The Exorcist – The True Story: I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghost

December 16, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

4exorcist-poster300THE EXORCIST: THE TRUE STORY: Wednesday 16th December, FIVE, 9pm ALERT ME

Released in 1973 and frequently referred to as the scariest film of all time, The Exorcist is a horror staple and a story which has provoked huge interest in real life exorcism.

This documentary examines the 1949 exorcism on which the film is based and looks at the facts surrounding modern day practice of exorcism.

A worrying number of people believe in demonic possession – 43% of American adults apparently.

Honestly, who really believes this stuff? I’m a natural sceptic (I believe that all astrologers should be drowned in a bucket), so I immediately raised an eyebrow.

In 1949, a normal 13 year old boy underwent apparent demonic possession. His aunt had been teaching him to use a Ouija board and when she died suddenly, strange rattling sounds began to be heard in the house. When the family’s initial thought of mice was wrong they started to suspect supernatural forces because that’s what you do isn’t it?

“No you haven’t got mice?


Because of his strange behaviour he was referred to a psychiatrist and when they could find nothing wrong, the family turned to the church. After diagnosing possession, the priests performed some actions which today would surely rate as child cruelty – chanting around his bed for 3 weeks, strapping him down to stop him squirming and holding a pillow over his mouth to prevent him from swearing.

It’s more than just a simple retelling of the story; there are some interesting (and often hilarious) interviews with priests and scientists.

A Catholic priest who is an ordained exorcist and claims to have performed the ritual successfully on 20 people, “There’s nothing more satisfying than driving evil out of people?. It’s even scarier that he’s an apparently level headed man and not some deep Southern televangelist preacher.

Just when your bullshit detector is about to go into meltdown, this is all convincingly debunked by neuroscientist Michael Persinger, who has studied the connection between brain activity and demonic possession. All of the boy’s symptoms – the feats of strength, the Tourette’s-style swearing – can be explained by neurological damage to which he’d be particularly prone at the age of 13.

Perseinger’s even invented the “God Helmet? a device which proves that these kinds of delusions can be recreated by stimulating parts of the brain. And in 80% of those tested, there was a feeling of another power telling them what to do. Not so supernatural now is it?

There’s also the darker side of so called “exorcism? – it’s not just harmless fun and games. In 1976, a girl died after priests tried to starve out some “demons? – she was later revealed to have symptoms congruent with mental disorders.

So, an interesting and unfortunate story of a mentally ill teenager, blown up by the diaries of religious nutters and finally debunked by common sense and medical advancements.

Science 1, Superstitious Nonsense 0.

Daniel Read says: