The Exorcist director William Friedkin says he filmed an actual exorcism for his upcoming documentary The Devil and Father Amorth. 44 years ago this December, Friedkin released what is arguably one the most frightening films of all time with The Exorcist, which chronicles two priests attempting to perform an exorcism on a demonically possessed 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair).
Nominated for 10 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Friedkin (and winning 2, for Best Adapted Screenplay for William Peter Blatty and Best Sound), the film, according to Blatty, was based on a genuine exorcism of a 13-year-old boy that took place in two different locations in the U.S. in 1949. The reaction to the film was so strong that it reportedly had audiences fainting and getting sick in theater aisles, and in some cases, movie patrons required the attention of paramedics.
Now, more than four decades after Friedkin horrified audiences with The Exorcist and its shocking footage, special effects and dialogue surrounding the exorcism, the director is examining the real thing with The Devil and Father Amorth.
The movie, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival, examines the ninth attempted exorcism of an Italian woman by Father Gabriele Amorth, an exorcist for the Vatican’s Rome Diocese. After eight previous exorcisms performed by Amorth on the woman, Friedkin was allowed to film the ninth one by the priest, which he described for Variety as "terrifying." He says:
“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.”
Friedkin, who says he was only allowed to film the exorcism alone and was about 2 feet away if not closer to Amorth and the woman, shot the footage on a high-def still camera without the benefits of a crew or lighting. Even though Amorth, who died in September of 2016, was reportedly a fan of The Exorcist, Friedkin says he never thought he would have a chance to meet him. He says:
"I was shocked. I had no idea that I would ever be able to even meet with him. I did know how busy he was. He was doing exorcisms all day every day right up until he went into the hospital and then died."
While the subject of demonic possession has invited skepticism over the years, Friedkin says some of the best neurologists and brain surgeons in the U.S., who said they've never seen anything quite like the Italian woman's symptoms. Friedkin also talked with psychiatrists for the documentary, who now formally recognizes demonic possession. He says:
"It’s called dissociative identity disorder/demonic possession. And if a patient comes in and says they are possessed by a demon or a devil, they don’t tell them that they are not ... They do whatever psychiatric treatment they think is necessary, including medication. And they bring an exorcist in."
It's only appropriate that Friedkin be at the helm of The Devil and Father Amorth given his lasting contribution of the history of film with The Exorcist. It will be interesting to see how the documentary — which will quite likely be an awards season contender — mirrors the depiction of demonic possession of Regan in the Friedkin's film.
No matter the case, audiences are sure to be fascinated by the end result, which, if as effective as The Exorcist, will make other terrifying films about exorcisms like The Devil Inside, Deliver Us From Evil, and The Conjuring — as well as the new TV version of The Exorcist — resonate that much more.
The Exorcist season 2 premieres Friday, September 29 on FOX.