Top 10 Creepiest Things That Happened Behind the Scenes of The Exorcist

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Top 10 Creepiest Things That Happened Behind the Scenes of The Exorcist

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: William Regot
And you thought the movie was scary. For this list, we'll be looking at weird or unsettling things that reportedly happened during the production and release of “The Exorcist.” Our countdown includes Ellen Burstyn Was Badly Injured, The Film's Production Literally Needed an Exorcist, The Film Is Linked to Nine Deaths, and more!
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Top 10 Creepiest Things That Happened Behind the Scenes of The Exorcist


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Creepiest Things That Happened Behind the Scenes of The Exorcist.

For this list, we’ll be looking at weird or unsettling things that reportedly happened during the production and release of “The Exorcist.”

Let us know in the comments which of these things you thought was the creepiest.

#10: A Layer of Snow Covered the Set One Morning

This wouldn’t sound so bad except that this part of the set was indoors. The snow was caused by the crew running air conditioners at the same time, bringing temperatures down to 30 degrees below zero. Director William Friedkin pushed for this because he wanted to see the breath coming out of characters’ mouths for the climax where the two priests confront the demon. The snow discovered on the set could be a happy coincidence for a movie about a winter wonderland, but for a film about demonic possession, it would be more likely interpreted as an strange omen.

#9: Early Screenings Had Controversial Responses

When filmgoers went to see “The Exorcist” around Christmas 1973, they didn’t know what they were in for. Barf bags were given to the audience in some theaters, just in case they couldn’t stomach graphic scenes like the pea soup vomiting. The film was so intense, there were reported cases of people fainting and others needing medical attention. Evangelist Billy Graham said that the film itself was “cursed,” as if each film reel containing the film literally had the devil inside. During one premiere in Rome not far from where the movie was being shown, a church was hit with lightning, so maybe Reverend Graham was on to something.

#8: Ellen Burstyn Was Badly Injured

Wanting everything to be as grounded in reality as much as possible, Friedkin placed a huge emphasis on practical effects. This led to physically demanding shoots for several cast members, especially actress Ellen Burstyn, who played the mother of the possessed girl. Unfortunately, while filming the infamous crucifix scene where Burstyn’s character was thrown on her back, Burstyn permanently injured her spine due to a mishap with a harness that was pulling her. In fact, the screams she gives in the scene are genuine because of the pain the injury caused. Knowing this makes the scene more disturbing.

#7: Linda Blair Was Threatened by Strangers

For her work playing the possessed girl Regan MacNeil, Linda Blair received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination at the age of 15. However, she may have done too good of a job. Believing her performance was “glorif[ying] Satan,” several people sent death threats to Blair, and bodyguards were sent by Warner Bros to look after her for six months. Unfortunately, it isn’t too surprising that a popular movie about religion stirred enough passion in people to do something as irrational as threaten a child for merely playing a role in a movie.

#6: One Bad Moviegoing Experience Resulted in a Lawsuit

Remember how some 1973 moviegoers couldn’t handle “The Exorcist” because of the graphic material? Well, apparently, one woman was so shocked by the film, she fainted and broke her jaw. In response, she decided to sue Warner Bros, which is the studio that made the film. The suit allegedly claimed that the film sent out subliminal messages that caused her to pass out. How these supposed messages could cause such an effect is unclear. Wanting to avoid bad publicity, Warner Bros reportedly settled the suit out of court. For better or for worse, the movie has had an effect on people.

#5: The Woman Behind the Voice

One of the qualities that made demon-possessed Regan so scary was the voice work of actress Mercedes McCambridge. To achieve the otherworldly voice, McCambridge chain-smoked, drank Jack Daniels whiskey, and even swallowed raw eggs. Originally, Friedkin was going to leave McCambridge off the credits, because he thought it would be more effective if the audience thought that Linda Blair was behind the voice. However, McCambridge was able to get her name on the credits with legal action. McCambridge suffered a great personal tragedy in 1987 when her son committed multiple crimes against his family before ending his own life.

#4: The Film’s Production Literally Needed an Exorcist

There have been rumors that “The Exorcist” was cursed. While working on the film, a carpenter lost a thumb, and a lighting technician lost one of his toes. A fire burned down a large part of the set, which we’ll get to later. To counter such eerie events, Friedkin asked Reverend Thomas Bermingham, a Jesuit priest who served as a technical advisor for the film and played the character Tom, to perform an exorcism. Believing such a ritual unnecessary, Reverend Bermingham declined the request, but later performed a blessing on the cast and the set. Guess it wasn’t an excellent day for an exorcism.

#3: The Film Is Based on Real Life Events… Sort of

If you were disturbed by “The Exorcist,” at least you could say it was “only a movie,” right? Not so fast. The movie was actually based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, which was partly based on the 1949 case of a 14-year-old boy from Maryland who was reportedly possessed. The boy was taken to St. Louis, Missouri, where a group of priests performed exorcisms on him at both a relative’s home and a hospital, with the rituals lasting for weeks . Much like in the movie, the bed the child was in shook as he convulsed, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the child also allegedly spit a “foul substance” at priests during one exorcism.

#2: Most of the Set Burned Down Because of a Freak Accident

One of the biggest setbacks to production was a fire that burned down the house where the film is set. The fire was supposedly caused by a bird that flew directly into a circuit box. However, the weird part is the only room that didn’t burn in the fire was Regan’s room. Makes you wonder how that room of all places was spared, doesn’t it? Could it be... Satan? Because of the fire, the film’s production had to delay filming for six weeks. This was one of the events mentioned earlier that led to Reverend Bermingham performing a special blessing.

#1: The Film Is Linked to Nine Deaths

Perhaps the greatest piece of evidence that “The Exorcist” is cursed is the number of deaths reportedly tied to the film around the time it was made. During its production, a set technician and nightwatchman died. Additionally, two main cast members, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair, lost family members while shooting the film. Shortly after production, two cast members died: Jack MacGowran, who played the movie director Burke Dennings, and actress Vasiliki Maliaros, who played Father Karras’s mother. Coincidentally, their respective characters also died in the movie. Death is an unpleasant subject, and the grim tone of “The Exorcist” gives the deaths connected to it an unsettling feeling.
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