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Linda Blair and ‘The Exorcist’ Curses

“A lot of people want to believe more in the curiosity, the dark side, the possibility, could it have been. Then there were others that were more apt to say, ‘No, it was just an electrical short that happened.'”

Just in time for Halloween, the actress who played one of the all-time scariest characters in what is still one of the all-time scariest horror movies sat down to discuss why it was also one of the all-time most cursed films. We’re talking about Linda Blair, who played the possessed young girl Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist.” Blair talked to E! True Hollywood Story about the injuries she suffered – the actress fractured her lower back while doing her own terrifying contortions – as well as the strange occurrences on the set – a mysterious fire in the middle of filming burned the entire set … except for the bedroom where Blair’s character’s possession was shown. Coincidence or curse?

“It is strange that movies that have to do with the occult will have spooky or strange things happen to the actors and to the crew. Linda Blair experienced accidents.”

Horror film expert Kalyn Corrigan, also interviewed by E!, puts it mildly. In addition to Blair, Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s mother, also sustained what would be a permanent injury to her back while doing her own stunt in a scene where her daughter throws her from the bed – an injury so painful that her real scream was used in the film. Adding an extra level of creepiness – Burstyn only agreed to take the role if the director removed one of her character’s lines: “I believe in the devil.”

“Mo-ther…Make it stop!”

Chris MacNeil couldn’t help her daughter Regan and Ellen Burstyn’s request couldn’t help other cast members, crew members and even their relatives and movie attendees escape what would eventually – and with good reason – become known as the Exorcist curse. According to various accounts, actor Jack MacGowran, who played Burke Dennings, a character who died while babysitting Regan, himself died from a flu-related heart attack shortly after filming his scene. Actress Vasiliki Maliaros, whose only movie role was in The Exorcist as Father Karras’ mother, died of “natural causes” – she was 89 – while the film was still in post-production. Jason Miller, the actor who played Father Damien Karras, lost his infant son in a motorbike accident during filming. The Exorcist death list of people who died during the filming also includes Linda Blair’s grandfather, actor Max von Sydow’s brother, a night watchman, a special effects expert, and a cameraman’s newborn baby.

“I cast you out! Unclean spirit!”

That didn’t work in the movie, just as finally releasing “The Exorcist” didn’t end the curse. Actress Mercedes McCambridge — who gave the demon its terrifying voice by swallowing raw eggs, chain smoking and drinking whiskey – became an alcoholic (she eventually achieved sobriety) and was financially defrauded by her son, John Markle, who then murdered his wife and daughters before killing himself. Speaking of murder, Paul Bateson, an X-ray technician who played an X-ray technician in the movie, murdered a film critic and allegedly killed at least six other men.

“What an excellent day for an exorcism.”

Would an exorcism have helped exorcise the curse of “The Exorcist”? Good question. After the mysterious fire and reports of props moving on their own – the telephone handset used in many scenes reportedly lifted off of its receiver numerous times – Reverend Thomas Bermingham , a religious adviser to the film, was asked by director William Friedkin to perform an exorcism. He refused to perform a full exorcism, electing to just bless the set. Maybe Friedkin should have prefaced the request with “The power of Christ compels you!”

Father Damien Karras: How long are you going to stay in Regan?
The Demon: Until she rots in earth.

How long is “The Exorcist” curse going to last? The film was released in 1973 and is still a popular scary movie, particularly around Halloween. Linda Blair is 60, Ellen Burstyn is 86 and there are probably a few more cast and crew members around. During an initial screening of the film in Rome, a storm raged outside, and lightning toppled a giant, 400-year-old cross on a nearby church.

It looks like as long as people watch The Exorcist, the curse will continue.

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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