Friday, October 16, 2020

Vasiliki Maliaros, the Greek Who Played a Pivotal Role in "The Exorcist"


"Dimmy, please Dimmy why you do this to me Dimmy?"

Anyone who has seen the horror film The Exorcist remembers well the face and especially the deeply Greek accented (even demonic) voice of Father Damien Karras' mother, but few know anything about her. Well, her name is Vasiliki Maliaros (Βασιλική Μαλλιαρού), and today would have been her birthday.

Vasiliki Maliaros was born on October 16, 1883 in Athens, Greece and emigrated with her family at a young age to New York City. Director William Friedkin "discovered" her in a Greek Bronx diner when she was 88 years old and invited her to play a pivotal role in his latest film which was to be released in 1973, The Exorcist, as Maria Karras. Friedkin had gone to many Greek diners before filming began looking for a woman who fit the Greek motherly role perfectly, and when he heard the voice of Vasiliki and saw her face, he knew she was perfect for the part. The only problem was, being in her late 80's, she had never acted before; of course, you wouldn't know it from watching her lovable yet sometimes creepy performance in the one and only film she ever made.

In this famous horror film, one of the priests who is to exorcise the demon is Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Father Karras is (for some reason) a Jesuit priest and a psychiatrist. At first he doubts in the validity of exorcism, and he has to tend his dying mother (Vasiliki Maliaros). He eventually agrees to the exorcism and hears the voice of his deceased mother speaking to him from inside the 12-year-old child he is trying to exorcise. Titos Vandis plays a minor role as Father Karras’ uncle. Although some Greek is spoken, ethnicity is not a concern of this film. Perhaps using a Greek priest served to enhance the Orientalist themes in the film.

In one scene, we see Maria Karras listening to a Greek radio program popular in New York City (even though the film takes place in Washington D.C.) offering laiki (people’s) songs rendered by Rita Sakellariou, one of Greece’ most popular singers. Tina Santorineou's voice, along with Ted Athas’, can be heard as well. For 22 years Tina Santorineou, from 1972 – 1994, was the voice of the Greek American community in the Metropolitan area of New York.

The elderly star died in the Bronx before the film was released, on February 9, 1973, at the age of 89, with her inquest stating her death was due to "natural causes". Interestingly, Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, two actors whose characters die in The Exorcist, both died in real life soon after filming was finished and never got to see the final product.

Because of The Exorcist, audiences found out that the devil can speak Greek, and the voice he used was that of Vasiliki Maliaros, whose words in Greek were often never translated with subtitles in the film. The film became a blockbuster success not only in America, but also in Greece, where lines formed outside of theaters around blocks, and to their surprise they also heard in this American horror film the devil speaking Greek through the voice of Vasiliki.