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RIP William Friedkin

Monday, August 7, 2023 | News


The director who shocked the world with THE EXORCIST has passed away.

Variety reports that filmmaker William Friedkin died today in Los Angeles at age 87. After starting out in documentaries in the 1960s, Friedkin made his narrative feature directing debut with the “Off Season” episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR in 1965. He then helmed features including the 1968 musical comedy THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S and the 1970 drama THE BOYS IN THE BAND before making his (huge) breakout with THE FRENCH CONNECTION, the 1971 crime thriller that became a smash hit and won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

It was his next feature, however, that became his most enduring success. 1973’s THE EXORCIST, scripted and produced by William Peter Blatty from his novel, became a landmark in the horror genre, garnering raves and controversy from critics and making headlines for the long lines at the box office as well as the sometimes physically intense reactions from audiences. It won Blatty a Best Screenplay Oscar, set a template for countless supernatural shockers to come and remained the highest-grossing fright film until IT in 2017. Friedkin returned to the movie in 2000, reinstating a few deleted scenes (including Linda Blair’s “spider-walk” moment) for THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN, which grossed nearly $40 million.

Friedkin followed up with the likes of SORCERER, CRUISING and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., which were box-office disappointments at the time but went on to garner greater critical and fan acceptance and praise. He returned to the horror genre with 1990’s THE GUARDIAN; in 2017, he directed THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH, a documentary about the real-life exorcist employed by the Catholic Church in Rome (and the subject of this year’s movie THE POPE’S EXORCIST); and he himself was the subject of Alexandre O. Philippe’s 2020 doc LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON “THE EXORCIST” (reviewed here). His last film, THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Clarke, will premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival. He will forever be remembered as one of the true game-changers in the horror genre.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).