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Film

The strange case of the haunting of ‘The Exorcist’ set

The Exorcist is the most famous horror film of all time. It has entered cinematic lore as the pinnacle of what spooky movies can be capable of, transcending genre realms and becoming a touchstone in society for any sort of mysticism. Somehow it is a film that you’ve heard of long before you’re old enough to see it. In this regard, it barely seems like it was made at all, it’s more like a preordained checkpoint in society. 

However, that is not to say everything went plain sailing… far from it, in fact. Production on the film ground to a halt for an inopportune six weeks which threatened to derail the movie (so this wasn’t some sort of proto-viral publicity stunt). The reason behind this delay: the set used as Regan MacNeil’s house burned to the ground. However, there was one notable exception—the only room left standing intact when the flames were extinguished was Regan’s exorcised bedroom.

The fire was reportedly caused by a bird flying into a circuit box, but the haunted room remaining untouched by the flames was enough to ensure that the cast and crew had a few hushed conversations. To make matters worse, several of the actors suffered injuries on set after props would randomly take tumble and wires would cause them to trip only leave no trace when they looked back to point an accusatory finger in the direction of a sloppy set dresser. 

For some, these creepy occurrences were merely the result of a dimly lit film set, cluttered with pulleys, props and flash lighting, being cursed by the issue of low budget and all the corner cutting that comes with it. However, for others, including some of the cast and crew to this day, there was something more going on during the filming of The Exorcist

The final thread that these believers cling to is that fateful when the film premiered in Rome, the cross atop a church spire opposite the theatre was struck by lightning. If anything, this last detail seems like the sort of hammy touch that the film itself skilfully avoided. However, it does indeed sound like the sort of lure that the marketing team laid out when promoting the film. 

In the run-up, they asked ordinary people to give their awestruck reactions to the daring madness on screen. “It’s something I never saw in my whole entire life. It’s something different, and I went to a lot of movies but I’ve never seen anything like this myself,” A police officer reported in his review of the film back in 1973, echoing the thoughts of audiences across the world. With something that spinetingling unspooling on screen and a spooky fire igniting the ‘h-word’ whispers, perhaps it’s no surprise that those involved couldn’t wait to be watching it rather than living it. 

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