Released in 1973, 'The Exorcist', based on a book written by William Peter Blatty, which in turn was loosely based on a real life exorcism, is said to be cursed. Tragedy, injury and even death all left their mark during production, and after it hit the theatres.
The Exorcist goes to Film
It was adapted from the novel 'The Exorcist' written by William Peter Blatty in 1971. The inspiration for Blatty's novel came from a class he was attending in 1950. A priest was a guest speaker, and he told of an exorcism he had performed the year before.
Blatty was working as a public relations director at the Loyola University, when he made an appearance on the Groucho Marx quiz show 'You Bet Your Life'. Blatty won the $10,000, which was enough for him to quit his job and focus on a career as an author.
Several publications, including The Exorcist, were the direct result.
The Exorcist was a New York Times best seller, remaining on the list for well over a year, and soon Blatty, along with film director William Friedkin, would translate the work into a screen play.
(note, there are a few spoilers ahead)
The film (and book) concern the story of young twelve year old Regan MacNeil, the daughter of a successful actress who lives in Washington DC. All is well in the small family until strange noises are heard in the attic and within the walls.
At first the suspicion is rats, but when Regan begins to develop unusual behaviour, her mother Chris begins to get concerned. Soon Regan starts to lash out physically, and other strange events take place in the house.
After seeking help from physiological and psychological specialists, Regans behaviour and health continues to decline. As a act of desperation, Chris MacNeil seeks out the help of a priest, Father Karras. Karras soon makes the conclusion that he believes Regan to be possessed by an evil entity, and is given permission to seek out a priest who is experienced at performing exorcism, a binding by oath that the demon be removed from Regans physical and spiritual self.
Tragedy, Injury and Death on Set
However, such discomfort was nothing compared to the many tragedies, injuries and deaths that would occur during the filming and post production. These caused many setbacks during filming, almost tripling the amount of production days and the final cost.
Actress Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s Mother has been quoted as saying "there was an enormous amount of deaths connected with the film" and has stated that there were nine deaths connected to the movie in all.
One of these deaths was actor Jack MacGowren, who played Burke Dennings and died at the age 55, a short time before the film was released. His character also died in The Exorcist, and it was the last role MacGowren played.
Two other actors also died shortly after filming, as did several of the crew.
Ellen Burstyn herself was seriously injured during the shooting of the scene where she is thrown from the bed by Regan. As she was thrown back, she landed on her coccyx, causing severe and permanent injury to her spine. The resulting scream from that take was used in the final film.
The actor who played Father Karras, Jason Miller had a strange experience during the films production. Early into production, Jason Miller was eating his lunch and reading some lines for the days scenes, when he was approached by a Jesuit Priest. The priest handed him a medallion of the Blessed Virgin and told Miller "reveal the devil for the trickster that he is, he will seek retribution against you or he will even try to stop what you are trying to do to unmask him."
Several of the crew, Blatty included, recall seeing objects move about on their own accord on occasion, notably the telephone that was used to communicate between the set and the production house. The receiver would rise off the hook on its own, before falling to the floor. On one of these occasions Blatty was sitting right next to it.
Bermingham said no, as it would only increase anxiety and add to the continued speculation of the Exorcist Curse. However, the following day, the set burned to the ground and Birmingham relented blessing the set, cast and crew. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
Troubles After the Movies Release
Upon release, many theatres had paramedics at the standby, such was the films reputation. People were said to have fainted out of sheer terror, others becoming physically ill. More than one person was injured during the first screenings, including one man who managed to sue Warner Brothers (settling out of court) who injured his jaw after fainting and smashing his head against the seat in front of him.
At one of the early screenings in Rome, when people were entering the theatre, lightning struck and toppled a 400 year old cross that adorned a nearby church.
Such was the religious fervour and hatred of the movie, that Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil) was escorted by a bodyguard for the first six months after screenings. She had received a string of death threats due to her portrayal of the possessed, and many felt that she herself was harbouring the devil.
As did the film reels, according to Evangelist Billy Graham...
On a final note The Exorcist was close to not being called The Exorcist at all. Before release, a survey was sent out asking people if they knew what an Exorcist was. No one asked had any idea, and the name was nearly changed. Today if you ask someone if they know what an exorcist is they will likely say yes and cite the movie.
So the curse... something strange happening, something supernatural, paranormal and evil lurking on the set?
Or a series of coincidences?