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6 Creepy Things That Happened on the Movie Set of “The Exorcist”

Photo: Washington Business Journal

When William Peter Blatty (1928 – 2017) the writer of “The Exorcist” and subsequent writer and director of the sequel “The Exorcist III” began to visualize the screenplay for the original movie, he wanted to create a paranormal experience that would surpass anything that anyone had seen in the theaters before.  

The book was published in 1971, and it spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It was because of the explosive success of “The Exorcist” book (which sold over 13 million copies in the United States alone after publishing) that the movie was shot in 9 short months, and released in 1973.  The movie “The Exorcist” received 10 Academy Award nominations, and won 15 other film awards internationally.  

After the movie was released on December 26, 1973, audiences flocked to see it.   The imagery in the movie proved to be so shocking for 70’s audiences (who had never seen anything like it on the big screen before) that several individuals filed civil personal injury suits against Warner Bros.  From instances of fainting and vomiting in the theater, to heart attacks and miscarriages, the reports of emotional damage after watching the film were so prolific that one psychiatric journal published a research paper discussing the ‘cinematic neurosis’ triggered specifically by the film.  

To this day, few films have managed to capture the raw sense of evil that “The Exorcist” did.  In fact, both William Peter Blatty (writer/producer) and DirectoWilliam Friedkin went to great lengths to capture the realism of a true historical exorcism (on which the book was based) that many people suspect something ominous and evil was attracted to the set of the movie.  

Check out these 6 paranormal events that happened on the set of “The Exorcist” and you decide whether evil entities may have been ‘hanging out’.  Do you think that occult movies attract dark presences and influences?  

1. The Original Home for the McNeil Home Was Destroyed by Fire 

The interior sets for filming were built in New York City, however the exterior shots (and the McNeil home) was to be filmed on location in Washington, D.C.  The entire set for the MacNeil home caught fire and burned to the ground, which delayed filming for six additional weeks.  There was one room completely untouched however in the catastrophic blaze; the bedroom of Regan McNeil.  

The source of the fire and the strange and eerie fact that the bedroom had remained intact, was enough to make the writer and director seek out a Jesuit Priest (Thomas M. King) to bless the set, however unsettling and unexplainable mishaps continued to occur during the production of the movie.  

Nothing says “relax, it’s not dangerous here” better than having a Priest stop by to splash Holy Water over the set.  Yikes.  

2. Ellen Burstyn (Chris McNeil) Sustains Permanent Spinal Injury  

In that famous scene where Regan McNeil is mutilating herself with a Crucifix, actress Ellen Burstyn (Chris McNeil) rushes to the bed to stop her daughter.  The demon then shoves Chris McNeil across the room in one violent motion, and her scream is blood curdling and painful.  

That chilling scream that many of us will never forget, was actually authentic.  The stuntmen had a wire rigged to the actress to pull her backwards and abruptly for the filming of the scene. Unfortunately, the mechanics were rigged with full force, and her painful scream was the result of a permanent and painful spinal injury that she sustained during filming.  

Linda Blair (the actress who portrayed Regan McNeil) also sustained a serious back injury, when the set rigging that helped her levitate above her bed broke, sending her crashing to the floor.   

Photo: Warner Bros.

3. Abusive Directing Methods Used by William Friedkin  

When you watch “The Exorcist” you can literally feel the fear that the actors are portraying in the movie.  That is one of the rare qualities of the film that still makes it stand out among horror and paranormal movies and the original and most terrifying film of all time. Directors are often known to use unusual methods to elicit realistic responses from actors, but on the set of “The Exorcist” William Friedkin went over the top to create that realism.  

The Director would slap people, scream at them and make them cry, and also fire guns beside their faces to create ‘shock’ or trauma, before filming critical scenes.  If every actor in the film seems traumatized it’s because they actually were; and that led actors like Ellen Burstyn to call Friedkin a maniac.  And not in a fun, joking way.  

People who are traumatized are also more vulnerable to demonic suggestion while they are tired, and emotionally fatigued.  Something that was also linked to some of the more bizarre happenings on the set during filming.  

4. Inanimate Objects Moved on the Set  

The character Father Karras was played by actor Jason Miller, who reported many strange paranormal experiences while he was filming the movie. That Jesuit Priest that was called to bless the set hung around off and on during the filming (because of unexplained events) and Miller reported that the Priest gave him an eerie warning: 

“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”.  And then, Miller was handed an amulet for protection; a medallion of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Later, in character Father Karras’ dream, a medallion falls in slow motion to the ground, incorporated by the Director and Producer after the exchange with the Jesuit Priest.  

Several members of the crew witnessed seeing inanimate objects move on the set, before their eyes.  Writer and Producer William Blatty reported that the telephone that was used to communicate between the set and the production office would rise off the hook and then crash to the floor. 

William Blatty also claimed that he felt a dark presence around him when he was writing the book.  He also reported instances where he woke to find himself levitating in his home.  

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Director William Friedkin used trauma inducing methods such as gunfire and ‘slapping’ actors to achieve emotional effects. Photo: Warner Bros.

5. Nine Deaths from Crew and Actors Associated with the Film 

During the production of “The Exorcist” Jack MacGowren (an Irish actor) portrayed the role of Burke Dennings, Chris McNeil’s manager / possible romantic interest.  It was Burke Dennings that connected Chris McNeil to Father Karras, as they both worked at Georgetown University.  Burke Dennings is the first victim of possessed child Regan McNeil; his neck is snapped as his head is turned 360° and his body tumbles down the steep flight of stairs after being thrown out the window by a mysterious force.  

Actor Jack MacGowren contracted pneumonia on the set.  When the movie was shot, the bedroom of character Regan McNeil was refrigerated to freezer proportions.  In fact, the crew was required to wear parkas!  This helped create the paranormal cold effects and vapor clouds when actors were talking (before CGI).  MacGowren died just after his scenes wrapped up, but before the full production was complete.  Eight other members of the production and their close family members died during, or shortly after the release of the film.  

6. Lightning Strikes Ancient Crucifix in Rome Screening  

When “The Exorcist” was released, it was screened in one particular theatre in Rome (near the Vatican).   The theater was located between two historic churches. One the day the movie was released in Rome, there were unseasonal torrential rains and a thunderstorm (which added we’re sure to the scary effect for Italian movie goers).  

During the storm, a 400-year-old cross was struck by lightning and fell to the ground, in the middle of the piazza (or square) just outside the move theater.  How is that for a clear message from the superpowers that be?  Maybe they didn’t like the fact that “The Exorcist” was released the day after Christmas; intentionally, to spark international religious furor.  

Billy Graham (televangelist) spoke frequently about the film publicly and claimed that ‘the very celluloid of the film itself was cursed’ with powerful subliminal and demonic imagery.  He went on to further explain to his followers that he believed a demon lived within the movie reel, captured during the filmmaking process, and that its power could influence anyone who watched the movie.  

What do you think?  Is it possible for occult films to attract malevolent forces that can do harm?  Do films of this genre open a door to the paranormal, and has anything eerie happened to you when you’ve watched “The Exorcist” or another movie about a demonic possession?  Share your comments with us.  

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Lifestyle

6 Cults Shrouded in Mysticism and the Culture They’ve Inspired

Throughout the centuries there have been numerous groups–typically labeled as cults–that are surrounded by an unwavering belief in the paranormal or supernatural connections between worlds. These cults have ranged from entirely peaceful to large and lethal movements that claimed lives as they grew in size. Cults like the Manson Family and Johnstown were unquestionably some of the most deadly movements that have popped up throughout modern times. Although it’s fair to say that these particular cults weren’t actually led by true followers of any particular paranormal or supernatural belief system, they had followers willing to die or even kill for one person’s twisted views, religious beliefs, or teachings. We decided to take a look at some of the most famous paranormal and supernatural societies that helped to inspire and ultimately birthed many mystical and paranormal beliefs that still exist today.

Theosophical Society

Blavatsky and Olcott

Madame Helena Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, medium, and philosopher who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. She published her first doctrine, Isis Unveiled in 1877 which outlined the Theosophical world-view which closely associated Hermeticism and Neoplatonism. There are now various branches of theosophical beliefs, though they all hold certain common characteristics. There was a deeper spiritual reality and direct contact with transcending human consciousness; this is known as a mystical experience.

They also emphasize esoteric doctrine, which leads to small factions within the larger name of the society. Theosophists maintain a healthy fascination with the supernatural or extraordinary occurrences to achieve higher psychic and spiritual powers. Finally, theosophy displays a preference of monism, which is the view that reality is constituted of one principle, such as mind or spirit. The Theosophists Society strives to combine all forms of religious, spiritual, and inner teaching of sacred texts; to provide the deepest form of self-connection with the “divine wisdom”.

Order of the Solar Temple

The Solar Temple was founded in Geneva in 1984, tracing its roots back to a break-away group of Knights Templar. This secret society’s leader, Joseph Di Mambro, brainwashed his followers into believing he was a reincarnation of one of the Knights Templar. His daughter was believed to be the “Cosmic Child” that would lead them to a planet near the Sirius star after their deaths. The Solar Temple began doing a mixture of rituals, making altars, as well as conducting occultist acts, and ceremonial sexual acts on its members. Their focus was on the worldwide catastrophe in the form of an apocalyptic event in the mid-1990s. This is what led to famous strings of murder-suicides that spanned a few years; this resulted in the loss of 74 members, the order is best known for this world-wide action.

Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate focused its beliefs on making it back into the Kingdom of Heaven from their Earth-bound soul deposits. They believe Jesus was the first “prepped vehicle” chosen to lead their followers to the next level and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, some 2000 years later their leaders still uphold the task of leading the order in the name of the “father’s’’ original task by combining cosmic beings and Christian ideologies. In 1997 Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers believed the Hale-Bopp Comet was the key to leaving Earth and the beginning of their cosmic journey into space and on to their next level of existence. The group committed mass suicide in attempts to free their souls and join their fellow cosmic beings; this led to the cult being front and center of worldwide media for quite a while.

Bohemian Grove

This San Francisco based gentlemen’s club is known for its all-male membership club made up of the most prominent men in the world. Ranging from business leaders, artists, musicians, government officials, and even former presidents; there is no shortage of powerful men within this group. The Grove is particularly famous for holding the Manhattan Project planning meeting in September 1942, as well as being a pop-culture parody–thanks to Richard Nixon. Though on the surface the Grove looks to be another “normal” high society club, many reports have brought out a darker looking side to this group. Allegedly they partake in worshiping a large stone owl called Moloch, burning bodies, Satanic practices, and sacrificing virgins. Throughout the 140 years that the Grove has been operating, their societal values have remained incredibly secretive.

Order of Thelema

Aleister Crowley in 1902

Founded by famous English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, and novelist Aleister Crowley formed in the twentieth century. It is a complicated set of magical, mystical, and spiritual beliefs that can range from atheistic to polytheistic views. Thelema is based out of the Book of the Law, which led Crowley to label himself as a prophet and encourage followers to ascend to higher states of existence to unite themselves with one’s ultimate purpose in life. Followers of the Order of Thelema practice large ranges of magick and mysticism, as their concepts are rooted in occultism; there is no shortage of rituals, spirits, and paranormal experiences here. Aspects of Thelema and Crowley’s other writings gave birth to the development of Wicca, Modern Paganism, Chaos Magick, some variations of Satanism and Scientology.

Cult of Cthulhu and Necronomicon

This particular cult was brought on by the creations of H.P. Lovecraft; originally only a fictional work that featured various cults that worshipped Cthulhu, the destroyer of humanity, and bringing of an era of chaos. Over the years this fictional work has inspired the creation of real cults that combined Lovecraft’s mythology with other beliefs such as Occultist dark arts and Satanism. Most of these groups use Lovecraft’s Necronomicon as a means by which they derived their beliefs and structured their cults. These beliefs combined with the dark arts caused these groups to take on a violent slant, as well as the ritualistic use of magic from Satanic teachings. This has accumulated into the establishment of a little known, yet mightily feared reputation. Lovecraft’s works have inspired many aspects to horror culture of literature, well as horror movies, and is said to be the father of cosmic horror. The cults that use his writings to influence their belief systems are still around today and doing their best to grow in numbers as they prepare for the end of days.

Though these cults or orders are just a few in the long list of paranormal or mystic beliefs, there are hundreds of groups that can fall into this category. Most of them are still practicing their beliefs to this day in one form or another, but surprisingly not all of them are to be feared as criminal or dangerous. One thing they all share is the belief that there is another world across the veil from our own and it can be connected with. Within that connection, they believe we are able to heighten our inner connection to the higher powers we may follow or believe in.

The need to connect to these higher powers in life not only helped masses of people to find a community to belong in, but it also helped to shape government as we know it today and business communities as well. These groups also influenced hundreds of books, movies, TV shows, and a large amount of horror culture to become what it is today–such as American Horror Story: Cult. There is an endless list of examples that can be used to highlight these groups and their beliefs being used to wow us on the big screen and have elicited jaw-dropping horror within each of us. Without the belief in the paranormal and mystical world, horror would simply be stuck in the slasher and gore realm.