal, but to someone already familiar with the film, you won’t be able to look at the same upon re-watching. Skip ahead to find out the exact reason…
9 Karras Out The Window
At the end of the film, Pazuzu is finally exorcised from within Regan. However, this doesn’t mean the demon has been defeated, and we see Karras become possessed by its spirit instead. This is scary on a lot of levels.
Firstly, it leaves the actual, unharmed Regan screaming on the floor, secondly, it proves that the demon is potentially unstoppable, and finally, it forces us to watch Karras plummet to his death from the bedroom window.
8 The Bed Shake
While Father Merrin is attempting to exorcise Regan for the first time, she is tied to the bed, covered in cuts and bruises and is shrieking at the top of her voice using all manner of different tones. The uncanny nature of a young girl creating these demonic sounds and being able to rattle a huge wooden bed with so much force simply fills the audience with fear of the power of the demon inside her.
7 ‘Help Me’
Before this, Regan’s stomach shows a scar in the form of the words “help me.” It’s this that seems to convince Karras that Regan is possessed, rather than her immense strength or extreme suffering, but that’s an entirely different point.
The scarring is particularly hard to look at because we can’t quite trace its origin. Did Regan do it to herself? Is it a cry for help from the little girl? Or did the demon do it from within her? Is the demon the one asking for help?
6 The White Face
This is the very definition of a blink and you’ll miss it moment. The film is full of subliminal messages that are used to heighten the fear, but one of those is particularly strange and incredibly terrifying. During Karras’ dream, a white face very briefly flashes on screen. You can pause on it on the DVD version, and without knowing this was one of the director’s ways of sneaking a subliminal message into the film, you could easily be convinced that your DVD player was possessed. Obviously, this isn’t something that was in the original book.
5 Regan’s Face
It’s pretty hard to not be absolutely terrified of Regan’s mutilated face every single time it appears on screen. After all, you’ll all watched a video and had the terrifying scars leap upon you alongside a twisted scream, right?
Without her possession, Regan is a normal girl, but when those scars and sores open up on her face to reveal red blood and putrid edges that seem like they’ve been rotting away for weeks, we just can’t look at her.
4 The Crucifix
Regan’s rather unusual use of a crucifix is one of the most famous scenes in The Exorcist. It also ended up as, unsurprisingly, one of the most shocking. Not only is she screaming an incredible amount of obscenity for a young child, but she also uses the crucifix to stab herself in the crotch multiple times. Her voice is replaced by a devilish bark as she does it, and the fact her mother is there to watch it all unfold just adds to the creepiness.
3 The Head Twist
Another of those horrible, yet incredibly famous moments from the film comes when we see Regan twist her head all the way around. At first, it looks like she is calming slightly, as she sits up in bed.
However, with a twisted smile, her neck bones crunch as she twists to the left, before spinning all the way around like a horrifying owl, still grinning away.
2 The Stairs… Again
Okay, we’re finally back where we started. Remember The Stairs? Remember how if you’ve seen The Exorcist before you’ll be scared of the stairs forever and will never be able to look at them without cringing? Well, the reason behind that doesn’t even come from the original cut of the film.
The extended edition includes a scene with Linda R. Hager, a contortionist who plays by far the scariest version of Regan. She walks down the stairs upside down and backward, in a scene that has been nicknamed ‘The Spider Walk Scene’ retrospectively. Despite not appearing in the original film, it is pretty much universally remembered as the most haunting moment from the film. It will stay with you long after you’ve finished watching.
1 The Exorcist III Hospital Scene
Interestingly, the final entry into our list isn’t from the first Exorcist film. Technically, this list could have drawn from the various entries into the franchise, but let’s be honest, they’re all pretty bad. However, the most horrifying moment from the franchise is in the third film. A long shot set in a hospital seems to be fairly innocent for a while, but then as the nurse wanders from one room to another, the camera suddenly zooms in, the music flares up, and a terrifying ghoul is following her with scissors. The next shot is a statue with no head, so we can all guess what happened…
NEXT: 10 Hidden Details You Never Noticed In The Exorcist