May 24, 2024

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains minor spoilers for “The Exorcist: Believer,” now playing in theaters.

Released 50 years after the original “Exorcist,” Universal and Blumhouse’s follow-up, “The Exorcist: Believer,” pays homage to the horror masterpiece in some grotesque ways. Just like the original, there’s vomit, head-spinning and not one, but two demonic possessions.

“Exorcist: Believer” follows a pair of girls who go missing in the woods and return three days later under a supernatural influence. To save his daughter, Leslie Odom Jr.’s character Victor recruits the one person who has crucial experience in exorcisms: Chris MacNeil, played by returning “Exorcist” star Ellen Burstyn.

To make the cuts, blisters and open wounds on the girls’ bodies, Oscar-winning makeup expert Christopher Nelson studied gruesome, real-life references to create the prosthetics and practical effects.

“I use a lot of medical and pathology books for what we do,” Nelson says. “A lot of medical references and news footage and some things that you wish you could unsee.”

One of the first signs of the girls’ demonic possession is their blistered feet, which were caused by “walking to hell and back” during their 3-day disappearance.

“We went super extreme with big blisters and giant cuts, and then we tried a more subtle version,” Nelson says. “We went through a few different kinds of looks for the feet. We took into account that the girls had to walk to set and to lunch, so we were conscious of their comfort and the practicality of it all. We wanted it to look like you were walking on, not hot coals necessarily, but sharp, hot rocks.”

It wouldn’t be an “Exorcist” movie without disgusting projectile vomit, and “Believer” put its own twist on the classic green goo that Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) threw up in the original. During the joint exorcism, Victor’s daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) regurgitates a chunk of oozing black sludge, somehow grosser than the green bile of “The Exorcist.”

“[Director] David Gordon Green wanted it to be blackish green, swampy and really gross,” Nelson says. “There’s one shot in the movie where [Lidya] makes this big bubble, and that was all practical. We had a tube that ran up the side of Lidya’s face and goes into her mouth, kind of like a cup facing outwards. I put basically a plastic bag that I made with pulled textures and gross veins all over it, tucked it into her mouth and, on cue, I fill it up with this black liquid and it grows out of her mouth and then drops onto the floor. I love the sickness of it.”

And foodie fans of the “Exorcist” can make their own black vomit at home!

“The mixture was clear corn syrup with food coloring and cake dye. And that was it. You can eat it if you really wanted to… but you don’t want to,” he adds.

One of the most memorable moments of the first “Exorcist” is Regan’s head spinning around 360 degrees during her exorcism, and “Believer” recreates that shot with horrifying, modern effects. When Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla) decides to help with the double exorcism, against the wishes of the church, he meets a grisly end. A demonic force violently twists his head around 360 degrees, with neck bones crunching and bulging out.

The scene was a blend of practical effects and VFX that was shot in five different parts as cameras tracked Bonilla’s head spinning around.

“I had about three or four various stages of neck-twist prosthetics that were made,” Nelson says. “We’d put the appliance on and tack it down, and VFX would clean up the edges. We had to be able to take it off and then go back to another previous shot without it, so we were jumping back and forth over the course of two days shooting that gag.”

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