Mount Vernon has George Washington. Memphis has Elvis. And now Hastra, Iraq, has “The Exorcist.”
As part of reconstruction efforts by the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. troops have been preparing the ancient architectural treasures in northern Iraq as a tourist attraction.
After a soldier watching “The Exorcist” on a portable DVD player realized the temples he was guarding are where William Friedkin filmed the opening to his 1973 classic, the troops have made a savvy marketing move to promote the site to the pics’ many fans as “The Exorcist Experience.”
Friedkin is thrilled with the idea. “I think it’s American ingenuity at its finest.”
When he heard of the plans, the helmer got in touch with Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st, who filled him in on the effort.
Tour guides have already been hired, hotels are open and the Army and local residents held an event last month to celebrate the end of Ramadan and Christmas.
“It was quite an evening, with local leaders and sheiks,” Petraeus emailed Friedkin.
Friedkin has not been able to return to Iraq since he spent three months there in 1972 working on “The Exorcist,” but he very much wants to return now.
“I never felt closer to a people than I did to the Iraqis,” he says. “I’m trying to go over there. I have no problem going, but they want to be sure it is secure.”
Friedkin acknowledges Hastra isn’t going to challenge Las Vegas or Disney World as a tourist destination for some time. (The 101st spokeswoman says, “Security there is not 100%.”)
“The site is beautiful,” Friedkin says. “I’m flattered they’re relating it to ‘The Exorcist.’ “