‘The Exorcist’: The Creepy Story Behind the Film’s Legendary Curse

The Exorcist terrified theater audiences when it premiered in 1973, and it remains one of the scariest movies ever produced. The fear factor is multiplied by persistent rumors that the film itself is actually cursed. Here’s what we learned from the Cursed Films documentary series about the freaky occurrences surrounding The Exorcist.

'The Exorcist'
‘The Exorcist’ | Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

‘The Exorcist’ producers did their homework

Cursed Films takes an in-depth look behind the scenes of horror movies that have been struck by disaster. In the first episode of the series, media buffs explore the strange events surrounding The Exorcist. The narrative centers around a 12-year-old girl named Regan who becomes possessed by an evil entity. When her mother discovers the truth, she enlists two priests to expel the demon and save her daughter.

History enthusiasts will note that the film opens in Northern Iraq. As pointed out by Cursed Films, that region is tied to stories of Pazuzu, the dangerous king of demons depicted throughout The Exorcist. What’s more, the film’s plot is based on an exorcism case as detailed by the Catholic Church. The dose of real-world Mesopotamian folklore, coupled with reports from the Catholic Church, added to the movie’s intrigue.

Urban legends surrounded ‘The Exorcist

RELATED: 5 Disturbing Horror Movie Scenes That You Just Can’t Unsee

“Demonology is an important part of Catholic doctrine that really ought to be studied again,” Pope Paul said upon the theatrical release. The Pope’s words benefited the marketing campaign for The Exorcist and may have helped fuel belief in some of the eerie rumors.

Buzz surrounded The Exorcist, citing supposed supernatural phenomena in cinemas. Some claimed that the Devil was inside the celluloid film. Others believed that showing the film would open a doorway that demons could use to enter.

One trailer was pulled from theaters for fear that it would cause seizures, and the film itself was thought by some to cause mental and emotional damage. Theatergoers across the country reportedly fainted or became ill from watching The Exorcist. Much of this hoopla, according to Linda Blair in Cursed Films, was a part of an elaborate publicity scheme invented to build interest in the movie.

There were legit deaths, accidents, and injuries associated with the production

RELATED: 5 Twisted Movies for Horror Fans (And Their Moms) On Mother’s Day

Aside from the fan frenzy and gossip surrounding The Exorcist, there were some truly traumatic events associated with the production. Cursed Films revealed that the studio caught fire, consuming most of The Exorcist’s sets. But Regan’s bedroom was “mysteriously undamaged.” That incident prompted the crew to bring in a Jesuit priest to bless the set. Although no one was injured in the fire, some cast members were hurt on other occasions during filming.

Linda Blair described a stunt in which she fractured her lower spine. The young actress had been strapped into equipment rigged to depict convulsions. In one take, the apparatus came loose and injured her. Blair said she was screaming and crying from pain, but the crew believed she was acting. The scene made it into the final cut of the movie.

Ellen Burstyn, who played Chris, the mother of the possessed girl, was also injured. In a sequence when Regan slapped Chris, the director, William Friedkin, instructed crew members to yank aggressively on the harness to get her to fly across the room. “Sometimes the things he did were pretty harsh,” Blair said about Friedkin.

In addition to the injuries, several people tied to the movie died, including Blair’s grandfather, Max von Sydow’s brother, two supporting actors, and a special effects expert. To top it off, Paul Bateson, who later confessed to murder, appeared as a radiological technologist in the film.

Were these events just a series of bizarre coincidences? Was The Exorcist really cursed, or is it merely another scary story? Fans can check out the full episode of Cursed Films: The Exorcist now streaming on Shudder.