Ellen Burstyn wrenched her back. Max von Sydow’s brother died on the actor’s first day of shooting. And Jason Miller’s young son, Jordan, was struck and nearly killed by a man on a motorbike. (He later recovered fully.) The film was also the last role for actor Jack MacGowran, who played the alcoholic filmmaker who meets a bad end. (He finished the role, but died from the flu before the movie was released.)
Though it all happened during the making of The Exorcist, Friedkin dismisses any notion the set was actually haunted. Instead, awful things that might have happened during the making of any movie took on a superstitious significance because of the subject matter of this one.
“There were only a couple strange things, out of the ordinary,” the director claims. “One day at 4 in the morning, I got a call from a production manager and he said ‘Don’t bother coming to work this morning. The set is burning to the ground right now as we speak.’”
The set, which was the interior of the home where Regan and her mother lived, was located in an old New York soundstage. Though the reason for the fire was never certain, Friedkin believes the cause had claws, wings, and a foul odor…
“It was an old building. There were pigeons flying around up there, and the theory [the insurance company] paid off on was that one of the pigeons flew into a light box,” Friedkin said.
Production was shut down for two months. A costly delay, although hardly the worst the devil has ever done.