While we can sit back decades later and see “The Exorcist” as the horror landmark that it is, it’s easy to forget that in 1973 it was a controversial sensation. William Friedkin‘s movie got a mixed reception from critics, but soon became a must-see cinema experience, genuinely scaring moviegoers in a way that films hadn’t before. For instance, you get a real understanding of the overwhelming power of Friedkin’s film once you witness shellshocked viewers coming out of the movie that year, which you can do yourself, below.
AV Club has dug up some fantastic vintage footage from 1973 news broadcasts featuring interviews with people who had just seen the movie, theater owners (some of whom had smelling salts on hand for those who passed out), and interviews witih Friedkin and author William Peter Blatty. It’s truly eye-opening stuff. Viewers recall the most hair-raising scenes, and some of them can’t even finish talking about what they just saw without being terrified all over again. And of course, some people just walked out of the theaters before the movie ended, unable to take the intensity. Check it all below, along with a reel of audience lineups for the movie.