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Captain Howdy Calling

In the designer vision meeting last night, Greg was talking about how the humor in the play is easy to harness, but the challenge will be in marrying that humor to the darkness, the terrifying, the unnerving. There’s a place in this production for people to be truly startled or scared. The Exorcist came up as a reference point for its use of subliminal imagery and soundscape to create a fundamental sense of unease and, at times, shock.

Below, the Demon Face, aka, Captain Howdy, aka, Pazuzu.

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You can find details and timestamps for all the subliminal imagery in The Exorcist at (for reals).

Check out a video example of the demon face in action (sadly, it won’t let me embed the clip, but you can watch it on YouTube). You can also stream the whole movie on Netflix.


The following was excerpted from a blog about subliminal messages in popular culture. As you might imagine, the blog is a little bit bananas and full of conspiracy theories, but its account of the effect of subliminal imagery in The Exorcist is a fun read (if totally unsourced).

“Subliminal content doesn’t have to be sexual. The Exorcist movie used subliminal images to increase viewers sense of fear. Both subliminal sounds and pictures were used. A number of times during the movie, the face of Father Karras became a two-frame, full-screen death mask flashing for 0.02 second. Consciously unnoticed face of Pazuzu – the Babylonian king of demons and the word PIG appear many times throughout the movie.The terrified squealing of pigs being slaughtered was mixed subtly into the sound track. The buzzing sound of angry, agitated bees wove in and out of scenes throughout the film. People really did faint in large numbers, many more became nauseous in varying degrees, a great many more had disturbing nightmares. Several theater employees were actually placed under the care of physicians and a few quit their jobs. Employees frequently had to clean up floors and rugs when nauseous spectators (mostly male, for some reason) did not quite make it to the rest rooms. In the several cities that were checked after the film had run several weeks, every major hospital receiving department had dealt with dozens of fainting, nausea, hysteria and hallucination cases. It is interesting to note that William Peter Blatty, the author of the novel and producer of the movie, is a former CIA operative who served as the policy-branch chief of the Psychological Warfare Division of the U.S. Air Force. According to previously classified documents, the CIA tested subliminal manipulation in movie theaters during the late 1950-s.”


About ilanaturgy

Ilana Brownstein is a dramaturg and director specializing in new play development, based in Boston.

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