'Exorcist' special effects designer dies

Chris Jones

Marcel Vercoutere - the man who, most famously, made Linda Blair's head revolve 360 degrees in William Friedkin's horror masterpiece, 'The Exorcist'  - has passed away this week at his home in Burbank. He was 87.

The cause was said to be complications of dementia, said his son Dan.

The special effects man was responsible, along with the film's chief makeup artist, Dick Smith, for building the life-size robot used as a stand-in for actress Blair. This was among a host of innovative techniques that as special effects director that he brought to the production. He also built the bedroom where most of the action takes place which he placed inside a giant refrigerator to achieve the icy conditions director Friedkin wanted whenever the possession took place.

"A self-taught welder, carpenter, set designer and explosives expert, Vercoutere was a creative, unruffled presence on the set of "The Exorcist," said Owen Roizman, the film's Oscar-nominated cinematographer.

"He had made this unbelievable robot and everything about it worked — it almost had facial expressions," Roizman added. "I was standing there looking at it and I said, 'You know what, we forgot something. We don't have any breath coming out.' Marcel just said, 'I'll deal with that.' He was so calm. And before you know it ... the dummy had breath."

Vercoutere also worked on other milestones of cinema such as the rapid scenes in John Boorman's 'Deliverance' as well as Robert Altman's Western deconstruction, 'McCabe and Mrs Miller'

William Friedkin said of the FX specialist this week in an email: "He was the guy we would all turn to when we needed a problem solved."

"If I had to name one person behind the camera whose contributions meant the most to the film, it would be Marcel Vercoutere."