M*A*S*H got in on performing exorcisms right before The Exorcist II killed off the film trend
M*A*S*H brought in a real shaman for one episode. Soon after, Seventies audiences got over the trend after The Exorcist II debuted as the worst film ever.
Spinning in a colorful, gauzy gown, with long feathers adorning her bright orange hat and bells jingling chaotically from sticks she clasps as part of her ritual dance, the shaman’s entrance in the 1976 M*A*S*H episode "Exorcism" is certainly memorable.
For TV audiences who surely were aware of the hit 1973 movie The Exorcist, this colorful shaman on M*A*S*H formed a stark contrast to the black garbs worn by Catholic priests in the Oscar-nominated Best Picture.
But the "exorcist" we watched on M*A*S*H was arguably more authentic.
It’s often noted that the woman who performs as the shaman on M*A*S*H was never credited for the role, and it’s likely that’s because she was a real shaman who the show found living in Southern California and who it’s said wore her authentic dress and performed her authentic dance on the show.
On M*A*S*H, the exorcism is supposed to show a contrast between camp doctors, who do not believe in the supernatural, and their patient, whose ailing condition they cannot solve without the help of a shaman.
Lucky for M*A*S*H, this episode aired in 1976, the year before the highly-anticipated sequel to The Exorcist premiered in 1977.
Where The Exorcist was dubbed an instant horror classic, critics attending the premiere of The Exorcist II: The Heretic boasted that they were the first people to laugh before the whole theater started laughing, the joke being how terrible the movie was.
Star Linda Blair, who famously played Regan, called the sequel "one of the big disappointments of my career" and since then The Exorcist II has become nearly universally panned.
Noted critic Gene Siskel, writing for the Chicago Tribune, gave it zero stars and claimed it was "the worst major motion picture I’ve seen in almost eight years on the job."
The movie today is considered by many to be the worst movie ever made, and that’s probably why the decision was made when, after more than a decade, Hollywood returned to exorcisms to cautiously produce The Exorcist III, that movie chose to completely ignore everything that happened in the second movie.
According to the book Horror Films of the 1970s, where The Exorcist had revved up interest in "satanic cinema," the sequel did its best to "dim such interest," and it’s likely there would’ve been less interest in doing an exorcism episode of M*A*S*H if they didn’t air the episode just before The Exorcist II killed off the film trend.
Perhaps the biggest laugh after viewing The Exorcist II came from the director of the original Exorcist movie William Friedkin, who reported in an interview that he once heard a story where the audience got so angry while screening the sequel, they got up within the first 10 minutes of the movie to chase Warner Bros. executives down the street.
Friedkin himself couldn’t even get through his attempt to watch the sequel, saying, "I looked at half an hour of it and I thought it was as bad as seeing a traffic accident in the street. It was horrible."