The horror genre's impact on viewers has ebbed and waned through the years as science and technology has managed to abolish all sense of disbelief from society. However, among the plethora of scary movies that Hollywood has produced, one film has continuously petrified generations of fans: William Friedkin's The Exorcist. So, when the auteur decided to revisit the roots of his critically acclaimed film, Friedkin mustered the courage to attend an actual exorcism, in order to experience the real deal and scare viewers with an accurate representation of the ceremony.
As Friedkin's documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth is based on the works of Father Gabriele Amorth, he contacted the renowned exorcist during his visit to Italy. After receiving Father Amorth's response, Friedkin found himself witnessing the ninth exorcism of an Italian woman. While most would've chosen to forget any memory of such a traumatic event, Friedkin managed to recount the "terrifying" incident to Variety in full detail,
"I had to shoot it alone, obviously. The conditions were that I come along with no crew and no lights. So I used a Sony still camera that shot high-definition video. I had only that camera running and I was about two feet away from them, probably even closer. 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."
Friedkin's classic horror might've led fans to believe that he's an expert of such rituals, so many will be surprised to know that this was the first time he's witnessed an exorcism. So, while we suffered through countless sleepless nights after seeing Regan's spinning head, only one person managed to see through Friedkin's illusion, and that was Father Amorth.
"I was familiar with his [Father Amorth] books, four or five of which are translated into English. And I knew that he was kindly disposed towards 'The Exorcist' movie, even though he had said the special effects were over the top. He felt that it helped people to understand his work."
The Real Exorcist: Father Amorth's Works And Views On Popular Culture
Upon release in December 1973, The Exorcist didn't gain the critical applause that it's known for today. Instead, it was compared to a "religious porn film" by Rolling Stone's Jon Landau and was termed as "a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap" by The New York Times. However, Father Gabriele Amorth always supported the film, as he considered Friedkin's work to be "substantially exact," allowing him to respect the film and William Peter Blatty's novel, as it shed light on an exorcist's work.
Before passing away at the age of 91, Father Amorth had a staggering total of 160,000 exorcisms under his belt and a slew of controversial statements that discussed everything from ouija boards being the portal for demons to Hitler and Stalin being possessed by the devil:
"I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler - and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil. You can tell by their behavior and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That's why we need to defend society from demons."
While these claims might not have interested fans of the movie fraternity, Father Amorth's irksome statement regarding Harry Potter and writer J.K. Rowling, certainly caught their attention.
"The 'Harry Potter' books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide seem innocuous but in fact encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry. Practicing yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading 'Harry Potter'. In 'Harry Potter' the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses."
Although we cannot question Father Amorth's exorcism skills due to his immense experience at the job, fans of the bespectacled boy wizard can certainly vouch for the absence of the Devil in Rowling's literary and cinematic works.
After creating the cult classic back in 1973, William Peter Blatty's work had devolved into a series of disappointing sequels, which ended its run with 2005's Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. However, Fox's TV series of the same name has successfully revived the age-old story by following up on the life of Regan MacNeil, after her horrific exorcism. Seeing how Friedkin has got in touch with the supernatural, he can provide the show-runners with some insight about exorcism and improve upon the bone-chilling nature of the show.
William Friedkin's The Devil and Father Amorth has premiered at the Venice Film Festival on 31st August, 2017.
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