How to Exorcise Your Movie Set
A Cautionary (if Deadpan) Expose on Movie Demons
The Late Mitchell Warren
Author William Peter Blatty presumably shuddered as he heard the horror stories coming, not from a horror novel, or from folklore of frightful demon possessions, but from the mouth of film director William Friedkin, who told him that his idea—his contribution to cinema—was responsible for invoking a curse on The Exorcist. Blatty stated that there were “strange occurrences” on the production, pointing to a possible curse, claims that were later repeated by actress Ellen Burstyn, Assistant Director Terrance Donnelly, and special effects man Marcel Vercoutere.
Among the haunting phenomenon were eerily timed deaths of cast members (according to Burstyn nine in all), major medical injuries and on-set technical problems including a fire. “The Curse of The Exorcist” continued after production and into the theatrical release, with audience members fainting, vomiting, and even miscarrying unborn babies.
The Curse of The Exorcist was felt immediately by the people involved in making the film, which explains why Friedkin actually called on a priest (several times) to come on the set and bless the production. Perhaps it was at that point, as the father chanted holy names and rebuked the unclean spirit in a non-scripted, off-camera act of desperation, that William Peter Blatty realized the magnitude of what he had created: a true fictional curse. He summoned a demon of entertainment, and what better avenue for creating mass hysteria in innocent people than the Hollywood blockbuster film?
Other Horrid Hollywood Demons and Possessions
Of course, this was hardly the first supernatural creature to possess Hollywood. As far back as the 1950s, these curious and sometimes malevolent spirits were experimenting with Hollywood. In 1956, on-set of The Conqueror John Wayne apparently became possessed by a demon of stupidity and decided to shoot downwind from a nuclear testing site in New Mexico, eventually causing himself and half the movie’s cast and crew to be exposed to a healthy dose of cancer-causing radiation.
Rosemary’s Baby was possessed by a particularly malevolent entity, one hell-bent on creating the definitive crime scene of the 20th century. Just months after the movie was released, director Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson and his followers on a “Helter Skelter” killing spree—truly an ironic way to die. This is what happens when you don’t agree to have the devil’s baby.
The productions of Superman was similarly weighed down by provoked spirits who objected to the idea of a super-powered American Christian man and wasted, not one, but two Nietzschean posers (Reeves and Reeves), while the Poltergeist poltergeist made sure half the cast of the film died unusually painful deaths for daring to mock the spirits by using real bones for the film’s climactic scene. It was such a scary production (and yet only a mildly creepy film), it prompted Steven Spielberg to discredit his own name and pass the fame to high-on-life and just plain high Tobe Hooper.
Few cinema demons have proven to be as destructive as Rod Sterling’s vengeful spirit who made sure that his possessed Twilight Zone series would not be shamelessly exploited for money—at least not without a very high emotional and financial price. On the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie and under the supervision of director John Landis, the most horrific incident in cinema history occurred. The first segment production saw the accidental deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors. A helicopter was flying on-set at a low altitude and was unable to avoid nearby pyrotechnic explosions. The explosions cut the tail rotor, which caused the helicopter to spin out of control and crash. The casualties were far more horrifying than anything the Twilight Zone series ever imagined: Morrow and one of the child actors were decapitated while the other was crushed to death upon collision. Amazingly, the airborne crew escaped unharmed.
Ghosts on Movie Sets and Modern Cinema Possession
Let the scoffers scoff! Rather than blame malevolent and disembodied spirit creatures for these mysterious and calamitous incidents, let’s point the blame at Hollywood filmmakers who continue to be reckless and who continue to nominate their stuntmen for cinematic Darwin Awards. It’s not like Hollywood producers and directors actually take great caution when it comes to security and avoiding mega-million dollar lawsuits from accidents by paying careful attention to stunt work procedure.
It’s easy to blame Rocky-headed Sylvester Stallone for the death of stuntmen Kun Lieu and the injury of Nuo Sun, rather than a particularly impish spirit who either (A) dislikes Stallone’s movie choices, (B) doesn’t appreciate Stallone’s attempt to revive fading action stars of the 1980s who offended spirits of the kung-fu world and thus earned their disgrace, or (C) knows of a dark secret in Stallone’s past that the Italian Stallion won’t admit to the public. Just to be safe, let’s blame this one on Stallone’s ineptitude.
All of this demon talk comes at the perfect time in the cultural zeitgeist, since nowadays it is difficult to find really scary movies at the theater, since so much of the primal terror put on screen is artificial, perfectly timed, and formulaic. Therefore, long standing urban legends of haunted movie sets are actually terrifying ideas, especially since movie producers spend so much money on these projects.
Oh yes and of course, the people! Apologies for writing this article in the Hollywood phony second person voice, but it really applies. The last thing a director wants to hear is that his production, already on the verge of going over budget and with temperamental actors walking on and off the set, is haunted by a malevolent entity.
If you notice any of the following, you may have a haunted movie set:
- Disappearing props (and you’re positive they’re not being stolen by the weird intern)
- Strange noises or voices around the set
- Extra cast or crew members hanging around when you do a count (especially if the extras look extra pale)
- Mysterious fires or problems with explosives
- Unexplained loss of footage, content or data
- One or more of your actors are struck by lightning (ala James Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ)
- Someone mysteriously dies on your set (especially not from a drug overdose, and particularly while the camera is rolling)
- Marilyn Monroe or James Dean hanging around at midnight
- Priests come up to you and hand you a medallion of any sort (Just ask actor Jason Miller from The Exorcist…oh wait you can’t because he’s DEAD)
- Blood appearing on the script
- The face of Jesus or the Devil anywhere on set
- Jack Nicholson esoterically warns you about something
- Christians protesting outside of your studio
Then it is time to stop ignoring the very real possibility that you may have a demon or a ghost in your (rented) midst. Think of a set possession as the ultimate “thumbs down”, a critical review that unlike Roger Ebert’s own, you cannot simply ignore and chalk up to senility.
The first rule of any entity harassment is that you must acknowledge the paranormal activity. Spirit creatures are not like Internet trolls. The more you ignore them, the more agitated they become, prompting them to respond by increasing the terror level. If you continue to rationalize your obviously possessed production away to bizarre science, serendipitous coincidence or crazy actresses hallucinating on drugs, you are daring the entity to focus more negative energy on your movie set.
If you don’t want to become another The Exorcist-like urban legend, (and that’s a big if, considering that “plagued” films tend to sell a lot more tickets than independent movies about how complicated relationships are) then the first step is to decide what you want to happen. Consider four possible outcomes:
You want the entity to leave you alone.
In this case, you must clearly communicate to the entity that you do not appreciate its presence and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to stop the paranormal harassment. In general, using your loud Jewish voice doesn’t seem to startle ghosts or demons—not like it scares assistants and grips. Instead of provoking the entity to “fight” you, your goal is to simply end the conflict. Above all else, maintain a voice of respect. Speak as if you were talking to Spielberg, Eisner, Ovitz, or at least, one of the most famous celebrities who uses Twitter.
You want to help the entity to achieve something.
It is quite possible that the entity is choosing you as a helper so that it can achieve a paranormal and perhaps esoteric goal. This goal may be related to the human life a ghost used to possess, or perhaps something darkly humorous that a demon would enjoy seeing—like you slashing yourself to pieces with razors. (What can you say, they like their slapstick…not so funny to humans though) If you want to go this route, you must first “profile” the entity and make sure that it’s a worthwhile sinister force and somewhat famous, or at least as famous as you. A mention on Wiki or on a reliable news source is a start. No one wants to waste time with a hobo demon that can’t do anything for your career.
You want to scare the entity the way you have been scared.
All right, so you’re from Hollywood and you don’t know the meaning of the word “surrender”, or “married” or “publicity-less charity.” You are hardcore and have done so many drugs and battled so many villain actors in simulated fight scenes, nothing scares you. You’re not just badass, you actually get off on drinking Charlie Sheen’s tiger urine. Why not take a kickass approach to the entity, sort of like the film 1408, which saw actor John Cusack (before he outran the end of the world in 2012) “beat” the room. He even said at one point, “The room did not win.” If you’re that retar—er, hardcore, then don’t be afraid to go toe-to-toe with this son of a bitch entity that dares to stand in the way of your Sundance Film prize. If this is the path you want to go, read our DIY exorcism tips below.
You want to use the entity as a supernatural affiliate and hope that your demonic viral campaign makes you more money.
This is self-explanatory. If you’re going to play with the demon, then expect to be played with in response. Maybe you won’t die, since you’re the life of the party, but be prepared to lose a few stunt men and perhaps a grip here and there. Your campaign can only benefit if you send a press release to Billy Graham or Rick Warren stating how you’re being attacked by demons and yet won’t stop making the Satanic movie.
Is it a Ghost or a Demon Haunting Your Movie?
What is the difference? You’re in Hollywood, so don’t conclude that the entity is anything more complex than ghost or demon; after all, in filmmaking even good and evil are kept very simplistic for dramatic purposes. Simply put, ghosts are whiny little bitches that want attention. They’re like Tom Arnold or Richard Kind, they want you to do them a favor. Instead of asking for cameo appearances though, they want you to bury their bones, find their “real killers”, burn a photo, or put a rose on a grave for them—whatever shit it takes to make them feel good about their sad afterlife.
So if you want to maintain cordial relations with the entity then you may have to do some gophering. Truthfully, ghosts do not mean as much publicity as do demons. In Hollywood, no one gives anything away for free. Unless of course, you’re having sex with Jim Carrey or Matt Damon or something.
Demons on the other hand, understand the essence of drama. They read screenplays and are generally well-read on what scares the living shit out of people. They demand conflict and are damn good at creating it. They’re like the Scorsese’s or the Lars Von Trier’s of the underworld. They get their point across in seconds. You may actually benefit from spending some quality acting time with a demon. So don’t waste its time. This is the main event. Whoever this entity is going to kill, it will be worth it, because this is going to produce some Oscar-winning shit right here.
In case you haven’t seen Paranormal Activity 1-3, demonic entities can follow you anywhere. They can actually leave the set, follow you home, and ghost-fuck your grandma, just to get your attention. Don’t hire a psychic or a demonologist. You know they’re just going to freak out and run away as soon as they sense the bad vibes coming from your dressing room. (And not just the bad vibes you created yourself when you took care of that underage fluffer) Assuming then that you want the paranormal activity on your movie set to cease, here are five DIY tips for cleansing the production.
Four DIY Exorcism Tips for Movie Makers
Our four tips are organized into five categories of response: extreme, rational, reverse and bizarre.
This is the Good Christian response, and it’s not easy. In fact, E-How calls exorcising demons a “challenging” task. First things first, understand the origins of exorcism. They date back to the Catholic-Protestant Schism, and have implications of sacrilege, blasphemy and heresy, especially if you do it wrong.
The Catholic Church is the oldest Christian religion and loosely bases their exorcism procedure on the works of Jesus Christ, adapted to the modern age in The Rite of Exorcism and Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications. It is important to realize that Catholics not only pray over demonized victims, but also adhere to ritualistic exorcism, using relics like Holy Water, crosses, the Chaplet of Saint Michael, and the like. Even so, the Catholic Church rarely authorizes exorcisms and presumes most cases are due to mental illness (see “Rational” response below). Protestant preachers have even less procedure established for exorcisms, and approach the situation purely from a prayer standpoint—and this complements their entire philosophy of faith, not works.
Therefore, many victims suffering ghost and demon harassment state that a Protestant approach to exorcism rarely works. Many years ago, at the peak of the Catholic and Protestant War, there was a young woman by the name of Nicola Aubrey who claimed to be possessed by Beelzebub and twenty-nine other evil spirits. The possession took place between 1565 and 1566. Aubrey’s frightening behavior (as in beyond sexual hysteria) grabbed the attention of both Catholic and Protestant leaders, who then attempted to compete for the title of Best Exorcism Ever. According to tradition, Catholics took the upper hand with the “Blessed Sacrament”, and the contest was so decidedly won, that many Protestants actually converted back to Catholicism. To this day, Protestants continue to downplay the importance of exorcisms in modern times, as no doubt their All-Loving God is still sore from the “Real Presence” beating administered by the Hell-Loving Catholic God.
Even to this day, demons do not tend to respect Protestantism as much as Catholicism. It’s like comparing an Internet sensation like Justin Bieber to a pre-Internet music god like Michael Jackson. Demons may even be insulted if you try to exorcise them using Protestant ritual. They believe they deserve a Catholic priest. This is not to imply that Catholicism is the “true religion”; the fact is, simply, that demons love “trolling” and “flaming” with Catholics, because it’s classic entertainment. Protestants, on the other hand, are just boring when it comes to drama.
Modern priests (who are mighty tired of having to personally travel to every house just to hear a loon, er, victim talk about demon possession) have publicly shared the best ways to rid your place of demonic possession. They are as follows:
- Improve your relationship with God
- Work with an assistant, a member of the family and a doctor (For a Hollywood production, technical consultants or agents will do)
- Confess your sins before attempting to exorcise the entity (otherwise, you’re a hypocrite and demons will enjoy tormenting you all the more so)
- Ask the entity its name, so as to establish a personal connection, as well as communicate the nature of the possession
- Stop peeing your pants. Remember, it’s DRAMA. In Hollywood, drama is good)
- Pray, not just in general (as in Please God, let me be cast in Judd Apatow’s new movie) but specifically for the demon to leave the set.
- It works better if you speak Latin; that shows the Demon you take acting research seriously
- Ask your assistant to read passages from the bible, but make sure it’s a mainstream bible and not those “comic book bibles” (Please note, playing The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston doesn’t count)
- Do the sign of the cross, but please cover up your sleazy chest hair and wash your hands from all that fingering (You know what I mean)
- Command the entity to leave the set in the name of Jesus Christ. (Please specify you don’t mean any Hollywood dramatization of Jesus, or heaven forbid Willem Dafoe, but the ACTUAL Jesus)
- Repeat…and prepare for a long night. Depending on how bored the entity is, it could actually take weeks)
- And please don’t forget THE STARE
In the meantime, continue filming your movie. If demon faces are appearing in crucial scenes, you may have to re-shoot in a different part of the set, or an exterior location. If worse comes to worse, then edit the demon faces out using CGI. Stop whining. Everyone in Hollywood is stressed, okay?
There are some skeptics who claim that victims of demonic possession are merely:
- Addicted to drugs
- Hallucinating because of gas fumes on the set
- Faking it all for romantic attention
- Out of work actors showing their versatility
This is a legitimate concern and you may find it advisable to resist going the extreme Catholic route, and instead, approach the situation rationally. The best rational response is to:
Smack Your Bitch Up.
If your leading starlet is the primary source of the paranoia, and she is starting to scare the entire cast and crew, it is okay to “slap your bitch.” All the great directors slapped their actresses. Some, like Hitchcock, did it to invoke more realistic screams. Some, like Kubrick, did it just to terrify actresses and show them who is boss. Some, like Tommy Wiseau, did it because slapping makes the sex between director and actress much better.
In other words, don’t be afraid to smack your starlet around a few times, just to test the results. Perhaps the “haunting” will cease, and everyone will calm down, realizing it was just delusion with a splash of egotism. Or, perhaps the demon will enjoy watching your own self-created conflict and may decide it likes you. In other words, don’t be afraid to abuse the person who is slowing down the production of your movie. If you don’t actually see the entity, then smack whoever is talking about it.
Let’s get down to the real issue. Let’s say, you’re making a movie about demonic possession, a horror flick filled with shocking violence, gratuitous sex and nudity, and as many F-bombs as humanly possible. According to traditional Christian belief, you’re sort of asking for demon problems, because demons are the ones who create sex, violence and the F-word in the first place.
It’s actually somewhat rude to create all this simulated debauchery, which demons recognize as orgy rituals to Baal, and then UN-invite them. It’s downright snotty, actually. You must bear responsibility for the bad karma you have created. If you create a horror movie with intent to scare, injure and show horrible things, then you are receiving back some of that negative energy in advance. The supernatural goings-on may even be a sign that the spirits are pleased. Or, if someone dies, maybe not so pleased.
The best solution, if you decide you can’t take it, is to change the direction of the movie and turn your production around, creating a more Christian environment. Maybe lose some of the blood sucking whores. Perhaps reduce the number of severed heads. Removing the demonic acts of suffering from a production (whether real or simulated) may actually show your uninvited “uninvited” that there is no party here. They have been misinformed if they think this is a possessed production. Interestingly, many weaker demons actually follow stronger, alpha demons and start multiple haunts within one place. It’s sort of like saying to a group of teenagers, “Hey I have free pot! Want to party?” Of course, you’re going to get some company. Well, your horror movie production is the pot that demons enjoy smoking. Get it?
Case in point, think about movies like Eat, Pray, Love. You never hear of demon possession from those types of films, do you? Because this genre of film is boring, feel-good, incoherent, self-indulgent, badly made, and mawkish—the sort of thing no demon wants to hear. If you really want to be free of demons then start making plenty of movies like Eat, Pray, Love. They are so mind-numbingly awful, they actually cause demons to abyss themselves. Movies like this are part of the reason Satan and his minions hate human beings.
In short, turn your life around. Be a better Christian. Confess your sins, stop having sex with aspiring actresses and rent boys, and find Jesus. Oh, and give all your money away. Suddenly, demonic possession isn’t the worst thing in the world!
Please don’t get carried away with this one. Some movie directors have informed me that the best way to deal with demonic possession is, not to attack or confront the entity, but to confuse it. For example, some directors explain that by playing along with the entity, and responding to its aggression with absurdist parody, that the entity often times becomes confused and decides to leave of its own accord.
- Exorcising demons in the name of “Kirk Cameron” of Fireproof
- Volunteering to sacrifice one of your cast members in a tribute to Jephthah
- Filming scenes that make no sense, like a guy in a bear suit giving a blowjob
- Or a guy in a bear suit punching out a commune of witches
- Or calling on the ghost of Andy Warhol to join the cursed set (Demons do tend to be picky about which of their friends you invite)
- Include strange scenes involving snorting helium and ranting about Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Or filming a final scene with a baby of light while Also Sprach Zarathustra plays in the background
- Or making some sort of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter movie
It is not recommended that you allow the demon to make major decisions on the framing, directing or writing of your motion pictures, otherwise you will produce something beyond human thinking, such as Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales.
Get Rid of Your Ghost by Fighting Satan with Beelzebub
Despite what the bible says about casting out demons through demonic means, some people actually find that a non-Christian exorcism works best for their dilemma. This is an especially appealing option if you’re working with a dozen Jewish producers)
In this case, you can always call upon a shaman or a medium to perform the exorcism for you, or use one of a shaman’s common procedures. One commonly performed Native American ritual, used to expel negative spirits, is the act of smudging. This involves burning safe or another type of approved herb, and allowing the smoke to cleanse certain areas. Smoke is considered a highly spiritual symbol and has long been accepted as a way to purify something (like a movie set) that has been possessed.
If you are doing this, then instruct the case and crew to remain silent and watch as you perform the ritual. (You don’t have to be nude for this, but it helps) When smudging the room work in one direction at a time, and eventually spiral your way to the center. Counterclockwise movement is associated with a “banishing” of an impolite entity. Be careful not to move in a clockwise fashion, as this “invoking” gesture could be sending mixed signals to the entity, who might take you for a player.
Carry the smudge in your right hand and the container in your left hand. Make sure the smoke reaches all the corners, up to ceiling and down to the floor. If a fire starts during this process, or if the smoke alarm detector goes off, this is likely not due to any paranormal action. While doing this you can also speak this blessing: “From the Element of Earth Grows this plant, which is Water. I call upon the Elements and the Blessings of Spirit to please cleanse this (area, space, being, etc.) For the good of all.” While blessing the set, do not use any F-words or adlib like you’re in a Mike Leigh production. Stick to the script, hotshot.
Final Thoughts on Possessed Films
The basic thought here is “do not panic.” Remember that ghosts only have one line of offense and that’s incongruity. They create visual and aural anomalies that are designed to confuse you, and go against your human-based logic system. Once you stop fearing the incongruity, or the absence of coherent human logic, you really have nothing to fear. At this point, you may even decide you want to hear what the entity has to say.
As stated, you cannot ignore the reality of supernatural harassment, as this is an act of war, and a sign of disrespect. The longer you wait, the more likely your cast and crew are going to die from unusual diseases and bizarre crimes. You are prolonging the curse. As the director, creator and collaborator of this cinema curse, you must open and shut this case, giving this little devil his/her due.
Perhaps the entity has some suggestions on what you’re doing wrong with the movie, or dislikes how much you’re over using Zach Galifianakis or Jonah Hill, who really should be kept as supporting cast. Perhaps you have offended the spirit because of your choice of location, or your insensitive trampling of Indian burial ground. In some situations, it’s best to calm down and try to communicate with the ghost, to see if there is amicable deal you can both reach. After all, if there is life after death, chances are you are going to meet this ghost somewhere in the future. And if you were a jerk to it while on earth, that would be awkward. There’s no reason to behave like a jackass, as if you were the newest member of the verbally abusive Ghost Hunters crew. In all dimensions and plains of life, respect for the feelings of others is appreciated—even non-human feelings.
If you are dealing with a malevolent entity then it’s best not to provoke it, because these bad boys and gals are just itching for a chance to attack you physically. Whatever you do, don’t invite it to “take its best shot.” All it has to do is spike up your heart rate and suddenly you’re the next Heath Ledger, but without an Oscar. So don’t challenge the entity to a fight. Instead, make an attempt to communicate.
If the demon possesses one of your actors and starts contorting his/her body and summoning multiple voices, applaud, as if you have just witnessed a terrific first audition. Not with your hands, of course, but with your dramatic responses. Take on the face of a brave warrior, think Anthony Hopkins in The Rite or Ryan on Paranormal State (but without the condescension).
Chances are, the demon has been stalking you for quite some time and believes that you are the best director for the task ahead. The task being, of course, to make this entity shine! Perhaps you have been selected to create this entity’s “urban legend” and help form a living piece of demonic art. This demon wants Satan’s “thumbs up” and you may be the director talented enough to pull this off.
Memorize the dramatic formula in three acts to show the entity you know how to play the game.
Act I (The introduction of yourself, the antagonistic spirit, the dramatic premise and situation. Along the way, the inciting incident occurs which sets the events of the encounter in motion. Usually, there is a victim involved, such as a possessed kid, or a cute little intern who sees dead people in the hall way)
Act II (The main character, you, encounter an obstacle that prevents you from achieving a need, in this case completing the film. Accept that you have an antagonist and let it play its part. As with all Act II procedure, you must be ready to reach your lowest point, physically, emotionally and spiritually—seemingly far away from your objective. Be prepared to suffer and lose all hope, demoralizing the entire cast and crew)
Act III (The climax occurs and the antagonist is defeated through teamwork, a persistent hero, and an unbreakable optimistic attitude. Having a little, happy, dancing, comic relief character on the team also helps matters. After the climax, which may involve a few deaths of unimportant people on the set, the denouement occurs, which is a brief period of calm. As the veins in your forehead settle, the sweat dissipates and you catch your breath, signify with a dramatic statement, that you have prevailed for now, but that the demon may come back again someday and that no one is really safe. However, don’t fall for the old “the demon is dead trick”…you know it always comes back at least once after a false climax, as in Fatal Attraction and Rob Zombie’s classy remake of Halloween)
Remember, drama is not just for the camera. It’s not just for the stage. It’s an in-the-moment creation, an encapsulated moment in time, an amusement for the divine, and a celebration of absurdity. Human beings aren’t the only ones who enjoy good drama. As it turns out, everyone wants to be in movies, and there you have the phenomenon called the movie curse.