The Exorcist is a 1973 horror film that has terrified audiences for decades. Possibly more frightening is the disastrous events behind the scenes, causing many to speculate if The Exorcist was cursed from the beginning.
The movie is based on the book of the same title. In 1949, priests performed an exorcism on a young boy, Roland Doe, inspiring William Peter Blatty to retell the events in his book, then the screenplay for The Exorcist. The film is loosely based on the story and instead features a young girl, Regan MacNeil, possessed by a demon. She and her mother, Chris MacNeil, obtain the help of Catholic priests in an attempt to rescue her.
Because of the myriad of accidents, delays, and other production problems on set, it took The Exorcist more than 200 days to complete. Although the idea of cursed films isn’t unique to this film, it’s hard to look past everything that went wrong, especially when considering what the movie’s about.
The Priest’s Warning
While filming the classic horror movie, one of the actors got a creepy warning from a priest. Oddly enough, Jason Miller, or Father Karras in The Exorcist, played the part of a priest who’d exorcise Regan. While working on the film, Miller was approached by a priest without any knowledge of his role.
As he handed Miller a medallion, he warned, “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.” It’s hard not to wonder what provoked the priest to approach Miller with this ominous message.
Accidents on Set
It’s not too surprising that a few accidents and injuries happened during the filming of The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin wasn’t exactly the most cautious man in show business, often pushing the limits to ensure he got the right take.
Friedkin ordered the props worker to fire shotgun blanks randomly to keep the actors on edge and produce genuinely terrified looks on their faces. During some scenes, he had the actors working in a -20-degree room to capture authentic foggy breaths. These are just some examples of methods Friedkin would use to get his shots.
However, on top of everything, there were freak accidents that weren’t anyone’s fault. Friedkin received a 4 AM phone call to notify him of a fire on set. A bird flew into the circuit box, causing the entire set of the MacNeil’s house to burn to the ground except for Regan’s room. Strangely, her room was where most of the action took place, namely her exorcism. Even worse, the fire occurred during one of the exorcism scenes.
This event was jarring for the cast and crew, so they brought a priest to pray over the set. There was a six-week delay in production due to the fire. Then, once the new location was ready, the sprinkler system malfunctioned, delaying production another two weeks. As if these strange occurrences weren’t bad enough, the winged demon statue got lost in shipment and wound up in Hong Kong.
Linda Blair’s Breakdowns
The Exorcist was a significant role for 14-year-old Linda Blair. Although it helped her gain some fame early in her acting career, working conditions were challenging during the making of this film. While the sub-zero temperatures would have been uncomfortable for nearly anyone, they were especially intolerable for the young teenager. Other cast and crew members wore protective clothing, while Blair mostly wore a thin nightgown.
To get the full effect of the exorcism, Blair was attached to a harness that would thrust her violently and repeatedly hit her spine. A technical failure caused her to fracture her back in one levitating bed sequence. She got scoliosis from the injury, causing her to struggle with chronic pain for years.
With everything she went through during filming, it’s unsurprising that she was rumored to have breakdowns.
Injuries Surrounding the Production
Linda Blair wasn’t the only cast member to leave with an injury. Some injuries were undoubtedly due to the work conditions, though others are strange enough to make you wonder if the film is, in fact, cursed. Not only did Jason Miller get an ominous message from a priest, but he had a near-fatal motorcycle accident during filming.
Ellen Burstyn also hurt her back during a scene where possessed Regan would violently shove her to the floor. They had a crew member pull on Burstyn’s harness to achieve this shot. Unfortunately, they pulled too hard during one take, causing Bustyn’s back injury.
The actors weren’t the only ones injured while shooting The Exorcist. One of the electricians lost his toe, and a carpenter accidentally chopped off his thumb.
If there were only one or two deaths, it may be easier to overlook as a coincidence. However, there were reportedly nine deaths of cast and crew members before The Exorcist’s release, according to Ellen Burstyn in the documentary The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist.
One actor, Jack MacGowan, died shortly after playing the role of someone killed due to Regan’s possession. He got sick with the influenza virus and passed away due to complications. Another cast member, Vasiliki Maliros, who played Karra’s mother, would also die before the film was released in theaters.
Several cast and crew members also lost loved ones during this time. Jason Miller’s son died in a motorcycle accident. Vasiliki Maliaros, who played Father Damien Karras’s mother, died of natural causes.
Paul Bateson, who played a hospital worker in the movie, murdered a reporter before its release. He eventually confessed though he couldn’t provide a motive for his crime.