By Anthony Almaraz, Los Angeles Paranormal Research Society
In 1973, William Friedkin set out to bring William Blatty’s novel, THE EXORCIST, to the big screen. The story of a young girl possessed by a demon would instill terror in the minds of audiences. Taking on the subject of demonic possession and a very controversial catholic ritual was sure to turn a few heads.
After many strange and catastrophic occurrences, many became convinced the film set and the movie itself were cursed. THE EXORCIST is based off a real life event. William Peter Blatty wrote his 1971 novel based on the real exorcism of a boy known only through the pseudonym as Roland Doe. Catholic priests at Georgetown University Hospital performed the exorcism, but had to stop when the boy managed to free himself of his restraints, pull a bed spring out of his mattress, and slash one of the priest’s arms. When Blatty wrote the novel, Doe’s family requested the character be changed to a girl in order to protect the boy’s identity. Doe went on to live a normal life with no memory of the incident retiring decades later from NASA.
Shooting was delayed after the set caught fire destroying what was supposed to be the McNeil’s home. Friedkin blamed the incident on a winged creature with talons- it seemed a pigeon had found its way into one of the circuit boxes which caused the fire, however, the fact that Reagan’s room was unharmed by the fire still pretty creepy.
During filming, actress Ellen Burstyn, who played Reagan’s mother, was actually injured when the possessed Reagan throws her to the ground. The take was actually used in the film, and the blood-curdling scream she lets out is completely genuine. The injury bothered her for years.
Chances are good that any film that takes over a year to complete will be associated with bad incidents, but THE EXORCIST has a few deaths. Actors Jack MacGowran [Burke Dennings] and Vasiliki Maliaros [Father Karras’ Mother] both died while the film was in post-production. What makes their deaths strange is that their characters died in the film as well. Other deaths that occurred during the filming include Linda Blair’s grandfather and Max Von Sydow’s brother, who died on Max’s first day of shooting. Also, while filming, the son of Jason Miller, who played Father Damien Karras, was nearly killed when a motorcycle hit him.
While filming one of the possession scenes, Blair was thrown out of bed when a piece of rigging broke, causing her to injure her back. Additionally, after the film’s release, she received so many death threats that the studio had to hire bodyguards to escort her for the next six months.
In 1987, actress Mercedes McCambridge, who played the demonic voice of Pazuzu, was the victim of a horrific tragedy when her son murdered his wife and children before taking his own life.
When it was first released the film was banned in every Middle Eastern country but Lebanon. During the Roman premier, audiences had to fight their way through a torrential downpour, accompanied by thunder and lightning, in order to get in to the theater. Many inside claimed to hear a horrific, almost demonic cry, coming from outside once the film started rolling.
Many believed that the actual film was cursed and that playing it through a projector was an invitation for demonic possession. Televangelist Billy Graham stated, “There is a power of evil in the film, in the fabric of the film itself.”