Was The Exorcist a Cursed Production?

The concept of cursed films and their productions has been mythologized through social media and several documentaries. When a film has a behind-the-scenes story that is so disastrous that there had to be some kind of supernatural intervention. Strained production isn’t exclusive to horror, of course. Across every single genre there will be films with baggage, from something as small as personal conflicts between actors to major disasters, injuries and even deaths.


Even a healthy family working like The Wizard of Oz can have a real dark side when you research what the cast had to go through, but when it’s a horror movie it almost becomes a selling point. The disasters add to the film’s mystique that it was just as terrifying to make as it was to watch, a film so terrifying it was demonic. The terrible helicopter crash The Twilight Zone: The Movie; the mysterious deaths and human skeletons in Poltergeist; cannibal holocaust is known more for its horrific production than for the content or the quality of the actual film.

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We tell these stories like we do around the campfire, but does the tale of a curse give those in charge an “off” for their part in it?

The Exorcist is such a movie. Directed by William Friedkin and published in 1973, The Exorcist was part of a brand new chapter in horror movies. There were movies before that that are still considered great, but mostly 1970s horror movies The Omen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the exorcist, are still considered truly terrifying. The mass hysteria surrounds The Exorcist lives in shame, the visceral and physical reactions it provoked in viewers that no one had seen a film like him. Young Regan McNeil’s twisted possession, masterfully played Linda Blairand Attempts to Exorcise the Demon Within is still considered one of the most terrifying films of all time, 49 years later.


The film was cursed by unethical direction

The fact that it’s one in the canon of cursed movies only exacerbates this. The stories are very well known by this point: how the house they shot at caught fire and burned to the ground, with the exception of Regan’s room; how, as a precaution, they brought a priest to bless the set; the amount of mass hysteria that swept through audiences worldwide; and, as is usual with cursed films, the misfortune that befell the cast and crew. Injuries, fatalities and the death of family members. Standard fare for a cursed movie, unfortunate events tied together through the staging of a highly controversial horror film.

However, injuries don’t just happen, and not all accidents are entirely blameless. As academics of film and film production, it is our responsibility to demystify these cursed films and give due credit to those who endured them.

Production begins in 1972, and it’s clear to the cast and crew, as anyone researching the production of this film will be, that most of the chaos on set rests squarely on the shoulders of Friedkin himself. He had gained a reputation for his rather manic and irrational demeanor and “peculiar” directing methods, to say the least. Friedkin was known to fire guns or hit actors to evoke a real leap of terror. Known for being incredibly intense, he would do anything to get the shot he wanted, including converting the set into an ice box so the camera could catch the foggy breath. There was clearly method to this madness, but the authenticity of a scene meant more to him than the health and safety of the actors, leading to both Blair and Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s mother, suffered permanent spinal damage due to faulty special effects rigging. The takes that end in the film are usually the very ones where the actors were genuinely injured by the rigging and pulleys of early special effects setups, and Friedkin insists or encourages more to continue despite those injuries.

Of course, there are some things that can’t be explained by an unorthodox director who pushes his actors to the limit by any means necessary. The fire came from a bird flying into a switch box, an unfortunate accident, although it’s undeniably odd that a room was left standing. The other element that no one could have controlled or foreseen was the unexpected deaths of actors or actors’ family members that happened before the film’s release. This is one of the key elements of a “cursed” movie, and whether you find it insensitive to over-sensationalize the deaths of real people, it makes sense when you learn how delayed the film has developed. Filming took twice as long as planned due to an inflated budget, breakout on the set, wasted days, malfunctions and injuries to actors, and a bout of dysentery after some crew members were shot dead in Iraq. A lot can happen in nine months, that’s how long production took. During this time, London was hit by an influenza epidemic, claiming the deaths of Jack MacGowranwho played Burke Jennings, and at that time Vasiliki Maliaros, who played Damien Karras’ mother and was already 90 years old has unfortunately also passed away.

The mass hysteria surrounding “The Exorcist”

When the film was finally released, mass hysteria exploded among the public. There were reports of people passing out and throwing up in the cinemas, nobody had ever seen anything like this outside of a grindhouse theater and they weren’t prepared for it. Warner Bros. got heavily involved in the controversy; after all, it was free advertising. The film was talked about by everyone from the academy to the Catholic Church, and that discourse prompted more and more people to understand what all the fuss is about. Now, years later, we’re still talking about his artistic achievements, but also the misfortunes that plagued the production.

As humans, we naturally make connections in our heads from events, trying to find a reason, an explanation for bad things happening. cast and crew of The Exorcist fell victim to that too, believing the film followed them and lingered like a ghost long after production ended. The movie had to be damned, how else could all this have happened at once? How else could it evoke such a strong reaction?

The Exorcist is a powerful film, it is haunting, incredibly well acted and masterfully directed. There’s a reason this movie is in the spotlight, because it legitimizes horror movies and changes the game forever. However, it is incredibly unlikely that he was the subject of a demonic curse, merely the result of delayed production that allowed more time for external tragedy and insane in-house directing methods by Friedkin. Despite this, Friedkin went to the Jesuit priest Father Bermingham, a technical adviser on the film, and asked him to perform an exorcism on the set. He declined, stating that there wasn’t enough evidence of demonic possession, but he blessed the set and the entire cast and crew. After that, no further incidents were reported.

Some things that happen during filming cannot be explained. Two planes are struck by lightning on their way to shoot The Omen is definitely weird, and some questions don’t have answers. Curse films are fascinating film history lessons to see how much or how little progress has been made since 1973. But swearing, no matter how fun it is to speculate, should never be the hand-waving response when the real culprits are those behind the camera.

https://collider.com/was-the-exorcist-cursed/ Was The Exorcist a Cursed Production?

Sarah Ridley

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