The Exorcist and the Deaths That Occured While Filming

Directed by William Friedkin and released in 1973, is a landmark horror film that has left an indelible mark on the genre. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, the movie follows the chilling tale of a young girl named Regan who becomes possessed by a malevolent demon. The film’s gripping narrative, spine-tingling atmosphere, and innovative use of special effects propelled it to iconic status.

However, behind the scenes of this cinematic masterpiece, a series of eerie incidents occurred, adding an eerie layer of mystique to an already terrifying experience.

This article delves into the spine-chilling production history of “The Exorcist” and explores the nine tragic deaths associated with its making.

The Exorcist: A horror classic

Upon its release, it sent shockwaves through the film industry and audiences alike. The movie’s terrifying portrayal of demonic possession and the ensuing exorcism captivated viewers, leading to a widespread cultural phenomenon. Linda Blair’s performance as the possessed Regan, combined with Max von Sydow’s portrayal of the determined exorcist, created an unforgettable cinematic experience that continues to haunt audiences to this day.


It revolves around the terrifying ordeal of a young girl named Regan MacNeil, who becomes inexplicably possessed by a malevolent and powerful demon. As her behavior becomes increasingly erratic and disturbing, her mother seeks help from a variety of medical professionals. However, when medical science fails to explain or cure Regan’s condition, her mother turns to the Church for assistance.

Father Damien Karras, a troubled priest and psychiatrist, is tasked with investigating the case. He is initially skeptical about the possibility of possession but becomes more convinced as he witnesses Regan’s violent and supernatural behavior. Karras requests permission from the Church to perform an exorcism, a ritual used to expel demons, and is joined by the experienced and elderly Father Lankester Merrin.

The exorcism itself becomes the film’s climactic centerpiece, with the priests battling the demonic entity possessing Regan’s body. The struggle is intense, involving disturbing physical contortions, blasphemous utterances, and supernatural phenomena. As the priests confront the demon, they grapple not only with the external forces but also with their own personal doubts and struggles.


Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair): The young and innocent 12-year-old girl who becomes possessed by a malevolent demon. Regan’s possession causes her to exhibit violent and disturbing behavior, including speaking in a demonic voice, exhibiting unnatural strength, and showing a deep hatred for religious symbols and figures.

Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller): A young Jesuit priest and psychiatrist who is struggling with his own crisis of faith after the death of his mother. He is assigned to investigate Regan’s case and eventually becomes one of the priests involved in the exorcism. Karras’ inner conflict between his faith and his skepticism adds depth to his character.

Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow): An elderly and experienced priest who has previously performed exorcisms. Father Merrin is called upon to assist in the exorcism of Regan and serves as a symbol of wisdom and strength in the face of evil.

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn): Regan’s mother, a successful actress who is deeply concerned about her daughter’s increasingly disturbing behavior. She seeks medical and then spiritual help to save her daughter.

Father Joe Dyer (William O’Malley): A close friend of Father Karras who provides emotional support to Karras during his struggles.

Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb): A homicide detective investigating the mysterious death of a movie director. He becomes involved in the case and forms a connection with Father Damien Karras.

Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran): A movie director and close friend of Chris MacNeil. His death early in the film leads to suspicion and sets the stage for the unfolding supernatural events.

These characters, each with their own personal struggles and conflicts, contribute to the depth and complexity of “The Exorcist.” The interactions between them, especially the priests’ battle against the malevolent forces, create a tense and terrifying narrative that has solidified the film’s place as a horror classic.

The haunting deaths on set

While the frightful happenings on screen are well-known, the eerie occurrences behind the scenes only serve to amplify the film’s mystique. Tragically, nine deaths took place during the production of “The Exorcist,” adding to the movie’s already dark reputation.

Though these deaths were not directly linked to supernatural forces, their timing and unusual nature have led to persistent rumors of a “curse” on the production.

Jack MacGowran (1918-1973): Jack MacGowran, who played the role of Burke Dennings, met an untimely demise just after completing his scenes for the film. He passed away from complications related to influenza.

Vasiliki Maliaros (1923-1973): Vasiliki Maliaros, who portrayed Father Karras’ mother, also passed away shortly after her scenes were filmed. She died due to natural causes.

Max von Sydow’s Brother (1929-1973): During the film’s production, Max von Sydow, who played Father Merrin, received news of his brother’s death in a car accident.

Linda Blair’s Grandfather (1896-1973): Linda Blair’s grandfather passed away during the film’s production, adding to the list of coincidental deaths.

Jason Miller’s Son (1939-1973): Jason Miller, who portrayed Father Karras, experienced a heartbreaking loss when his son fell from a balcony and tragically died.

Paul Bateson (1940-2012): Paul Bateson, an X-ray technician and an extra in the film, was later convicted of murder. His association with the film became infamous after his arrest.

William O’Malley (1909-1985): William O’Malley, who played Father Dyer, died due to natural causes several years after the film’s release.

Kitty Winn’s Brother (1944-1978): Kitty Winn, who played Sharon Spencer, suffered the loss of her brother after a battle with cancer.

Lee J. Cobb (1911-1976): Lee J. Cobb, who portrayed Lieutenant Kinderman, passed away a few years after the film’s release due to a heart attack.

The curse of “The Exorcist”

The tragic deaths surrounding the production of “The Exorcist” have led to enduring speculation about a curse plaguing the film. While these deaths are primarily attributed to natural causes, the uncanny timing and the unusual number of fatalities have fueled rumors of a sinister supernatural influence. The concept of curses often adds an extra layer of intrigue to famous works of art, and “The Exorcist” is no exception.

Film series

Here is a list of the films in chronological order:

The Exorcist (1973): Directed by William Friedkin, this is the original film that started it all. It follows the story of a young girl named Regan who becomes possessed by a demonic entity, and the efforts of two priests to perform an exorcism and save her. The film is based on the novel by William Peter Blatty.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977): Directed by John Boorman, this sequel follows a now-teenage Regan as she undergoes therapy to uncover the events of the first film. The film explores themes of possession, spirituality, and the legacy of the original exorcism. It received mixed reviews and was considered a departure from the tone of the original.

The Exorcist III (1990): Directed by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the original novel and screenplay for the first film, this installment is a more direct sequel to the original. It follows Lieutenant Kinderman (played by George C. Scott) as he investigates a series of gruesome murders that appear to be connected to a demonic presence. The film is considered a return to the horror elements of the first movie and is often praised for its tense atmosphere and psychological horror.

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004): Directed by Renny Harlin, this film serves as a prequel to the original “Exorcist” film and explores the early life of Father Merrin, the elderly priest who performed the exorcism in the first film. It delves into his experiences with evil in World War II and his first encounter with demonic forces.

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005): Also directed by Paul Schrader, this film was developed simultaneously with “Exorcist: The Beginning.” It provides an alternate take on the events leading up to the first film’s exorcism, focusing on Father Merrin’s experiences in Africa. The film was initially shelved but later released due to interest from fans who wanted to see Schrader’s version of the story.

Box office

High Grossing: “The Exorcist” had an initial budget of around $12 million. It went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated film of its time, earning over $193 million in the United States and Canada during its original release.

Longevity: The film’s box office success was not just limited to its initial release. Due to its popularity, “The Exorcist” was re-released in theaters multiple times over the years, contributing to its overall box office earnings.

Impact: Adjusted for inflation, “The Exorcist” remains one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time. Its box office success was a testament to its ability to captivate audiences and generate word-of-mouth buzz.

Cultural Phenomenon: Beyond its financial success, “The Exorcist” became a cultural sensation, sparking discussions and debates about its themes, imagery, and impact. It was a topic of conversation not only in the realm of cinema but also in wider popular culture.

The film’s box office performance, combined with its critical acclaim, cemented its status as a horror classic and contributed to the lasting legacy of “The Exorcist” in the world of cinema. It’s worth noting that its success also influenced the horror genre’s trajectory, paving the way for more serious and thought-provoking horror films in the years that followed.


It stands as a testament to the enduring power of horror cinema. Its ability to both terrify and captivate audiences is matched only by the chilling circumstances that surrounded its production. While the deaths associated with the film are tragic, it’s essential to remember that they were the result of natural causes and coincidence.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the movie is forever intertwined with these eerie events, adding to its mystique as one of the most iconic and chilling horror films of all time.

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