As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I am not a big fan of The Exorcist. But I do recognize its historical significance as a horror film, and was definitely intrigued when I learned it would be the subject of the first episode of the Cursed Films series that recently premiered on Shudder. I never knew that The Exorcist had much of a reputation for being cursed; after watching the documentary, though, I realize there’s not much reason to think so.
The episode begins promisingly enough, sharing an eerie anecdote about how a fire broke out during filming, destroying the sets yet leaving Regan’s bedroom mysteriously untouched. But I started to lose faith when the episode addressed the injuries that the actresses Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn suffered in the course of filming–stunts gone wrong are an everyday and easily explained part of moviemaking and don’t create a sense of some supernatural curse. Nor does the fact that an extra in The Exorcist went on to commit a murder years after the film was made. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of material for Cursed Films to draw on here, which perhaps explains the questionable decision to spend nearly a third of the episode interviewing a real-life, modern-day exorcist and showing his performance of the ritual for the purportedly possessed. Much more interesting is the idea of how The Exorcist became a bane for Linda Blair following its release (her life made hellish by audience identification of her with her demonically-possessed character). Unfortunately, this topic gets glossed over, in no small part because of Blair’s own refusal to discuss details of her ordeal when interviewed for the episode.
Cursed Films gets off to an inauspicious start, but subsequent episodes in the five-part series do prove more rewarding (I particularly enjoyed the coverage of Poltergeist and The Crow). I think this project might have been better served, though, by being condensed into a single documentary rather than divided into individual segments (that tend to be filled with distracting tangents).
A final sidenote: The Exorcist episode relates the claim Billy Graham made at the time that the devil existed in the very celluloid of the 1973 film. Naturally, I dismissed Graham’s notion as a bunch of evangelical babble. But as I was streaming the episode of Cursed Films, it suddenly skipped ahead to the next episode with five minutes still remaining, and no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t get the first episode to replay. Cyberspatial snafu or a big FU from Pazuzu?