Categories
Lifestyle Scary Movies and Series

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.  

blank
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.  

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

Ghost, Demon, or Poltergeist?

Silhouette Behind the Door
Photography by MontyLov

Haunted by Ghosts

As was discussed in our article Ghosts Can Be More Than Just Dead People, ghosts are generally the spirits of humans and animals that have passed away. What people assume or claim are ghosts are not necessarily fitting of their description, but it’s easy to understand why the whole thing might be a little bit confusing. The truth is, is that ghosts, demons, and poltergeists are often mislabeled and it, therefore, makes it more difficult to really know what kind of being the evidence acquired actually points to. Ghosts, spirits, and apparitions all point to the same thing—the spirit or soul of a human or animal that has passed on. These spirits haunt locations, objects, and most importantly other living creatures. Haunting living creatures is not to be confused with possessing living creatures, not to say they are unable to possess, but not all possessions are ghostly in nature—and this is an important distinction to be made.

Possessed by Demons

A lady screaming in the dark
Photography by Camila Quintero Franco

Another topic for confusion is how demons are perceived, this is unfortunate because much of the evidence for demons seems to simply be cases of malevolent ghosts and not entities that are truly demonic in nature. One such misinformed definition, from Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, is that demons are, “a type of spirit that may be either good or evil that allegedly has the ability to intervene in the affairs of humankind.” While it’s true that many cultures perceive some demonic entities to be good, the word spirit was a poor choice in attempting to define what a demon actually is.

Religious definitions, such as the one from Christianity, assert that demons are evil minions of Satan and that their sole purpose is to torment people, then inevitably lead them into sin. The strategic takeover of pagan cultures turned their deities into demons in Christianity. Other religions, however, suggest that demons can be good or evil entities—or indeed have a dual nature like human beings. Regardless of the nature of the entity, good or evil, demons quite often exercise their ability to possess or inhabit living creatures. There are instances reported where demons have possessed inanimate objects, but this can be chalked up to another case of a ghost that has been mislabeled as a demonic entity.

Terrorized by Poltergeists

Demons and poltergeists are also quite frequently confused for one another—the main reason for this is because Poltergeists are mischievous and often malicious spirits or energy. Ghosts and poltergeists also confused for each other, but poltergeists, in particular, are entities or energies identified by their consistent abilities to interact in a vigorous way with their environment. It would be unfair to say that poltergeists are not, in fact, a type of ghost or spirit, but if they are to be classified as ghosts in any sense, they are in a league of their own entirely.

The earliest reports of poltergeists tell of the different types of interactions they have within the environment that they inhabit. These interactions include, but were not limited to, throwing rocks or other objects, loud noises (such as shrieking, and knocking or rapping), inexplicable lights and apparitions, as well as in rare cases sexual assaults. Later cases would grow to include technology-related events, such as phone numbers being dialed repeatedly or televisions turning on. The speculation that remains with poltergeists relates to the scientific data that has been collected in pursuit of evidence of their existence—many cases of poltergeist activity have clear indications of mental problems within the agent (or the primary person being affected) that even support theories of psychokinesis.

Some examples of poltergeist activity caught on camera.

Hopefully, this helps answer an age-old question we often see: “What is the difference between a ghost, a demon, and a poltergeist?” Below are a few scary movie recommendations related to ghosts, demons, and poltergeists.

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

The True Abilities of a Poltergeist

The Mysterious History of the Poltergeist

Poltergeist reaching for the clown doll
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

Poltergeists are often connected with ghosts, and while it’s true that ghosts can be poltergeists, poltergeists are not always ghosts. Categorized by their noisy nature, their ability to move objects, as well as various other physical disturbances. The term poltergeist comes from the German language, poltern, “to knock,” and geist, “spirit,” and in England the poltergeist is often synonymous with the boggart. These mischievous and often malevolent spirits date back to ancient Rome, as well as medieval Germany, China, Wales, and they continue to be reported from elsewhere in the world to this day. These impish spirits have not changed much over the year in how they present, except for taking into account the evolution of technology. In ancient reports, the reports showed that would throw rocks, dirt, and other objects, cause loud noises, knocking, strange lights, and unexplainable shrieks, as well as physical and sexual assaults that would leave their victims shaken. Modern reports have included lightbulbs spinning in their sockets and telephones repeatedly dialing the same number.

Physical assaults—scratching, spitting, biting, pinching, punching and sexual molestation—usually only appear in a small number of cases, but they are still consistently prevalent among cases over the years. Overall, the activity doesn’t just peter out, it stops as suddenly as it starts, but the length of time the victims are affected varies so widely that the end is never predictable. Whether the victim ends up suffering for a few hours, a few months, or a few years, it is never a permanent affliction. One intriguing aspect of poltergeist infestations is the fact that the activity is usually centralized around a single individual, or “agent”.

Researching the Poltergeist Phenomenon

The phenomenon of poltergeists has been researched in-depth at a scientific level since the late 1970s by parapsychologists and they have come up with several theories as possible explanations. Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, English researchers of the time collected the data from 500 separate instances of poltergeists dating back from the 1800s. Among the characteristics that these cases had in common, about two-thirds of all cases included small objects moving from their original location.  Over half of the cases showed that the poltergeists were most active at night, and many individual incidents lasted longer than a year. Some other disturbing coincidences were that quite a few cases were focused around females under the age of twenty.

Before the 19th century, poltergeist activity was blamed primarily on the paranormal—spirits, witches, demons, and most often the Devil. At the turn of the century, however, a large spiritualism movement began, where mediums would routinely allow themselves to become temporarily possessed as a conduit to those who have passed. There were several researchers who began to investigate the idea of unconscious psychokinesis, alluding to the idea that the individual that the activity centralized around, was, in fact, the cause of it all. This isn’t to say that they were being accused of faking the activity, but more likely causing it without their own knowledge and although this theory began to be explored in the 1930s, it is still considered fairly controversial in nature. It’s important to take into consideration that the majority of these reports were recorded between 1840 and 1920 before the phenomenon came under the scrutiny of modern scientific research.

Poltergeists in History and Modern Culture

The Amityville Haunting

Ron DeFeo Jr., the infamous murderer of Amityville still lives and he continues to serve his six 25-year life sentences in the New York Correctional Facility; his initial story consisted of him claiming to hear voices that were convincing him to kill his entire family, but then his story changed, multiple times since. While DeFeo now claims that he didn’t murder his entire family, the details have gotten so fuzzy over the years that it’s still incredibly difficult to tell if this was an actual case of possession—which later resulted in poltergeist activity for the Lutz family—or if the entire thing was a hoax propagated by the Lutz family. It’s widely theorized by skeptics that the Lutz family intended to cash-in on the mass murder committed by DeFeo, due to a problematic financial and legal condition so they could take advantage of the publicity. It makes sense to take the view of the skeptic, it’s never a good idea to accept anything on blind faith, but much of the evidence and first-hand accounts disagree with the skeptic’s point of view.

Why do we believe them? Well, even though it’s been proven that lie detector tests are not infallible, George and Kathy Lutz weren’t trained to pass them, yet they did so to prove their innocence and ended up passing. There are also claims that George Lutz had a history of dabbling in the occult, we’re not so sure where we fall on this matter—this could mean that either Lutz was incredibly familiar with the symptoms of a poltergeist haunting, or it means that he was more open psychologically to the idea and the poltergeist took hold. The entire family apparently experienced foreign odors, cold spots in certain areas of the house, and reported a slime that would randomly ooze out of the walls and keyholes. One tidbit that could be an embellishment, was the allegation that George Lutz would wake up at 3:15 AM every morning, which was when Ron DeFeo Jr. was said to have committed the murders.

Aside from observers from outside of the Lutz family, there was the priest that was called in to bless the home, who reported having heard a voice scream to, “get out!” Due to his own personal experience, he advised the family to never sleep in that room again. The paranormal activity within the house only increased from there, with a garage door opening and closing, as well as a knife being knocked down in the kitchen by invisible forces. This all escalated even further to every member of the family except for George, who observed the phenomenon, levitating off of their respective beds. Daniel Lutz, one of the sons continues to have nightmares about this house even to this day.

The Truth Behind Amityville?

The following video addresses both skeptics and believers when it comes to the Amityville haunting, so why not hear both sides?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvXU11Kyj5E
Amityville Horror The True Story

The Ash Manor Haunting

Poltergeist as an apparition on the bed
Photography by Jrwooley6

Investigated in 1936, Dr. Nandor Fodor became incredibly popular for his controversial poltergeist theory about the Ash Manor Ghost. The actual case reports that shortly after moving into the old house, the owner, Mr. Keel and his wife began to encounter a strange apparition dressed in an Elizabethan era smock—as well as hear strange loud knocking—upon trying to confront this intruder, Mr. and Mrs. Keel found that trying to touch the apparition that their hands would go right through it. Fearing the worst for his family, Keel hired a medium, as well as various psychic investigators. This resulted in the medium suggesting that all of these happenings were the result of strained family life, a tell-tale sign of poltergeist activity. The final result of Dr. Fodor was that people, “who put themselves in an unguarded psychological position,” are likely to be more vulnerable to hauntings and poltergeist attacks.

The Enfield Haunting

In the book, This House is Haunted (2011), the account of the Enfield Haunting is given in full, which also inspired The Conjuring 2 (2016), part of the great paranormal franchise that follows the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren throughout the years. The Enfield case is possibly one of the most famous poltergeist hauntings ever recorded. Originating late August of 1977, in the suburb of North London, the house in Enfield was inhabited by a single mother and her four children; the initial report was of the two middle children experiencing their beds shaking violently, and shuffling sounds when the children were in their shared room. At that point, the mother Peggy, was not entirely convinced that it was actually happening.

Peggy and her two middle children were all witness to when sudden furniture movements and loud knocking with no origin began, at which time Peggy sought the help of her neighbors. Once her neighbors witnessed the knocking but had no explanation for it, the police were called in. The police were even hard-pressed to find an explanation behind the knocking and furniture movement that they ended up witnessing upon responding to the call. The Enfield case eventually subsided for a time, before being reignited a short while later lasting for a few years in total.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHPYriXhNW8
The Enfield Haunting – A Real Life Haunting (2016)

Films that feature poltergeists