“If The Exorcist doesn’t knock you out of your seat, it’s only because you are too stunned to move.”
Stanley Eichelbaum ~ The San Francisco Examiner ~ 26 Dec 1973
“Everybody in the movie experienced some kind of horror. On the day Max von Sydow arrived for his first scene his brother died, and the film was again delayed while Von Sydow returned to Sweden for the funeral. The little girl’s grandfather died the first week of the picture. One of the carpenters cut his thumb off. Irish actor Jack MacGowan who is murdered by the demon possessing the child, dropped dead one week after his death scene.”
Billy Friedkin ~ The Los Angeles Times ~ 18 Nov 1973
In 1973, the movie, The Exorcist, thundered onto the screen, frightening people across the country. It was about a twelve-year-old girl that was possessed by the devil. Although the book by, William Blatty, topped the charts, the movie director, William Friedkin, had trouble finding actors. Some were not willing to portray characters in this frightening horror film that mimicked demon possession. Stars from the era turned down his offers, and the director finally relied on filling some lead roles with unknown artists. Friedkin’s woes did not stop there. Eerie accidents and trouble seemed to follow those involved in the film. Even some that attended its openings had problems of their own. And many began to believe the movie was cursed. Audiences had never witnessed anything quite like it.
According to author, the storyline was based on a real event about a young boy. He first heard about the incident as a student at Georgetown University, and he wrote a paper about the unsettling event. Twenty years later, he wrote the book. According to the author, the once possessed boy did not remember his exorcism. As an adult, he went on to work at NASA.
As production problems transpired, delays in filming occurred. A pigeon flew into a circuit box that set the place on fire. This event delayed filming for six months. Strangely, the only room left untouched was the room of the possessed child. With all the strange occurrences, a Jesuit priest was called and asked to bless the set.
Actress, Ellen Burstyn, the mother of Reagan in the thriller, was injured during a scene when the young actress, Linda Blair throws her on the floor. Burstyn’s piercing scream, caught on tape, was genuine. According to Burstyn, the pain has continued to plague her to this day.
Others were injured too. In the midst of one possession scene, the rigging broke, and Blair was thrown from the bed, injuring her back. A carpenter cut off his thumb, and a technician lost his toe. Some of the scenes were filmed in Iraq during the hot summer months of July. Some crew members could not work as the temps blazed to 130 degrees. Workers faced heat stroke and even dysentery.
During one scene, the green projectile vomiting, the tubing malfunctioned. It was supposed to hit the priest in the chest. Instead, it hit him in the face. His actual shocked response was used in the movie.
After the film was produced, two actors died. Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros both died; their characters died in the movie too. Linda Blair’s grandfather died during production, and Max Von Sydow lost his brother on the first day of filming. In total, nine deaths centered around this film.
The movie was so unsettling for many, and the star, Linda Blair, received numerous death threats. The studio hired bodyguards to protect her.
People believed the film was cursed; some actually thought it invited possession to those that watched the movie. Even Billy Graham stated “There is a power of evil in the film, in the fabric of the film itself.”
Some countries banned the film. Audience members reported they felt ill while viewing the show, and some theaters handed out barf bags. In Italy, a storm raged, and some insisted that lightning hit a nearby, 400-year-old church. One woman became so frightened, she fainted, and when she fell, she broke her jaw. She sued Warner Brothers, and the company settled for an unknown amount.
All the hype about the movie fueled an unnatural curiosity. People flocked to the theaters to watch this film. This film grossed millions at the box office, and it became the first horror film to be nominated for an Oscar.
And then there was me, just another twelve-year-old girl that had heard about the hysteria and had to see the movie. Many of the kids at my school had watched the movie and bragged about its horrors. One friend, Tammy, wanted to watch the show, but one problem stood in my way: my mother.
“Absolutely not! I will not allow you to see this film.”
She used HER voice. The one that would never allow her middle school daughter to watch the most dreaded movie of all times. She had witnessed the publicity on TV too.
Still, I pushed, “but mom.”
She turned around and gave me “the look,” which I was pretty sure was even scarier than the scene where Linda Blair’s head rotated around her shoulders. But I guess I would never honestly know. Sigh.
The next day after school in Tammy’s bedroom, we sat on the twin beds in her room. “Are you sure she won’t change her mind?” Tammy questioned.
Throwing myself backward onto one of the beds, “No. My mother thinks I’m a baby and wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
The two of us quietly thought about our current predicament. I mean we had to see the movie. Tammy’s mom said she could go as long as she was chaperoned. Suddenly, Tammy squealed, “I have an idea!”
Sitting up on the opposite bed, I looked at my friend’s excited face as she quickly rambled on. “Ask your mom if you can spend the night this weekend. I will tell my mom that you have permission to go, and she will take us to the movies.”
Questions ran through my head. What if we ran into someone that knew my mother? How long would I be grounded if caught? How disappointed would she be if she knew? I didn’t like the idea of lying to my mother. But still, I caved. “Let’s do it.”
Squealing together, we put our plans in motion, and although I did feel guilty, I had to admit our covert plans were exciting. Friday night could not arrive soon enough.
That evening after dinner, my dad dropped me off at Tammy’s apartment complex. “Have fun and give me a call tomorrow afternoon when you are ready to come home.”
After grabbing my overnight bag, I leaned into the open window, kissed my dad on the cheek, and thanked him for dropping me off. “Love you,” I told my father. I was starting to feel guilty and now worried about how my dad would feel once he discovered his sneaky daughter had lied to her parents.
As Tammy raced out her front door, I quickly pushed those thoughts aside. “Are you excited?” She asked. Shaking my head yes, we both began to laugh.
In no time at all, we were on our way to the theater on the opposite end of the island. It was cool that evening, and I was glad that Tammy’s mom had insisted we bring our bulky sweaters. After we parked, I was pleased that it was dark, so no one could see me entering the building.
The lobby had dimmed lights too, so I kept my head down and didn’t worry too much about being spotted. We quickly took our seats.
Anticipation built as we watched preview after preview. As soon as the movie started, we nervously looked at each other, not knowing what to expect—scene after scene, the tension mounted. When Reagan’s bed began to shake, and she pleaded, “make it stop,” we were on the edge of our seats.
From beginning to end, we sat, riveted in our chairs. We were shocked, frightened, and all-around scared out of our wits. To be truthful, I was glad when it ended.
We were both quiet on the way back to Tammy’s place. I thanked her mom for taking us to the show but remained silent for the rest of the ride.
Once at her house, her mom told us it was time to go to bed. We changed into our PJs and crawled into bed. “Were you scared,” I whispered?
“Yeah,” I replied.
It took some time, but eventually, we fell asleep. Later that evening, I woke up in a panic. My bed was shaking! As my sleepy brain tried to focus, the bed also began to slide across the hardwood floor. I screamed and envisioned Reagan in her bed, pleading for it to stop moving. As quickly as it started, it ended. Suddenly, Tammy’s mom opened the door and turned on the lights. When she saw my twin bed had moved away from the wall and the terror on our faces, she laughed.
“Girls, girls, we had an earthquake. You’re okay.”
The two of us glanced at one another and started to giggle. “It will make a great story to tell our friends on Monday,” Tammy stated.
“I know,” I told my friend, but my heart was still racing.
The next day, after dropping my bag off in my room, my mom asked how my weekend went. Suddenly, I knew I had to come clean. Without taking a breath, I rattled non-stop about our Friday night escapade. When I got to the part about the earthquake and how the bed traveled across the floor, my mother burst into laughter.
“That’s it? I questioned. “You’re not mad at me, and I’m not grounded?”
“Well, you did disobey, but I think you were already punished. See what happens when you defy your mother? God will get you.” Then my mother started laughing again.
Later that night, I thought about what she had said. That evening and for several nights to follow, I had trouble falling asleep. But most importantly, I remembered to listen to my mother. I didn’t need God to find petrifying ways to get my attention. Still, it had its merits. It was a lesson, of course, that I passed on to my daughter.
Not too long ago, my adult daughter reminded me when I told her to be kind to her mother, or God would get her. “I really believed you, and now I tease my kids.” Who knew my fright night would turn into a family tradition? Just scare your children into compliance. May not be the best of parenting skills, but sometimes a moms gotta do what a moms gotta do!
- Chalasani, Radhika. “Creepy Tales from Cursed Movies.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 30 Dec. 2015, http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/creepy-strange-tales-cursed-movies/12/.
- Eichelbaum, Stanley. “26 Dec 1973, 33 – The San Francisco Examiner at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, Newspapers.com, http://www.newspapers.com/image/460332662/?terms=the%2Bexorcist.
- Felthousen-Post, Cyn. “The ‘Exorcist’ Curse: Behind The Scenes Of The Scariest Movie Ever.” Groovy History, Entertainment, 12 Oct. 2019, groovyhistory.com/exorcist-curse-true-stories.
- Fiduccia, Christopher, and About The Author Christopher is a news writer at Screen Rant. “30 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of The Exorcist.” ScreenRant, Screenrant, 21 Oct. 2018, screenrant.com/the-exorcist-making-of-behind-scenes-hidden-trivia/.
- Reed, Rex. “18 Nov 1973, 548 – The Los Angeles Times at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, Newspapers.com, http://www.newspapers.com/image/381788087/?terms=the%2Bexorcist.