Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Exorcist Curse

There are a few films that have had the 'cursed' tag placed on it over the years, one of the most famous being "The Exorcist".

There were a number of deaths that occurred during the making of and shortly after the completion of "The Exorcist", the reports vary between four and nine deaths. Actress Ellen Burstyn asserts that there were nine deaths in all, and is quoted as saying “there was an enormous amount of deaths connected with the film”. Jack MacGowran, the actor that played the role of 'Burke Dennings', died shortly before the film release. On January 30, 1973, MacGowran died as a result of complications from the flu at the age of 55, just over a month before the film’s official release. MacGowran was cremated after his death and his ashes scattered in the sea. Strangely, MacGowran’s character also dies in the film; Burke is killed by the possessed child when he is left alone with her.

Valsiliki Maliaros also died before the release of "The Exorcist", the woman that played the role of Father Karras’s mother; died and was 90 years old when she passed away on February 9, 1973 of natural causes. In addition, Lee J. Cobb, the actor that played the role of 'Lieutenant Kinderman', died three years after the film’s release in 1976 at the age of 64 from a heart attack. He was buried in Los Angeles County in the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in the Garden of Shemot 1. Still other deaths occurred during the production of the film; there is a rumour that Max von Sydow, who played the role of 'Father Merrin', had a brother that passed away in Sweden while "The Exorcist" film was in production. Some accounts argue that the latter incident is not true and that the actor had no siblings whatsoever.

However, Evelyn Burstyn reveals in an interview that Max von Sydow did indeed have a brother that died during the time that the film was in production. Burstyn further asserts that one of the cameramen had a wife that had given birth and the child died while the film was in production, and she further confirms that the man responsible for refrigerating the set died. Meanwhile, it is reported that Linda Blair’s grandfather died during filming, that a night watchman on the set also died, another incident confirmed by Burstyn; and that a man pointed out by Blair in the film died. 

Eerie events continued: Jason Miller, the actor that played 'Father Karras', had a son named Jordan that was seriously injured during the filming; Jordan was hit by a speeding motorbike and ended up in intensive care. In addition, Jason himself reported having a strange occurrence while working on the set of "The Exorcist". Miller would often study his lines in a restaurant; on one occasion he was approached by a priest and handed a medallion of the Blessed Virgin. The old priest told Miller that he was giving him the medallion as a form of intervention; he warned Miller that if anyone does anything to “reveal the devil for the trickster that he is, he will seek retribution against you or he will even try to stop what you are trying to do to unmask him.” The priest then advised Miller that the medallion would protect him and warned him to be very careful. According to Jason Miller’s obituary printed in the New York Times (Jason passed away from a heart attack on May 13, 2001 and lived long enough to appear in "The Exorcist III" he was survived by three sons, Jason, Jordan, and Joshua, as well as a daughter Jennifer). After his death, Jason Miller was cremated. Thus, as evidenced by Jason Miller’s obituary, his son Jordan Miller clearly survived the ordeal he endured while the film was in production.

Ellen Burstyn, who played the role of 'Chris MacNeil', Regan’s mother, was injured on the set during filming. In the scene where she is checking on her daughter and later thrown away from the bed, she received a permanent injury to her spine: the harness that was used to shoot the scene pulled her away quickly and when she landed, Burstyn landed on her coccyx. The scream seen immediately following the moment when Regan’s mother is tossed away from the bed is a very real scream, produced by the agonizing pain the actress experienced. In addition, an interesting point of trivia related to the film is the fact that the cold bedroom scenes were produced through the use of several air conditioners: temperatures on the set were incredibly cold, as cold as -30 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. At one point, it actually began to snow on the set as a result of the amount of moisture in the air in conjunction with the cold temperatures. There are also reports of a carpenter being seriously injured while building the sets for the movie and some reports claim that a carpenter lost some of his fingers while working on the set.

The Assistant Director of the film, Terrance Donnelly, has also made claims pertaining to strange events surrounding "The Exorcist". Donnelly reports that in his 32 years of filmmaking, he never once experienced a set catching on fire; actress Ellen Burstyn concurs with Donnelly, explaining that the set caught on fire when no one was at the location at the time. The first set of the MacNeil home actually burned down in an unexplained accident and had to be rebuilt. The film’s director then requested that Reverend Thomas Bermingham conduct an exorcism to relieve the anxiety of the cast and crew: the exorcism was refused; instead the Reverend performed a blessing for the cast and crew, and the blessing had to be repeated again when the location where the movie was being shot changed. Joe Hyams, a publicist asserts that the fire set the production back a period of six weeks. Donnelly further explained that there was no logical explanation determined for the fire and that the cause remains till this day, unknown. This sounds eerily similar to "Poltergeist II: The Other Side", where the Native American shaman Will Sampson was requested to perform an exorcism.

Marcel Vercoutere, responsible for some of the movie’s special effects, reports feeling very eerie when working on the set: “There was definitely a feeling that it could happen, we were playing around with something that we shouldn't have been playing around with”. Writer of the novel "The Exorcist", William Peter Blatty reported having unexplained experiences as well: on one occasion, Blatty’s now former wife reported seeing the telephone rise up off the hook into the air unaided. At first Blatty didn’t quite believe something like that could happen; a few days passed when he was sitting next to the same telephone when it rang: he went to reach for a pack of cigarettes before answering and watched as the telephone receiver rose up off the cradle unaided and landed near the phone. Even the writer of the film could not escape the unexplained forces surrounding the film production.

Ironically enough, after filming, the director Friedkin took the production to 666 Fifth Avenue in New York for editing and post production. When the movie finally hit the theatres, some of the reactions to the film were not too promising; Billy Graham, an evangelist, spoke out about the film and suggested that “the forces of darkness” were aligned with the film and that “there is a power of evil in the film, in the fabric of the film itself”. Reports of movie theatres offering vomit bags to viewers, people continuously fainting after watching the film and even getting injured ironically fueled the success of the film further. Some reports suggest that one man fainted in the movie theatre, fell forward, and subsequently hit the movie seat in front of him and broke his jaw. Some movie theaters even kept a supply of smelling salts on hand for those that fainted after watching the film.

The viewing public had different reactions to the film: some people would faint during the film, some would become physically ill, and others enjoyed the movie immensely. "The Exorcist" ended up being a huge success grossing $160 million in 1973 and falling second in terms of sales to "The Godfather". When the film was first shown in Rome, Italy, it was played at the Metropolitan Theatre, just a short distance from two churches that were built in the sixteenth century; both churches had crosses on the top of them. According to Joe Hyams, as people were entering the theatre to watch the film, it was raining and lightning was flashing. Soon following, a sudden loud noise erupted; one of the crosses on the nearby church had been struck by lightning; the cross was estimated to be approximately eight feet long and 400 years old – it fell to the ground landing in the centre of the piazza after being struck. What are the chances?

Whether the curse is real or not you can't doubt the intriguing and yet saddening facts of the films. Was it just bad luck or is the "The Exorcist" curse real, we'll never really know but one this for sure, it's made it's way into the urban legend stories and makes the viewing of the film even creepier.

If you want to see the audience reaction to "The Exorcist" then just click on the video below: 

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