Cursed Films: “The Exorcist” Review

Following up their enlightening original documentary Horror Noire, Shudder is taking another dive behind the scenes with Cursed Films: a five part docuseries about the strange happenings that occurred in real life around the productions of some of our favorite horror films.

Featuring interviews with cast members (Linda Blair, Eileen Dietz), film critics, and religious studies professors, the first episode analyzes one of the greatest horror films of all time, The Exorcist.

Sorting Fact and Fiction
There have long been rumors and stories of the “cursed nature” of this film, including the set mysteriously catching fire, the tragic death of Max von Sydow’s brother on the first day of filming, and the inclusion of a real life murderer in the medical procedure scene.

While the stories like the fire have always been confirmed true, the series sets the story straight regarding the infamous “serial killer” featured in the movie. Paul Bateson was a real life tech, featured in the film during Reagan’s procedure.

And he was convicted of the 1977 murder of Variety reporter Addison Verrill, however it seems that it was more a crime of passion, and Bateson was only charged with second degree murder. While this is of course still abysmal, it’s not exactly the terrifying story of a serial killer that the Facebook memes would have us believe.

It’s a tragic, and frightening story, but it doesn’t seem like while on set of The Exrocist, he was plotting his serial murders as the rumors suggest…

The “Real” Curse
Based upon the interviews, particularly Linda Blair’s, it seems like the true curse on the set was William Friedkin’s cruel behavior to the get the best performances he could. This included giving the order to yank the harness extra hard on Ellen Burstyn, which wound up injuring her greatly.

As well as firing off a gun to get actors to flinch when necessary, which allegedly led to an almost fist-fight with Jason Miller. Blair also confirmed that many years later, an employee of Warner Brothers admitted to her privately that much of the hype around people fainting and vomiting during screenings was all a PR stunt to drive up ticket sales.

While Blair was just a child during filming, the trauma from the fallout sadly still seems to affect her to this day. There’s a moment where her interviewer asks about her requiring bodyguards due to death threats, and she very quickly rejects the question, stating, “I don’t talk about that.”

Blair’s interview is definitely the highlight of the episode, and it’s a shame we didn’t get even more of her.

With similar stories of Stanley Kubrick’s mistreatment of Shelly Duvall on the set of The Shining (coupled with the actresses recent mental health struggles) begs the question, is it justified to mistreat actors for the sake of film?

Not What We Expected (In a Good Way)
Many fans were probably expecting the entire episode to deal with each of these alleged incidents, analyzing them and recounting each specific story. And while these events are discussed, they’re not the primary subject of the episode.

Instead, it focuses on a legitimately interesting discussion about horror itself, as well as its connection with religious ideas. We even spend time with a real life exorcist, and watch him perform one.

Whether he’s a madman or a genius (or both), William Friedkin was drawn back into this subject with his 2017 documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth.

It’s not as epic or “Hollywood” as most horror movies are, but it’s chilling nonetheless.  Honestly, it barely scratches the surface of these deeper subjects, and probably would have benefited from a runtime longer than a half hour.

Thus far Cursed Films has subverted initial expectations, and it will be very fascinating to watch what it does with other films like Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Between this, and the upcoming return of The Last Drive In, it’s going to be great month on Shudder!

Cursed Films is streaming exclusively on Shudder!

You can also check out our reviews of the episodes on The Omen and Poltergeist!

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