The four most terrifying things that happened while filming The Exorcist.

When people went to the cinema in 1973 to watch William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, there were reports of fainting, vomiting and mass hysteria.

One woman decided to sue filmmakers after she passed out midway through the screening and broke her jaw.

There was a sense that the film carried with it something powerful and unspeakably dangerous. Billy Graham, a popular televangelist at the time, said, “There is a power of evil… in the fabric of the film itself.”

And 44 years later, stories about what occurred on set of The Exorcist still circulate, as though perhaps there was something dark underpinning the entire project.

Here are the four most unsettling:

1. The death of nine people.

Over the course of filming, nine people associated with the production of The Exorcist died.

Two actors, Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, died before the film was released. Interestingly, both characters also lost their lives in the film.

LISTEN: Mia Freedman interviews psychic investigator Debbie Malone on No Filter. 

2. The set of Regan MacNeil’s home (the possessed protagonist) burned down.

Filming had only just begun when a fire destroyed the set of Regan MacNeil’s home.

Director William Friedkin saw a pigeon fly into a circuit box and promptly catch fire. The entire set was destroyed, except for one room. Somehow, Regan’s bedroom was left completely unscathed.

Production was consequently halted for six weeks.

3. A ‘blessing’ was performed on set.

Following the fire and a number of other strange occurrences, Friedkin asked Reverend Thomas Birmingham to perform an exorcism on the set.


At first he declined, but after hearing stories from the crew, he agreed to perform a blessing. Reverend Birmingham is said to have also spoken to the cast and crew, who by this point had grown increasingly uncomfortable.

4. The (multiple) injuries.

Ellen Burstyn, who played Chris MacNeil, the mother of Regan, suffered a permanent spinal injury while filming.

There is a scene where Chris is thrown across the room by her possessed daughter, and this was executed through the use of a harness. In this particular take, the harness jerked her violently, and she fell hard on her coccyx.

Image via Getty.

The screaming that can be heard during the scene is Burstyn expressing genuine pain as the result of an injury she still feels the effects of today.

Linda Blair, who played Regan, also seriously injured her back while being thrown around on her bed by a rig.


It's likely that the crew played up a number of creepy incidences during the making of the film to generate interest in the movie.

There were reports by The Washington Post in early 1974, of heart attacks around the world spiking whenever the film premiered, and lightning bolts targeting a screening in Italy.

At some theatres, people were even offered sick bags with their ticket.

The Exorcist offered an audience not just a film, but an experience, and the unexplained stories surrounding its production only serve to make the experience that much more terrifying.