Eileen Dietz has probably scared more people on screen then Jason, Freddie and Hannibal Lecter combined. Yet you won’t find her name anywhere in the credits of the film she helped make famous…some might say infamous. In “The Exorcist,” Dietz was the face of the demon Pazuzu. Eileen recently sat down with MovieMikes.com to talk about her storied career:
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Mike Gencarelli: Tell me about your work on the set of “The Exorcist”, how did you get the role of the demon “Pazuzu”?
Eileen Dietz: Just like you get any other part. I did a play in New York and an agent saw me in it. He signed me and a casting notice came out looking for somebody who was 5’2”, strong and could act. They asked to see me. I read the book and did a few improvisations for the casting director. I then met Billy Friedkin (the director of the film) Dick Smith (the makeup genius behind the look of the film), Linda Blair and her mother. Then I went up to Dick Smith’s studio, which was amazing. They had to make me look like the demon. I didn’t have to look like Linda. I wasn’t her stand in, I wasn’t her stunt double. I wasn’t many of the things people think I was. I was an actress signed to play the part of the demon that possessed Regan. And once they found out I could handle the role physically I did a screen test. I was originally supposed to work on the film only during the masturbation scene but I ended up working on it for six months. The good news is that, as a principal actor in the film, I still get residuals. There were a total of six people who played Regan when she was possessed. There was a stunt double, a lighting double. There was Mercedes McCambridge, who did the voice. There was Linda Blair, there was me and there was another girl who did the spider walk. It was something they didn’t want known at the time. They wanted everybody to think that this 12 year old girl had done all the work. That’s why my name isn’t in the credits…they wanted to keep the illusion that it was all one performance. In retrospect I should have asked them to put my name in the credits as a different character…that would confuse everybody. My sister Denise Dietz wrote a book called “Fifty Cents for Your Soul” and the first five chapters were inspired by my work on “The Exorcist.” You can find the book by going to my webpage eileendietz.com and emailing me to find out more about this book and others @ denisedietz.com.
Mike Gencarelli: My sister and I used to try pausing the film on your face, how do it feel to have scared so many over the years?
Eileen Dietz: The funny thing about that scene is that we shot it on the last day of filming. It was almost an afterthought. And it took a long time to understand the power of that scene. It was so subliminal in the original release (in the original 1973 release Pazuzu is only briefly glimpsed three times. In 2000 the film was reissued with some scenes reinserted, including the spider walk. There are also more subliminal glimpses of Pazuzu in the newer version). You have to remember there were no VCRs or DVD players back then. People would go back to see the film again and ask each other “did you see that face?” And they’d say “what face?” Thank the good Lord I’ve done many horror film conventions. And as the fans keep coming up to me, one after the other after the other, I started realizing the impact of that picture. It’s so interesting. Almost every shot in the movie is terrifying and my part is AMONG the scariest part in the film. And it’s all me. They’ll probably put that on my tombstone: Captain Howdy. (laughs) Captain Howdy sleeps here!
Mike Gencarelli: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?
Eileen Dietz: As a kid I was old enough to see the original “Psycho.” I did see a lot of horror films. I saw a wonderful horror film with Susan Strassberg called “Silent Scream.” ….”Rosemary’s Baby”…”Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” I’d have to say I was more of a fan of the horror genre’ then than I am of the stuff they’re doing now. I wish the fans would give other films like Adam Green’s…”Frozen” and…”Hatchet”…more of a chance. Having said that I’ve done a lot of films that are still waiting to be released. Actually, there is one by the Gray brothers (John and Spencer) called “Job.” It’s a bout a group of pedophile priests, which is pretty timely, at a seminary school. It tells the story of what happens to this one particular boy who they molest. There is a great piece on the film and the Gray Brothers in the latest issue of “Fangoria Magazine”.
MG: What films of yours are your favorites?
ED: My favorite film of mine is called “Queen of Screams.” It’s an independent film about a woman who’s at the top of her game as a Horror Queen. As she gets older she is replaced in the horror film market by younger and prettier actress (played by Tiffany Shepis) so she kills her, later her husband buys her a theater up in the mountains of California where things….happen.. It’s a rather sad movie about a woman who longs to regain her position as scream queen. Everything just goes wrong for her and she takes it out on the town) meets “Carrie”. We’re in the process of getting distribution for that one. I also love a film I did called “Monsterpiece Theatre,” which is collection of short films like “Creepshow.” That was fun because I got to play a demon and a victim. Well, first she’s a victim and she turns into quite a wicked lady.
MG: Tell me about your role in the television film, “Helter Skelter.” How did you prepare for such a role?
ED: I had been fascinated, for whatever reason, with the whole Manson Family thing while I was living in New York. I knew people that…maybe wouldn’t have gone out and killed people, but were involved in that kind of a cult. There were a lot of theater companies in the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York that were run by people that gathered all of these actors around. And they were not unlike Manson, except there was no killing involved. Anyway I was totally captivated by it and then when I came out to California I auditioned for it. And I told them when I auditioned that I understood a lot of it…that there but by the grace of God went friends of mine. I mean, those girls weren’t killers. If they had just taken a left hand turn instead of a right hand turn they never would have met Manson and none of that would have happened to them. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Between the drugs and the charisma that Charles Manson had…I mean you look at him and you go “What! Are you kidding?” And then Steve Railsback, who played Manson, was so incredibly fabulous. It was a great experience. There were times when we were shooting that it felt like we were really there. There was one scene we shot on Halloween with everyone around a campfire. Steve (as Manson) is singing and there’s a full moon. It just felt…real. I loved that project. And when I think of the major projects that I’ve done…I’m a pretty lucky girl. I love “Helter Skelter”…I love “General Hospital.” I mean I was in a Tony Award winning play with Anthony Perkins (“Steambath”). I was on Emmy winning television shows. I was on the second highest made for television movie next to “Roots” in “Helter Skelter.” And I was in an Oscar winning film “The Exorcist” I mean there have been some wonderful things that I have been able to do. And I’m not done yet. They can put that on my tombstone too!
MG: How was working with Rob Zombie and being apart of the film “Halloween II”?
ED: Rob Zombie’s the best! “Halloween II” was great fun. I got to go to Georgia and do my thing. Rob Zombie said I was the comic relief. I guess they didn’t need comic relief since they cut me out of it but now I’m in the deleted scenes.
MG: Tell us about “The Freeway Killer”?
ED: I did a real “fun” movie called “The Freeway Killer,” which is a true story about a serial killer in L.A. during the 70s. He just didn’t have the notoriety of other killers. He kills like 43 kids that he picks up on the freeway. I played his chain smoking, alcoholic, hypochondriac , drama queen mother. It didn’t get distributed much. I don’t even think it’s in Blockbuster…you have to go on line to find it. But Michael Rooker…who plays one of the leads…if you really want to see a good movie. I was at Monsterpalooza and people came up and said “we got “The Freeway Killer” out of the Red Box. It reminds me of a big name author like Dean Koontz going into a book store and finding out they’re selling his books for two bucks.
MG: Do you enjoy attending conventions and meeting your fans?
ED: Oh my God I love it! How could you not? It’s just so exciting. Like I said before, it excites me to see the effect of “The Exorcist” on people. It’s fun to know you had that kind of effect on people. And I love to hear their stories because I’m working on a book and there’s a chapter on how “The Exorcist affected its audience…you can just imagine the many stories I’ve heard. There’s WAS A five year old, that I think is the youngest to see that movie. And it’s always because they’re brother dragged them to see the movie. There’s one kid that thought someone was living under his bed for five years after he saw it. A friend of mine, Lota Hadley who’s actually producing “Job,” she swears she became so frightened that she went back to the church and still can’t watch it. JJ Abrams was at Monsterpalooza and was there with his fifteen year old daughter and he started quaking when he got to my table. He was shaking and he told me “you have no idea… you have no idea how this movie affected me.” The daughter says, “I want to see it, dad,” and he yells “You’re not seeing it!” I love the fact that people tell me how much they love my work. Of course on the other side I had someone come up to me at a show and go “Oh my God, you did “Tim and Eric Awesome Show. Great Job!” And I thought, “hmmmm, a new generation.” A real quick story…I was on an airplane with this guy and we started talking. I told him about “The Exorcist” and he told me about what he did. He sent me an email and said, “I told my daughter that you were in “The Exorcist” and she said “ho hum.” I told her you were on “General Hospital” and she was like “yeah dad.” Then I told her you were on “Tim and Eric Awesome Show” and she was like “Oh my God, you sat next to somebody who was on that show?” But even though she was “ho hum,” “The Exorcist” really does cross generations. And I owe a lot of success at horror conventions to my manager, Chris Roe. He’s a theatrical manager who works with Malcolm McDowell and George Romero and others and he books me into horror shows and he also finds me roles in films and TV. Which reminds me, if anyone reading this interview would like to see me they should contact the promoter of their local horror shows. They really listen when the fans ASK.
MG: What projects do you have in the works?
ED: I’ve also got another project I’m set to do called “Scream Queen’s Campfire.” It’s about a group of horror film stars whose bus breaks down. They sit around the campfire …like scream queen’s take buses! Maybe there was volcanic ash everywhere. Anyway, they sit around the campfire telling strange stories that they’ve heard while on sets while on their way to a horror convention. I also will shoot a film in Canada called “Stingy Jack,” which is about a town that doesn’t celebrate Halloween. Like I said I am most excited about “Job”, which is so scary.
MG: Thanks for the interview Eileen.
ED: You are most welcome.
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