The Exorcist makes a high rank on list of greatest horror movies. The making of the movie itself was said to be cursed, but who knew that a real life psychopathic serial killer lurked on the sets, and even made it on screen?
Horror On The Sets
The Exorcist has made over $441 million worldwide since release. It is the highest grossing horror movie of all time. It received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture – a first for a horror movie) and won two. Viewers and critics love the movie and for good reason. Linda Blair became a household name after her role as the possessed Regan.
Over time, the making of the movie took on a whole life of its own. Some said that the sets were cursed. Others enjoy them as urban legends. But the “incident” list is a long one and the damage toll, high.
The set burned down during the filming. Strangely, Regan’s room was untouched. The damage pushed filming back six weeks. The crew were very nervous on set. William Friedkin, the director, asked the technical adviser, a priest, to perform an actual exorcism on the sets. The priest also blessed the cast and crew. Ellen Burstyn suffered permanent back damage due to a stunt. The original black-and-white trailer was banned. It showed a white-faced demon flashing in and out of the scene and was deemed too scary.
The list is long. Some seem like sheer coincidence. Others are pure bunkum. Regardless, they all make for great conversation. Of all the legends associated with the movie, one is lesser talked about: the one about the serial killer on set.
The one that is 100% true.
Serial Killer On Set
Paul Bateson, 38, was an x-ray technician at NYU Medical Center. The hospital was a set for the carotid angiography scene. Bateson found himself playing the role of the radiologist’s assistant. He appears in a blink and miss role:
Bateson did not have aspirations of a Hollywood career. He had a much darker secret. Bateson was a homosexual and liked to frequent local gay bars and pick up men. One evening he met film critic Addison Verrill at a Greenwich Village gay bar. The two went back to Verrill’s flat and had sex. After having sex, Bateson crushed Verrill’s skull by hitting it with a metal skillet. He then stabbed Verrill multiple times in the heart.
NYPD arrested Bateson for homicide in March 1979. While in remand, he confessed to something far more chilling.
The “Bag Murders”
Bateson was awaiting trial. In jail, he started boasting about how he had killed other men “for fun” and often dumped their remains in the Hudson river. The police suddenly knew that they had found a notorious serial killer, one they were searching for a long time.
In 1977 and 78, New York’s LGBT community was living in terror. A serial killer was targeting homosexuals. Six gay men were found dismembered and mutilated. Their remains were found wrapped in black bags, leading to the name “the bag murders.” Some remains washed up to the New Jersey Shore, others washed up near the then World Trade Center.
The police traced items from the remains to a clothing shop in Greenwich Village. The shop catered to the LGBT community in general. One of the victims had a distinctive tattoo and identified as a known homosexual. The NYPD did not have enough evidence or forensic technology then to proceed further. The cases were listed as CUPPIs – Circumstances Undetermined Pending Police Investigation.
The detectives were satisfied with Bateson’s confession; the MO fit. However, they could not link the evidence to his claim. Bateson was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He was released in 2004.
Exorcist director William Friedkin read of Bateson’s case in the papers. He went on to meet him at Rikers Island. After that, Friedkin went on to direct Cruising, the Al Pacino movie based on the bag murders of 1977 and 78.