The Exorcist was a cultural phenomenon upon its release in 1973.
Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, William Friedkin’s horror classic about a young girl possessed by a demonic force famously shocked audiences across the globe.
What you might not know is that part of the media frenzy surrounding the film derived from rumours that the movie itself was troubled.
A series of tragic incidents befell the cast, crew, and people connected with them, leading many to believe the film itself was cursed.
A series of unfortunate events
Production on The Exorcist was riddled with problems from the start. As shooting began in 1972, the set used as the home of Regan MacNiel burned down when a bird flew into a circuit box.
Eerily, the only part to remain untouched by flames was the room used for filming the actual exorcism scenes.
“This set production back significantly, and led to a draining shooting period of over a year,” explains film historian and horror expert Sarah Crowther.
Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, whose characters also die in the movie, both passed away shortly after shooting wrapped.
Elsewhere, stars Linda Blair and Max von Sydow lost members of their family during the shoot.
But that wasn’t all. The son of Jason Miller, who plays Father Damien Karras, was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident.
Meanwhile, Blair and on-screen mother Ellen Burstyn both suffered serious injuries during production due to falls on set.
This so-called curse was also said to have followed the movie on its release into cinemas, on Boxing Day 1973.
“A release date over the period of a major religious festival gives you some indication of the studio’s intent to spark controversy and debate,” says Crowther.
As the film began, lightning crashed out of the sky and struck the church opposite the cinema.
“The Warner Brothers press office spread speculation of the curse prior to release. It was an extremely hot topic in global media when it hit cinemas.”
Warner Bros drew on sinister rumours surrounding the film’s production to pique audience interest.
“Column inches and television news screens were filled with stories of audience members fainting and vomiting, and walking out in large numbers at early screenings,” notes Crowther.
‘One woman passed out’
In Rome, fans were forced to travel to the cinema in a torrential downpour. As the film began, lightning reportedly struck the church opposite the cinema.
Reactions to the disturbing film only served to bolster The Exorcist’s burgeoning reputation as shock cinema.
“One woman passed out and broke her jaw, for which she sued the studio. In the UK, St John’s Ambulance staff attended screenings,” adds Crowther.
“US televangelist Billy Graham went so far as to claim that the very celluloid of the film itself was cursed. [That] it contained subliminal messages.”