Few horror movies have had quite such a lasting impact on American culture as The Exorcist. Though audiences were horrified by the special effects that still hold up after several decades, the film’s staying power may come from the creepy events surrounding the movie’s production. Viewers can expect the typical horror film components; accidents, sudden deaths, and startling surprises. But the creepy factor is amplified by the fact that a real-life murderer has a close connection to the cinematic adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s book by the same name. Even though the movie came out in 1973… No spoilers!
The Exorcist and the public’s reaction
Director William Friedkin’s supernatural flick The Exorcist is one of the most profitable horror movies ever made. Loosely based on the last known (and sanctioned) exorcism in the United States, the story centers around a troubled little girl. Regan, played by Linda Blair, has been exhibiting some… strange behavior.
After doctors say there’s nothing physically wrong with Regan, her mother Chris MacNeil gets desperate. She reaches out to a young priest, who ultimately comes to believe that Regan is possessed. To rectify the situation, he calls an old priest, exorcist Father Merrin. The demon claims to be the Devil himself. Without ruining the ending, we’ll just say the spirit puts up one hell of a fight.
Though it was a runaway hit, reports of strong audience reactions surfaced following the film’s release. Stories of people fainting, vomiting, and actually hiding while viewing The Exorcist came from all over the country. According to Entertainment Weekly, evangelist Billy Graham condemned the movie saying, “The Devil is in every frame of this film.”
The Exorcist Curse
The flames of controversy surrounding the movie were only fanned by rumors that the film was cursed, as reported by CBS News. The idea was not that much of a stretch considering nine people associated with The Exorcist died during production. The number even includes two actors who lost their fictional lives in the movie, Jack MacGowran, and Vasilik Maliaros. They both died before The Exorcist could be released.
In addition to the deaths, both Linda Blair and the actress who played Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) permanently injured their backs while filming. When MacNeil is thrown back against the wall, her shrieks are Burstyn screaming in actual pain. While it pales in comparison to death and injury, another ominous event was the MacNeil home set fire that destroyed everything but Regan’s room. Reportedly, Friedkin saw the fire start when a pigeon flew into a circuit box.
Coincidence or not, it’s easy to believe that the movie was cursed knowing that there was a real-life killer on the set.
Paul Bateson, The Exorcist Killer
Paul Bateson was a radiology technician both in the film and real life. However, it’s hard to find the words he speaks to Linda Blair’s Regan comforting after learning he killed at least one man. On September 14, 1977, Bateson stabbed reporter Addison Verrill to death in his Greenwich Village apartment. Later, Bateson anonymously called the police and told them his version of the murder. However, according to Esquire, while on the phone, Bateson unwittingly lets clues to his identity slip and he was caught after a second caller named the killer as Paul Bateson.
After Bateson was taken into custody and subsequently convicted, he was linked to the murders of six other men. Following Bateson’s trial, an acquaintance claimed that Bateson told him “he liked to kill and that he had dismembered the bodies of an unspecified number of victims, stuffed them into garbage bags and dumped them into the Hudson River.” Despite this testimony, no physical evidence was ever found and Bateson has always proclaimed his innocence.