Forty five years after he filmed The Exorcist the director behind one of the most terrifying movies has shot a real exorcism. When William Friedkin shot The Exorcist in 1973 he had never actually seen an exorcism, though even at the time he believed in the power of the rite which is designed to evict demons or other evil spirits from a ‘possessed’ person.
Now four decades on he’s been given the rare chance to film an actual exorcism carried out by Father Gabriele Amorth, who regularly performs them. The director of The Exorcist was invited to watch the Italian priest at work. The result is the documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, which was shown at the Venice Film Festival and is out April 20. It shows Father Amorth and a woman in battle after an introduction explains 500,000 people a year are exorcised in Italy. Father Amorth sprinkles Holy Water and begins reciting verses, in Italian and in Latin. Suddenly, the woman begins to shake and roar. The ‘demon’ shouts “I am Satan” and invites the priest to leave. He continues his prayer, determined. “How many demons are inside you?” he asks. “89!” she replies. The struggle continues until Amorth wins, and she smiles in relief.
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This is just a summary of what happened, a quick look, but Friedkin showed his footage to scientists to see what they made of it. The two neurosurgeons were quick to give their views, with one saying it’s “amazing” and reminds her of Delirium. The girl’s voice also strikes a chord, as one says “it seems to come from somewhere else.” “It’s like an animal in a cage,” says the other. Speaking at the festival Friedkin said it was the same for him. “I have seen things that have astonished me, the voodoo in Jamaica, certain ceremonies in South America,” he said. “I never thought there would be anything authentic in the exorcism until I saw it. ” He added more to his account speaking to Vanity Fair , where he spoke about the “terrifying experience” involving violent thrashing, foaming at the mouth and screaming.
Father Amorth, who has died since the documentary was filmed, gave Friedkin access on the agreement he came alone. The priest was a fan of the film so agreed to show Friedkin what an exorcism entailed. “He felt that it helped people to understand his work,” Friedkin said. “There is no research into exorcisms, the only research is his books. “In the United States in the 20th century, there were two reported cases of possession, as far as Mr Blatty [who wrote the The Exorcist] and I could tell.
“There were only two cases that had any substantial writing about them in the United States. “The church doesn’t say a lot about this. They don’t try to publicise it at all. “They are not promoting it. I doubt that they will even have a position about my latest film. “They never comment about these things. I doubt that they would have given me permission to do what I did. “He gave me permission. He operated quite independently from church procedure and was openly critical of the Vatican.
Friedkin felt he came at a time Father Amorth wanted people to be aware of his work because he “wanted the Vatican to train more exorcists.” Friedkin explained what he saw adding: “It was terrifying. I went from being afraid of what could happen to feeling a great deal of empathy with this woman’s pain and suffering, which is obvious in the film.” It was the woman’s ninth exorcism, she had been having one a month.