Academy Award-nominated actress. Roller boogie champion. Grindhouse goddess. Patron saint of animals. There are many ways to describe Linda Blair, one of the great horror and cult movie superstars of all time. To watch any of her movies, hear any of her interviews or meet her at a convention is to worship her for life. While everybody knows Linda from her iconic role in The Exorcist (1973), true fans know that she made some of her most fun, crazy, lovable (and, occasionally, fascinatingly awful) films after becoming America’s possessed sweetheart. Today’s article focuses on films that, intentionally or not, can be described as horror films. However, the true Linda aficionado should do anything to see films like Born Innocent (1974), Sweet Hostage (1975), Sarah T.: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975), Roller Boogie (1979), Chained Heat (1983) and especially the romantic comedy Up Your Alley (1989). When writing about Linda Blair’s career, describing a mere 13 films only scratches the surface.
And for the record, we're not putting The Exorcist in here because it's too obvious.
Every day this month we're bringing you a different Top 13 list from the world of horror. You can find them all here.
Airport 1975 (1974, strangely)
Linda simpers sweetly as a girl on her way to get an emergency kidney transplant in this crazy, all star campfest, in which Gloria Swanson plays herself, Charlton Heston patronizes women, and Karen Black flies the plane. In Linda’s most frightening scene since The Exorcist, her main job is to smile while Helen Reddy sings another of her Me-Decade classics, “Best Friend.”
The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
The much-lambasted Exorcist II: The Heretic is a veritable extravaganza of extreme weirdness. Several years after the events of The Exorcist (1973), Reagan is living in New York, trying to get on with her life, doing tap dance numbers, participating in experimental therapy, and curing a little autistic girl (Dana Plato!) of her inability to speak while terrifying her by confessing that she used to be possessed by a demon. There’s also a lot of incomprehensible but beautiful footage involving Richard Burton, James Earl Jones dressed as a locust, and Africa.
Summer of Fear (1978)
In one of Wes Craven’s early movies, made for TV from a book by the great Lois Duncan, Linda plays a happy teen. She loves horses, has permed red hair, and is friends with Fran Drescher. Her idyllic existence is shattered when her cousin Julia, donning wavy, dirty blonde hair, comes from the Ozarks to live with her family after the untimely demise of her parents. Before long, Linda breaks out with a terrible rash that keeps her from going to the school dance, finds a voodoo doll covered in her horse’s hair, and naturally begins to suspect that Julia is a witch who is out to seduce her father and her boyfriend. Thankfully, her neighbor specializes in the supernatural, and can advise.
Hell Night (1981)
One of the best sorority slasher movies of the 1980s, and that’s saying something. Linda plays a sorority pledge who, along with three other pledges, must spend the night in the dreaded Garth Manor. Naturally, somebody murdered his entire family there 12 years before. Might the killer still be lurking on the premises? Linda wins extra final girl points for fighting the murderer while dressed like an extra from the 18th century episodes of Dark Shadows.
Savage Streets (1984)
Savage Streets is probably Linda’s most beloved and famous exploitation film, and it’s definitely the most fun. It is a glorious combination of I Spit On Your Grave-style rape/revenge, the slasher genre, Class of 1984, and Death Wish. Linda plays Brenda, the gorgeous, impeccably dressed, tough as nails leader of a girl gang. After she initiates a prank against a gang of rival punks, the gross guys rape her sister (Linnea Quigley, in an early and devastating performance) and kill her pregnant friend. If you can get through all of this stuff—which is actually very disturbing, but is broken up by some delicious catfights, bitchy dialogue, and a class about poetry—you will be rewarded by truly awesome revenge scenes. Linda dons a tight leather jumpsuit, wields a crossbow, enacts gory violence, delivers perfect one-liners, and sends her enemies to hell where they belong.
Lisa (Linda) and her friend Kathy (the extremely important Donna Wilkes, star of 1984’s Angel) are spending time with Lisa’s family when a gang of punks brutalize them (punks were a big problem for Linda in the 1980s). Little do the punks know that the family is harboring a secret relative wearing bad monster make-up. He goes after the punks, along with the family’s vengeful uncle (Tab Hunter!). Although it’s hard to say this about any film with such a prestigious cast, Grotesque is pretty awful in a bad way.
Possibly Linda’s second most bizarre film (after Exorcist II: The Heretic, of course). She plays the pregnant daughter of an obnoxious rich couple who want to buy an abandoned hotel off the coast of Massachusetts. Little do they know that the hotel is occupied by a creepy, goth old woman who might be a has-been movie star, the ghost of a pregnant witch who was killed by puritans on the premises years ago, or both. The witch (played by the glamorous German chanteuse Hildegard Knef) brutally kills the members of the family. In a scene that traumatized a bunch of kids who saw this movie on Cinemax, an old lady has her lips sewn shut, and is hung upside down in a chimney over a burning fireplace, while her family throws wood on the fire. In the film’s grand finale, the witch possesses Linda Blair so that she can give birth to Satan through her, and David Hasselhoff has to rescue her. Knef said that this film was not worthy of being shown to cows in a field, but it’s actually very creepy, unintentionally funny, and insane all at once. It has its fans.
Monsters: Season 1, Episode 24 (1988)
Okay, so not really a horror film but go with us on this one. A man tries to kill a beautiful woman (Linda) who might be the notorious witch “La Strega,” because he believes that she put a curse on his mother. His extremely sassy would-be victim ties him up, threatens him, slaps him, and makes him promise to live with her for two weeks before killing her. He falls in love with her, because who wouldn’t? But is she a demon? Linda gives a wickedly delightful (and sexy!) performance in this under-discussed episode of the anthology series.
The Chilling (1989)
If Witchery is Linda’s most bizarre film after Exorcist II, The Chilling is the craziest. The Chilling combines the plot of Return of the Living Dead (1985) with anti-Cryogenic Freezing propaganda. Seriously. There is a lengthy opening scroll in the beginning of the movie that describes Cryogenic Freezing as the work of Satan. Linda plays the assistant at a corrupt, high end Cryogenics lab that is run by ‘50s heartthrob Troy Donahue. It also houses the frozen body of a vicious criminal. When the electricity goes out, the lab’s workers inexplicably bring the freezers (and dead bodies) out into the middle of the lab’s parking lot, where they get hit by a lightning bolt that unleashes a hoard of formerly frozen zombies. Linda reacts without much emotion. By this time she’d already seen it all.
How To Get Revenge (1989)
This extremely tacky How To video is a horror film for several reasons. 1) It is frightening that Linda had to star in this, when she should have had Meg Ryan’s role in When Harry Met Sally… 2) The video basically teaches people how to behave like sociopaths. Linda campily reads the passage about “an eye for an eye” from the bible, before hosting interviews with several “experts.” They give legit disturbing tips about how to ruin people’s lives if they annoy you. For example, send “gay and bisexual” magazines to your victim’s work to get him fired, or send his wife a box of chocolates filled with laxatives! Fake a death certificate for your victim and send it to the IRS to ruin your victim’s credit rating! If your victim is a minority, report him to immigration! Linda looks increasingly uncomfortable as the video progresses.
Linda returned to the mainstream (sort of), in this theatrically released spoof of The Exorcist, co-starring Leslie Nielsen. She plays a woman who was possessed by the devil as a child, but who got over it and has raised a family. She watches too much TV, so the devil re-claims her. She finds herself torn between two priests: Nielsen, who exorcised her long ago, and Ned Beatty, a sleazy, Jim Bakker-type who wants to exorcise her on live TV. This is what Exorcist III (also released in 1990!) could have been. It’s really funny if you’re eight years old and have a very unusual sense of humor.
Linda looks as gorgeous as ever in this Skinemax-style erotic horror film from made-for-video auteur Jim Wyorski, which co-stars fan favorite Julie Strain. Strain plays Erica, a sexy witch who places a curse on Linda’s husband and kills him. Since, as we know, Linda is really big on revenge, she learns the black arts and goes after Erica herself. As part of her vengeance, Linda strangely makes Erica participate in a ménage à trois in the dream of another character. It all culminates in a finale that emphasizes the occult and overacting.
We can’t leave out Linda’s cameo as a reporter in Scream! In Scream 5, we would love it if the film focused on her character’s ongoing competition with Gale Weathers.