William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” is still a profoundly terrifying experience forty-three years after its release. It sounds impossible, but it turns out that a minimalistic, chilling unused score written for the film might have made the bloody-cross-masturbating, green-pea-soup-projectile-vomiting experience even scarier than it already was.
A piece on Dangerous Minds indicates that before Friedkin settled on primarily using Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” in the film, he tapped a composer whose previous work was not particularly known for sending chills down audience’s collective spines. That composer was Lalo Schifrin, who had previously written scores for “Dirty Harry” and “Cool Hand Luke,” as well as the brain worm theme tune to “Mission: Impossible.” Unfortunately, Friedkin decided not to use Schifrin’s score.
So what happened? An educated guess would be that since Schifrin was inexperienced with the horror genre, he delivered a subpar score. But Schifrin’s chilling score is nightmare fuel of the highest order, starting off with an all-out string assault reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, and then settling into an extremely effective bit of music. Don’t believe us? The 14-minute score is embedded at the end of this article. Press play, turn off the lights, close your eyes, and make sure to have some adult diapers nearby.
In an interview he gave to Score Magazine, Schifrin calls it one of the most unpleasant experiences of his life. He was hired to write music for the film’s trailer, which turned out to be so effective that people were apparently running out of their seats to vomit in the bathroom. So Friedkin was forced to ask Schifrin to write a softer score for the film itself, but when Schifrin wrote a piece of work that followed in the footsteps of his trailer music, Friedkin ended up pulling the score.
Update: William Friedkin disputes Schifrin’s version of events, and told us the trailer — created by editor Bud Smith — was not shown publicly, and that neither Schifrin nor anyone else was hired to write a score for the trailer (the director explains further in his memoir “The Friedkin Connection“). As for that trailer, Friedkin loved it, but it was Warner Bros. who didn’t want to release it.