|A movie poster for The Exorcist |
(1973, dir. William Briedkin, Warner Bros.)
The press supported these claims with reports that the production was cursed with a number of tragedies and catastrophes: Actors Jack MacGowran (drunken film director Burke Bennings) and Vasiliki Maliaros (the mother of Father Karras) both died before the movie’s release. Ellen Burnstyn and Linda Blair were injured while filming separate stunt scenes. And a weekend fire destroyed part of a set, causing production delays.
When the movie finally came out at the end of 1973, audiences had never seen anything like it. They trembled and wept with fear. Many walked out, unable to sit through it. At every screening, several people routinely fainted…some while attempting to leave the theater. Others became physically ill. Theater owners complained of carpets ruined by vomit, and stories soon circulated about barf bags being handed out to theater patrons. According to Ruickbie, “there were even unsubstantiated accounts of heart attacks, a miscarriage, a frenzied attack on the projection screen by a man trying to kill the demon, other acts of unspecified violence at showings, and between two and four institutionalizations” (p. 32).
|The May 2014 issue of the Fortean Times celebrated |
the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist and its urban legends.
To be fair, the movie also received plenty of praise from religious quarters for being “deeply spiritual,” and it was showered with secular awards and box office profits.
Because The Exorcist is the first horror movie whose production is claimed to have been cursed, this distinction spawned a number of urban legends about the production:
- For instance, the aforementioned set fire morphed into a legend that the entire set of the McNeil house burned down on a Sunday of all days…except for Regan’s room (in which the exorcism takes place): it was mysteriously untouched.
- Another legend claims that nine people died while making the movie. Much like the rumor of a curse on King Tut’s tomb, most of these deaths have nothing to do with the movie, while others occurred years after filming was completed. Four deaths apparently occurred during filming, but the “victims” were not people actually involved in making the movie (e.g., an assistant camerman’s baby, actor Max von Sydow’s brother, or Linda Blair’s grandfather).
- Another urban legend has it that The Exorcist was banned on video in the UK until 1999. In fact, the film was released on home video in 1979. The Video Records Act of 1984 required all home videos to be classified, and Warner Brothers did not submit The Exorcist until 1999…whereupon it was passed by the board and promptly re-released.
- Three Jesuits served as technical advisors on the film, and two even appeared in the movie: William O’Malley as Father Dyer, and Thomas Bermingham as the president of Georgetown University. According to urban legend, the film crew were so disturbed about the project that the director had Bermingham perform an exorcism on the set. Other versions say that Bermingham visited the set every morning to bless it before filming began.
For Further Reading
Leo Ruickbie. “What Possessed Us?” Fortean Times, May 2014, 313: 30–35.
Mark Feldt, “Urban Legends of The Exorcist,” https://film-production.knoji.com/urban-legends-of-the-exorcist/