The Curse Of The Exorcist: Behind The Scenes Of The Scariest Movie Ever Made
When The Exorcist premiered in 1973, horror-movie audiences had never seen anything quite like it. But was the movie cursed? The tale of a young girl possessed by an ancient demon was graphic, profane, and to some religious groups, even blasphemous. Apart from the action on screen, the movie is disturbing because of the calamities that occurred during production and the oddities, and tragedies, that happened in the years since.
The Story Behind The Movie
In 1949, Father William Bowdern, a Jesuit minister, performed an exorcism on a young man in St. Louis, Missouri. William Peter Blatty, then a college student at Georgetown University, wrote a paper on this exorcism based on an article in The Washington Post. Twenty years later, he returned to the subject matter to write The Exorcist, hiding the victim’s identity by writing about a girl. The novel was published in 1971 and sold more than 13 million copies, leading to the development of the film. Concern over the subject matter led the production to enlist a Jesuit priest to bless the set during the filming.
The Curse Begins
The problems began early in the filming, which was directed by William Friedkin, a director who was riding high after having directed the 1971 action film The French Connection, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The set, which was a reproduction of a Georgetown house, caught fire when a pigeon flew into a circuit box. Oddly enough, Regan’s room was not harmed in the fire.
In the film, during one of the scenes, Regan, played by Linda Blair, throws her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, to the floor, injuring her. The actual shot and Burstyn’s scream were used in the film and Burstyn suffered permanent damage to her back from the incident.
Injuries And Other Mishaps
Linda Blair was also injured during the filming. In one of the possession scenes, the rigging broke and Blair was thrown from the bed, also sustaining injuries to her back.
On the set, other people suffered injuries as well. A carpenter cut off his thumb and a lighting technician lost his toe. The film's opening sequences were filmed on location in Iraq, where a delay caused the production to work there in July, the hottest part of the summer. Nine crew members were unable to work at one point or another, due to heat stroke and dysentery while the heat soared to 130 degrees. While not an injury, during the projectile vomiting scene, the tubing misfired, and the vomit, instead of hitting Father Karras (played by Jason Miller) in the chest, hit him in the face. His reaction is quite genuine and the scene only required one take.
In addition to the injuries on set, nine people associated with the film died, including a janitor who was shot and killed, and Linda Blair’s grandfather. Less than a week after his character, Burke Dennings died in the film, Jack McGowran died. Others faced unusual tragedy. Mercedes McCambridge, who voiced the demon Pazuzu, faced tragedy when her son murdered his wife and then took his own life in 1987. Jason Miller’s young son was nearly killed when he was struck a beach by a motorcycle that appeared to come out of nowhere.
More Proof (?) Of The Curse
Additionally, there were strange images that appeared on the film, including double exposures of Linda Blair’s face, fueling even more concerns about the curse.
Reactions To The Film
The film was released on Boxing Day, 1973, and its connection to religious holiday caused controversy. Rumors of the curse continued after the release and Linda Blair received so many death threats that Warner Bros. hired bodyguards to protect her for six months. The film was banned in every Middle Eastern country except Lebanon. People viewing the film reported illness, including vomiting and hallucinations and one woman at a showing passed out from terror, fell, and broke her jaw. Billy Graham condemned the film, claiming it embodied evil. The studio actually used the rumors of a curse to their advantage. The Exorcist became highest grossing horror film of all time, making $441 million and was the first horror film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It also fueled the rise of people hoping to make a profit from the furor, by making claims of being exorcists and demonologists.
Real Evil In The Film
Interestingly, though there are alternative explanations for many of the curse claims, there was at least one instance of evil present in the film. Several years after the release of the film, Paul Bateson, one of the radiologists in the carotid angiography scene, was convicted of killing Addison Verill and there is evidence that he may have been a serial killer.