Even in 2019, 45 years after it first released, The Exorcist remains one of the scariest, most unsettling, and downright evil films ever committed to celluloid.
Directed by William Friedkin, and starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, and Jason Miller, The Exorcist tells the story of Regan a young girl who becomes possessed by the evil demon Pazuzu.
Considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and even the best film ever by one critic (hello Jason Isaacs), The Exorcist really needs no introduction.
Nor does the fact that some of the cast and crew working on the film believed that the film was so heretical and evil that just making it put a curse on the sets and actors working on the production.
It’s been widely reported in various publications of the ‘catastrophes’ that occurred on set including; a devastating fire which destroyed most of the sets except the room where the exorcism was performed (spooky), several members of the cast were injured while on set, and there were a number alleged deaths attributed to the film.
Now that’s all bunkum and nonsense, of course, there’s no such thing as a haunted movie set, except for the set of Poltergeist because they accidentally used real skeletons in the climax.
What is true though is that The Exorcist is based on a novel, by William Peter Blatty who also worked on the film’s screenplay, which was inspired by a real-life exorcism.
In 1943 Roland Doe (a pseudonym obviously) a 12-year-old boy, living in Cottage City, Maryland, was allegedly possessed by a demon and the Catholic Church were forced to exorcise it fro his body.
According to Douglas Lockhart, in his book The Dark Side of God: A Quest for the Lost Heart of Christianity, 48 people witnessed this exorcism.
The journalist Thomas Allen who documented the case in, Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism, reported that events began when Roland’s Aunt Harriett dies.
Harriet, who worked as a spiritualist, and Roland had been close often playing games together and even using a Ouija board – just like Regan in The Exorcist.
After Harriet’s death however strange things began to happen. Furniture would move by itself, objects were reported to levitate and the family would hear strange noises in the dark.
All of these incidents seemed to centre around Roland and his concerned family were left with no option other than to consult their pastor, Luther Miles Schulze.
Schulze became fascinated with the case, even talking Roland into his home to observe him away from his family but the strange events followed him.
Eventually, Schulze recommended the boy’s family consult a Catholic priest to exorcise the boy. It’s claimed a Catholic priest called Edward Hughes attempted the first exorcism but the ceremony went wrong.
Allegedly soon after the ritual began Roland managed to free one of his hands and somehow get his hand on a bedspring. Roland then used this as a weapon injuring the priest and stopping the exorcism.
Desperate for help a cousin of Roland reached out to a professor at St Louis University who in turn put them in touch with William Bowdren an associate at the College Church.
Bowdren and another priest then visited the family and saw more strange phenomena including Roland talking in a demonic voice and showing a fear of religious symbols.
Following their visit, the pair were given permission to perform a second exorcism. During the second attempt at purging the demon words like ‘hell’ and ‘evil’ allegedly appeared on the young boy’s body and the bed shook of its own volition.
Thankfully this exorcism was successful and Roland went on to live a normal, ordinary life. Or as ordinary a life as you can live after being possessed by a demon.
Now, of course, this is all apocryphal and even Thomas Allen admits that he has no proof the boy was possessed.
In a 2013 interview he said:
[It must be] emphasized that definitive proof that the boy known only as ‘Robbie’ was possessed by malevolent spirits is unattainable. Maybe he instead suffered from mental illness or sexual abuse—or fabricated the entire experience.
In his book, he goes on to allege that Roland was just a deeply disturbed boy, nothing supernatural about him.
This claim’s backed up by Mark Opsasnick in Strange Magazine who writes that Roland Doe wasn’t possessed he was just a disturbed bully who was desperate for attention and would throw tantrums to get it.
Opsasnick also discovered that a lot of ‘facts’ surrounding the case were here say or unverified including the alleged demonic voice the priests heard, the restraints breaking and the priest’s subsequent injuries.
Furthermore, he discovered no one actually checked to see if Roland had made the ‘words’ that supposedly appear on his body before the ritual began.
In fact, Joe Nickel a writer for the Skeptical Inquirer found there were witness statements claiming that Roland was seen deliberately writing the word ‘Christ’ on his chest with his nail.
Neighbours also told Opsasnick that people who knew Roland said he was a very clever boy, who would deliberately pull pranks to frighten his mother.
Almost all involved in the ‘real life Exorcist’ agree that Roland’s case is a perfect example of people seeing what they want to see. The priests saw a boy in need of an exorcism while the press saw a story to sensationalise.
Still, though it’s scary to think that a young boy would go so far for attention. Almost makes you wonder…
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More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.