Ah, what an excellent day for an exorcism.
It seems like something that can only occur in film, but exorcisms do happen. Exorcisms are performed to expel an evil spirit from an individual’s body. They can be performed in a variety of ways, and in the Catholic religion they must be approved by the church before being done. Priests go through training to become an exorcist, and despite the long process they aren’t always quick to assume a person is possessed.
Matt Baglio, author of The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist says, “Even exorcists admit that 90% of the people who come to see them don’t need an exorcism.”
Then there are the 10% who do.
Families have been plagued by things they cannot explain, and sometimes the church is their only salvation. Whether their experiences are due to demonic possession or mental illness is still up for debate. Real or not, several cases of demonic possession have been made into film. Here are 5 real exorcisms that were turned into movies.
In THE RITE, a life-altering experience makes Michael Kovak reconsider his faith and position with the Catholic church. Although doubtful, the young man takes an opportunity to study exorcisms at the Vatican in Rome. When his skepticism overpowers his faith, Michael is introduced to exorcist Father Lucas (played by Anthony Hopkins) in effort to convince him of his religious purpose. Soon, Father Lucas becomes possessed and it’s up to Michael to rid him of his demons.
Michael’s life journey is adapted from the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” by Matt Baglio. The book follows the life of Father Gary Thomas, who finds out what it takes to be an exorcist by studying seasoned clergymen in Rome. The author witnessed over 20 exorcisms while shadowing Father Gary, and he learned more about the thorough process of performing the religious act.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
The NYPD are prone to seeing terrifying things while on patrol, but Sergeant Ralph Sarchie met literal evil while working his night shift. In DELIVER US FROM EVIL, Sarchie (played by Eric Bana) witnessed a mother toss her infant into a lion’s den at the Bronx zoo, a dead baby in a dark alley, and a husband brutally battering his wife—and that was just the first night. The evil that drifted into the city brought a Jesuit priest into Sarchie’s precinct, and their introduction would change the policeman’s life forever. Sarchie soon learns that demons and the devil are real, and that exorcisms are their best chance at fighting evil.
While some of the events depicted in the film were fictional, Sergeant Sarchie’s experiences with religion and demons are very real. His paranormal experiences led him to becoming a demonologist, and he also wrote a book detailing his life spent saving the city from the evil tormenting it.
Famed parapsychologists Ed and Lorraine Warren are called in to help a family being terrorized by evil spirits in THE CONJURING. The duo discovers the ghost of a witch named Bathsheba resides in the home, and she has a plan to hurt—or even kill—one of the family members. While the Warrens await permission to perform an exorcism on the home, Bathsheba possesses Carolyn, the mother of the family. Having no choice but to perform an exorcism without church approval, the Warrens rid the mother of Bathsheba, and lift her curse from the home.
The film is based on the events that happened to the Perron family in 1970s Rhode Island. The family did experience similar paranormal activity after moving into their farmhouse, but things didn’t end the same as they did in the movie. Bathsheba became more violent toward the family while the Warrens were present, and the family made them leave. Bathsheba eventually left Carolyn’s body, but she continued to plague the family for several years.
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
In 1970, deeply religious Anna Elisabeth Michel (Anneliese) began experiencing severe seizures. She was placed on anti-psychotic meds that would cause her to hallucinate. She claimed she saw faces of the devil, and heard voices tell her she was damned and would rot in hell. Her mental state worsened over time, and Michel became depressed. When psychiatric help failed her, the young woman concluded that her experiences were attributed to something evil. Believing she was possessed, Michel turned to the Catholic church for help.
She and her family were convinced she was possessed by the devil when she could barely walk past a crucifix without writhing in pain. They finally found a priest who would perform an exorcism—Arnold Renz—67 times over 10 months from 1975-1976. Michel endured over four hours of rituals a day, and barely ate or drank. She died during the exorcism process on July 1, 1976, weighing just 68 pounds.
Following Michel’s tragic death, her family and the priests involved were arrested and tried for her murder. The court heard recordings of the exorcisms, including Michel speaking in different languages and demons arguing. The priests were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to just six months in jail, which was later suspended. The 2005 Scott Derrickson film THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE focuses on the aftermath of Michel’s death and depicts the coinciding court case.
Audiences were terrified into sleeping with a crucifix after watching THE EXORCIST—and for good reason. The story of a 12-year-old girl possessed by the devil was something that audiences had never seen before, and it made us question religion, and the existence of good and evil. We watched as Regan MacNeil interrupted her mother’s party to pee on the floor, violate her body with a cross, and spin her head around in ways a human shouldn’t be able to do. It made us think that if an innocent 12-year-old girl can be overcome by such an evil, then we all could too.
And what made the film even scarier is the fact that the events of the film were inspired by a real-life exorcism. Well, sort of. THE EXORCIST was adapted from William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name. Blatty was inspired by the exorcism of Roland Doe, which occurred in 1949. He learned of the boy’s experiences as a student at Georgetown University, which is why THE EXORCIST takes place in Washington, D.C.
Unlike the movie, the possessed child was a 12-year-old boy—not a girl. Although the boy remains anonymous, one of the priests who performed his exorcisms, Father William S. Bowdern, has shared his experiences dealing with the boy. Father William was called in by the boy’s family to help because he became increasingly aggressive after the death of his aunt. The church performed an exorcism on him, and it was one of three exorcisms sanctioned by the church at the time.