The filmmaker behind one of the best-known depictions of an exorcism in pop culture is now turning his camera on the real thing.
William Friedkin, director of the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist,” has created a documentary on one such ritual performed by Italian priest and exorcist Gabriele Amorth. “The Devil and Father Amorth” focuses on the 2016 exorcism of a middle-aged woman who believed she was possessed by the devil.
“I was scared, seriously scared. I was two feet away from them ... And it was terrifying,” Friedkin told NPR of watching the exorcism. “Gradually my fear turned into empathy for her. She was in seemingly unnatural and total pain.”
Friedkin showed his footage to brain surgeons and psychiatrists, none of whom could explain what was happening:
“Now, these were guys who have done over 5,000 brain surgeries each. So I took it to them, and they all to a person said: We don’t know what this is. It’s not epilepsy; it’s not a lesion in the temporal lobe. We would not know what to remove from her brain to solve this. And the psychiatrists told me, to my astonishment, that psychiatry now recognizes it as something called dissociative identity disorder ― demonic possession.”
Amorth died a few months after the exorcism due to a pulmonary condition and possibly pneumonia. He was 91.
Last year, Friedkin told WorldPost that seeing the real thing changed his view of exorcisms. If he had to make “The Exorcist” today, he would do it differently as a result.
“I would not have included those special effects — head spinning, levitation, bed-rattling,” Friedkin said. “Those are all part of the mythology of exorcism that William Peter Blatty — writer of ‘The Exorcist’ screenplay and 1971 novel behind it — made world-famous.”