Who knew the voice of Satan could be so sweet? Indeed, Academy Award winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, best known to terror stalwarts for providing the ghoulish vocal pyrotechnics of the demon in The Exorcist, writes with enormous beauty and supreme self awareness in her 1981 memoir The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography.
Nicely, McCambridge, a versatile veteran of live radio, spends an entire chapter describing how she came up with the various signature sound pieces that made William Friedkin’s seminal shocker so potently creepy. (If you thought Regan’s onscreen vomiting was hard to take, the image of McCambridge spitting up raw eggs into a cup for the sound effect is liable to make your stomach a mite queasy, as well.) McCambridge also relates her heartache upon realizing she hadn’t, initially, received screen credit for her work and describes the efforts taken to make sure she received it. (Note: In Friedkin’s 2013 memoir he relates a different story, that McCambridge, at first, had insisted on no screen credit to help supply a sense of atmosphere to the film.)
As an unexpected bonus, the husky voiced actress also relates her joy upon working with Boris Karloff in a vampire piece for the radio. She, gleefully, recounts how, behind the scenes, life savers were chomped on to create the illusion that her character’s neck was being snapped.
Perhaps, not unsurprisingly, McCambridge’s tome, occasionally, deals with the often devastating effects of religion on women. Taught to fear an all powerful being, she strains to find her own voice and live a liberated and creative life. She is haunted by her two divorces and recounts, in frightening detail, how she assisted a childhood friend in procuring an illegal abortion.
She also, honestly, recounts her struggles with alcoholism and, with the sweeping curtness of a master storyteller, recalls her activism and her personal relationships, that she hints might have contained flickers of romance, with such powerful figures as politician Adlai Stevenson and master showman Billy Rose.
Euro-buffs, meanwhile, will get a kick out of her non-mention of exploitation maestro Jess Franco. Franco’s 99 Women, the WIP flick that features a boisterously accented performance from McCambridge, is brushed off as an unnamed, nonessential entry in her filmography here.
Thankfully, McCambridge, whose career seemingly suffered due to her visible efforts to link a popular face to the rigors of addiction, comes off as completely singular and absolutely worthy of the cinema fan’s eternal (and loving) recall.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!