By Gregory Crofton
The director of “The Exorcist” had always wanted to witness an real exorcism. In 2016, he got his chance, and he was able to capture it on video.
Don’t doubt that William Friedkin’s THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH is worth the price of admission. It’s a documentary that you’d think would never get produced, but Friedkin, just like he did in directing the masterpiece that is THE EXORCIST, pulled it off.
At 68 minutes, it’s taut, tense and fascinating. It first tells the backstory of how THE EXORCIST came to be, and how the William Peter Blatty book it’s based on is rooted in the true story of the demonic possession of a 14-year-old boy from Maryland, not a young girl as it was portrayed in the feature film.
Friedkin plays unofficial host, narrating when needed and traveling to all locations, including Italy, to interview Christina, the middle-aged woman who is set to receive her ninth exorcism from Father Amorth. (An exorcism doesn’t necessarily cleanse someone of evil spirits in one session).
This possession is believable. The woman, whose voice sounds like a double of itself, is restrained by three men as Amorth blesses her forehead and prays to God. She purses her lips, clenches her teeth and rocks in her chair while clutching a crucifix in her right hand and wearing a rosary around her neck.
The whole thing on screen lasts about 10 minutes. What she spits out in Italian is translated with subtitles. “Send the priest away. I can’t stand it. I am Satan. Stop this … She belongs to me. She is mine. We are armies.”
The woman is not cured with this exorcism either. But Friedkin hoofs it back to America where he shows the exorcism to high profile neurologists and psychologists, all of whom don’t dismiss the woman’s “possession” but indicate that mental illness manifests itself in different ways and be influenced by particular societal and cultural factors.
The story comes to a surprisingly frosty and hellish conclusion, when — after Father Amorth has died at the age of 91 — Friedkin encounters Christina and her boyfriend in a remote church.
Don’t miss this film. I watched it as part of the 5th annual Chattanooga Film Festival, held each year in early April.