Cursed Films: The Exorcist Review

Alice Oscura, Paranormal Investigations Head Writer

Warning: Heavy spoilers ahead.

Context: Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Jay Cheel (Beauty Day, 2011), Cursed Films is a Shudder documentary series that presents the facts and fiction behind films that have been labeled as cursed over the years. Each episode is presented in such a way that it leaves the audience with a wealth of information for them to decide whether or not the film was cursed due to certain circumstances, or if publicity for the film just ended up creating a lifelong stigma that has now become synonymous whenever these particular films are mentioned in casual conversation. Season 1 was released in 2020 containing five episodes. The series has recently returned with its 2nd season and is being streamed online on Shudder but is also available to Amazon Prime Video subscribers.

Review: Let’s face it, some films have scarred the impressionable minds of audiences for life. Some of these films have made it onto the Cursed Films list. One such film is the 1973 horror The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin. The Exorcist is an intensely disturbing watch and is not for the faint of heart. The story follows a young, happy girl named Regan (Linda Blair) whose mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) is an actress. However, after Regan plays with an Ouija Board, she becomes possessed by a demonic entity named Pazuzu. Her mother, desperate for answers, turns to two Catholic priests, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller), and thus begins the desperate fight to save the girl’s soul. The script was written by William Peter Blatty who gained his inspiration from the article written about the 1949 Exorcism of Roland Doe, who remained anonymous at that time.

This is one of those films that has made me uncomfortable in my skin. And who wouldn’t be disturbed to hear the most awful, profane things coming out of a little girl’s mouth? Not to mention the all-too memorable and disturbing sequences with a crucifix, the protagonist spider-walking backward down a staircase at super speed and, finally, those creepily placed flashing images of the demon Pazuzu’s face throughout the film. But, apart from the film and the story, the production was plagued by many setbacks, took twice as long to finish filming, and went way over budget. These issues aided the marketing and PR stunts to implant the enigma that the film was somehow cursed.

Among some of the issues discussed in the episode is the fact that the main sets caught fire early into principal photography and destroyed all the other sets leaving Regan’s bedroom untouched. There’s also the case of the many coincidental deaths connected to actors and staff working on the film. Actress Linda Blair’s grandfather and Max von Sydow’s brother died on the first day of filming, a special effects expert who worked on keeping the set cool and two actors Vasiliki Maliaros and Jack MacGowran, who were scripted to die in the film, also died in real life during the post-production stage of the film. The Exorcist was marketed mostly on the audience’s hysteria and was called a “Sociological Phenomenon” in the tabloids. Even a speech from deceased Pope John Paul II in which he mentioned that demonology was an integral part of the church and should be investigated once again was used in the film’s PR campaign.

But one of the creepier stories to develop out of the film was the one where one of the actors was a murderer. A journalist named Matthew Miller set out to write an article for Esquire magazine and decided to investigate where the story originated from. Turned out to be a fact. In 1972, director William Friedkin visited the NYU Radiology Department to witness a procedure known as a cerebral angiography where pictures are taken of the blood vessels inside someone’s brain. The procedure is a bit gruesome and Friedkin decided that he wanted to showcase Regan undergoing the same procedure in The Exorcist. Using the actual staff of NYU’s Radiology department, Friedkin was able to film his sequence for the film. Paul Bateson appears briefly onscreen attending to Linda Blair aka Regan. He was the Chief Neuro Radiology Technologist. Fellow department members described him as a quiet person, who worked well with others and was attentive and kind to the patients. However, four years later in 1977, Bateson confessed to murdering film journalist Addison Verrill. He was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment, serving 24 years until he was released on parole.

It is no wonder with all these incidences connected directly and indirectly to the film that people all over the world have said that the film is cursed. Many theologians, members of the film industry, and film critics have analysed The Exorcist over the years, and I think it is safe to come to the following conclusion—the psychological effects combined with the strategic marketing and PR have created a great legacy for the film in the horror genre. Is the film indeed cursed? Most likely not. Did bad things happen? Yes, but the result is a film that has become a permanent part of horror history. For those who believe in the existence of the devil and demons, it probably hits too close to home with its raw and profane content. In the end, evil is in the eye of the beholder.

The episode was extremely interesting and would give the audience a great sense of closure without destroying the magic or enigma of the film itself.

Alice’s Score: 7 out of 10

And you can check more haunting, horror film-related documentary content below:

THE EXORCISM OF ROLAND DOE UNCOVERS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND 1973’S THE EXORCIST
‘WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR’ IS A PERFECT DOCUMENTARY
‘SHOCK DOCS: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT’ IS SCARIER THAN THE CONJURING 3
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Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. Read More