BySean Gallen, writer at
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Sean Gallen

Whether you're a rational sceptic or a devout believer, there seems to be some things that just can't be explained: apparitions in the sky, the foreboding atmosphere hanging in old houses, people possessed by foreign spirits. In the book, Hostage to the Devil, the late Jesuit priest, Fr. Malachi Martin, explored the realm between the reality we experience and the paranormal otherworld we can't explain. He details his time spent as an exorcist, traveling America to salvage those poor souls possessed by demonic spirits.

The documentary adaptation of the same name, directed by Marty Stalker (unfortunate name), will be released on Halloween and explores the mysterious figure of Malachi Martin.

Check out the trailer below:

We're going to take a closer look at Malachi Martin and investigate his work to see if there's any truth to the tale of the exorcist.

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How The Film Dramatizes The Book

The controversial bestseller, Hostage To The Devil, is a memoir and a manifesto written by one of the world's foremost exorcists. Fr. Martin details his experiences with victims possessed by demons but he also establishes the idea of a war of good and evil, between demons and what he called warriors of God. Stalker's documentary investigates Martin's trail, interviews the families he "saved from damnation" and conveys the Jesuits' beliefs as gospel.

The documentary presents a cinematic vision of Fr. Martin. First he is a commanding presence on old, home videos, then he is a ghostly voice on a telephone in an empty room until he becomes a shadowy figure roaming the streets at night. Stalker also recreates some of the exorcism scenes to demonstrate Fr. Martin's process and combines dubious archival footage with some staged exorcisms. By stretching the story with dramatizations, Stalker has compromised the truth and Fr. Martin becomes more like the protagonist from The Exorcist than a real-life exorcist.

Malachi Martin: The Man And The Myth

The Irish Jesuit rose to the ranks of the Catholic church to become the secretary to Cardinal Bea in 1958. He worked in the Vatican until 1964 until he became disillusioned by reforms and demanded to relinquish some of his Jesuit vows. Once free from his position, he moved to New York and became a prolific author focusing on criticizing the church for ignoring extremist prophesies. Martin's radical views pushed him further and further into the fringes of Catholicism where he discovered his true calling as an exorcist.

Listen to Martin talking about a Vatican conspiracy:

Although Marty Stalker's film features many dramatizations, for the most part, it takes the form of a documentary with expository interviews with experts and witnesses. Some of these talking heads support Martin's demon-banishing crusade and others know him to be a crook. Some families claim that he took advantage of them in their time of need and created hysteria to establish himself at the hero who could save the day.

The Business Of Exorcism In The US

Malachi argues that demons are sent to our Earthly realm to contaminate us and push us onto a path of evil. Using prayers to lure the demons to the surface of their hosts, Malachi then uses Holy water and the crucifix to banish them to obscurity forever. He spent most of his life traveling around America, seeking out extreme cases of possession but also spreading his ideas of a country under siege by Satan.

Exorcism is mostly specific to the Catholic faith and is as old as the notion of hell, dating back to the 15th century. The practice died out by the turn of the 20th century and was relegated to mere superstition until popular culture brought a renewed interest to the field in the 1970s. In the Vice documentary, A Day in the Life of a Modern Exorcist, Fr. Lambert explains that the number of official Catholic exorcists in the U.S jumped from 12 to 50 between 1970 and today. Martin helped America become the leading country for Catholic exorcists with his writings.

Check out the short documentary A Day in the Life of an Exorcist:

The symptoms of possession are eerily similar to that of a nervous breakdown: erratic physical behavior, extreme delirium and babbling gibberish. While the Catholic church does not openly encourage the notion of exorcism, it supports the culture indirectly, funding it enough to keep it alive. Partly because admitting possession is not real would mean admitting hell isn't real and maybe heaven too. The film Hostage to the Devil explores the possibility that Martin was in fact a hustler, exploiting the psychotic episodes of countless devout Christians all over the country for profit and to spread his beliefs.

Exorcism In Stats:

  • Number of Catholic exorcists in US: 50 (officially registered)
  • Number of exorcists in the Vatican: 10
  • Average exorcisms executed by a specialist: 100
  • Over a third of calls received by the Vatican are exorcism requests

A Light In The Dark

Malachi Martin in 'Hostage to the Devil' / Underground Films
Malachi Martin in 'Hostage to the Devil' / Underground Films

While Martin's credibility is dubious and the phenomenon of exorcism seems fabricated, the choice lies with the afflicted. If a member of your family is going through a nervous breakdown, it may be easier for you to believe it is a foreign entity possessing them. If the process of holy water and incantations makes them feel better, who's to judge if that is wrong? This is the biggest question Marty Stalker leaves in our mind.


Do you think exorcism is real?


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