‘Curse of The Exorcist’ exposed – nine deaths, fire on set and freak snowstorm

‘Curse of The Exorcist’ exposed – nine deaths, fire on set and freak snowstorm

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    The Exorcist is to this day one of the most talked-about horror films in history. At its debut, just after Christmas 1973, people queued around the block in freezing temperatures just to buy a ticket.

    But the film’s production was plagued with accidents and creepy coincidences that have led to many saying it was "cursed". The planned 85-day shoot actually took 200 days, sending the film some $2.5million (something like $17million in today’s money) over budget.

    Shooting was held up by a number of deaths connected to the cast and crew, a freak fire that destroyed much of the set, and a bizarre indoor snowstorm.

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    For more stories of the paranormal, strange and unexplained, check out the Daily Star's Weird News section.

    The film’s original story was drawn from real events in Cottage City, Maryland, in the late 1940s. A teenage boy, identified as Ronald Edwin Hunkeler, began exhibiting bizarre symptoms. He would sometimes start speaking, apparently in Latin, in an eerie guttural voice, and some observers claimed to have seen objects levitating in his room and words being scratched into his skin.

    When a Catholic priest attempted an exorcism on the boy, Ronald – who had been strapped to the bed – somehow freed himself from the bonds and pulled a spring from the mattress which he used to make a deep slash in the exorcist’s shoulder.

    Finally, says podcaster Christina Randall, “a miracle happened. On April 18th at 10.45pm the priest called on St Michael to expel Satan from the boy’s body”.

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    Ronald, who was 14 at the time, was suddenly cured and went on to become a NASA scientist working on the Apollo 11 mission before finally dying 2020, at the age of 85. While many sceptics have suggested that Ronald was simply disturbed, Christina says: "If it's mental health problems or a mental break it doesn’t usually just snap out of you in one instant on April 18th at 10:45 p.m. and you go on to live a normal life …”

    In 1971, novelist William Peter Blatty used newspaper accounts of the strange case to inspire his story of a young girl called Regan who becomes possessed by an ancient evil. When William Friedkin began to adapt the novel into his seminal film, the eerie coincidences began piling up.

    First, just as the cast was being assembled, a catastrophic fire broke out on the set. Everything was destroyed except for the part of the set that represented Regan’s bedroom.

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    “This may just sound like an accident, however the director said that in over 30 years of making movies that had never happened before," Christina said. "When it was investigated they were never able to find out how the fire started. It just started and Reagan's room was left untouched …almost like an entity was setting the stage.”

    Not only fire, but ice plagued the film. Christina explained: “Something else strange that happened is that one day everybody came in to begin filming and the entire set was covered in thick white freezing snow.”

    That bizarre occurrence was explained by Friedkin’s insistence of keeping the studio’s air condition down to its coldest setting to ensure that water vapour could be seen in the air as the actors spoke in Regan’s spookily chilly room. Nevertheless, that has never been known to happen on a film set either before or since.

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    Nine people associated with the film died during, or shortly after, production. They included Jack MacGowran, who played fictional movie director Burke Dennings, and Vasiliki Maliaros, who played the mother one of the priests.

    Actor Jason Miller’s toddler son was struck by a motorbike and killed during filming. Other deaths included a night watchman, a special effects expert, a cameraman’s newborn baby and the grandfather of star Linda Blair.

    “Imagine you’re on this film, and go to start filming and everything burns down except for one room," Christina said. "Then you go to start filming and a family member dies. Then you come back you go to start filming then another person on the cast has a family member that dies and everything stops again.

    “At some point I'd think ‘OK, wait a minute are we supposed to be doing this?’”

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    The same question appears to have occurred to director Friedkin. He said in a 1973 magazine interview: “I am not a convert of the occult but after all I've seen on this film I definitely believe in demonic possession.

    “There are things that cannot be treated by medical or psychiatric means. It seems strange, foreign, and impossible but it does exist. We were plagued by strange and sinister things from the beginning. [Making The Exorcist] is simply the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.”

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