In October 1973, one of cinema’s most haunting, unsettling and controversial movies arrived on the big screen. Director William Friedkin adapted The Exorcist from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name, which follows the story of a mother who employs an exorcist after local priests diagnose her daughter as possessed by the devil.
Adding iconographic potency and a chill to the spine, the classic horror was allegedly linked to a series of unexplained deaths among audiences and crew members shortly following its release. Pretty much everything about The Exorcist was insidious and unnerving, especially its rejected original soundtrack score.
The movie was treated to a diverse array of classical compositions performed by the National Philarmonic Orchestra, alongside Mike Oldfield’s prog-rock masterpiece, ‘Tubular Bells’, and further credits from Harry Bee and Krzysztof Penderecki.
Jack Nitzsche was ultimately commissioned to handle the leading score for the movie, but before him, Lalo Schifrin had been brought in for the trailer score. Oddly enough, his submission was deemed too frightening, and after submitting a partial score for the movie itself, he was dismissed from the project all together.
Speaking to Score Magazine in 2005, Schifrin described the project as a low point in his career. He alleged that while Warner Bros asked Friedkin to tone down the score, he never received the message. “The truth is that it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, but I have recently read that in order to triumph in your life, you may previously have some fails,” Schifrin said. “What happened is that the director, William Friedkin, hired me to write the music for the trailer, six minutes were recorded for Warner’s edition of the trailer. The people who saw the trailer reacted against the film because the scenes were heavy and frightening, so most of them went to the toilet to vomit.”
“The trailer was terrific, but the mix of those frightening scenes and my music, which was also a very difficult and heavy score, scared the audiences away,” he continued. “So, the Warner Brothers executives said Friedkin to tell me that I must write less dramatic and softer score. I could easily and perfectly do what they wanted because it was way too simple in relevance to what I have previously written, but Friedkin didn’t tell me what they said.”
Schifrin believes the director deliberately avoided relaying the message from Warner Bros. due to their long-standing quarrel. “I’m sure he did it deliberately,” he said. “In the past, we had an incident caused by other reasons, and I think he wanted vengeance. This is my theory. This is the first time I speak of this matter, my attorney recommended me not to talk about it, but I think this is a good time to reveal the truth.”
“Finally, I wrote the music for the film in the same vein as that of the trailer. In fact, when I wrote the trailer, I was in the studio with Friedkin, and he congratulated me for it. So, I thought I was in the right way… but the truth was very different,” Schifrin lamented.
Despite Schifrin’s assertions, Freidkin had allegedly asked the Argentine-American composer to create a subdued score that “did not sound like music” and was “tonal and moody,” per Neil Lerner’s book Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear. The book also noted that Freidkin had been so displeased with the partial score Schifrin submitted that he literally threw the tape out of the studio window.
Watch the initial, unreleased trailer as scored by Lalo Schifrin and his submitted score below.