WASHINGTON, January 17, 2017 — The late author and former Jesuit priest Malachi Martin, subject of the documentary “Hostage to the Devil,” now available via Netflix, gave one of his stories one hell of an introduction.
In early December of 1937 the Japanese Imperial Army overcame defenders guarding the approach to the Chinese city of Nanking.
But in the city’s southern precincts, Catholic missionary Father Michael Strong was fighting a lonely battle all his own. The priest had cornered parishioner Thomas Wu in a burning warehouse. On shelves throughout the structure rested corpses in various stages of decomposition. And Wu’s victims appeared to have been cannibalized.
Father Strong’s only weapon was the Catholic rite of exorcism. Wu, Father Strong believed, was possessed by demons.
When police eventually arrived, dragging the priest from the burning building, he gazed helplessly through a warehouse window as flames consumed the monstrous killer inside:
“Against the window he could see Thomas’ face plastered for an instant of fixed, grinning agony… his face seemed to be replaced by another face with a similar grin. At the top speed of a kaleidoscope, a long succession of faces came and went, one flickering after the other… Japanese, Chinese, Burmese, Korean, British, Slavic. Old, young, bearded, clean-shaven. Black, white, yellow. Male, female. Faster. Faster.”
Father Strong, his hands burned and his body battered, also suffered a heart attack in his struggle with evil.
As Martin later describes it, that single event was a mere foretaste of the devilish events that follow three short days later in what became known as the “Rape of Nanking”:
“The Japanese High Command let lose 50,000 of their soldiers on the city with orders to kill every living person. The city became a slaughterhouse. Whole groups of men and women were used for bayonet and machine-gun practice. Others were burned alive or slowly cut to pieces. Rows of children were beheaded by samurai-swinging officers competing to see who could take off the most heads with one sweep of the sword. Women were raped by squads, then killed. Fetuses were torn alive from wombs, carved up, and fed to the dogs.”
So begins Malachi Martin’s 1975 book “Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans.”
Not everyone was receptive to Martin’s book. Two years after his acclaimed novel was made into the classic horror film “The Exorcist,” author William Peter Blatty – who died last week – began his Los Angeles Times review of Martin’s tome with the words, “I loathe this book… It gives possession a bad name.”
For his part, Martin dismissed the exorcism depicted in the screen adaptation of Blatty’s novel as “a combination of Frankenstein and Dracula, with a lot of green goo and windows breaking and bodies flying. It’s much more terrible and lethal than that.”
But former Jesuit priest and Time magazine writer Robert Blair Kaiser is more dismissive of Martin than Blatty. He says Martin’s supporters “brought him to various churches around the U.S.A. and had him paid nice lecture fees. They got him book contracts… books that told people what they wanted to hear. He parlayed this into profit.”
Kaiser also accuses Martin of having an affair with his wife.
But NYPD veteran Ralph Sarchie, who authored the book “Beware the Night,” which chronicles his investigations into the “demonic infestation” of the Big Apple, viewed Martin as a friend and mentor.
“There’s nothing underground with this,” says Sarchie of the battle with Satan’s minions, “If you don’t have faith, if you don’t have spirituality, you’re not going to see it. You’re going to miss all the miracles of the supernatural and you’re going to miss all the reverse miracles of the preternatural. Open your eyes, find God and you’ll see.”
Lila Karpf, Martin’s literary agent, remembers the time her client came to her office with a cut on his forehead. “I asked him what happened and he said he was at an exorcism and a footstool came flying through the air and hit him on the head.”
Martin’s friends and associates contend it was a preternatural “reverse miracle” that eventually ended the exorcist’s life.
Malachi Martin speaks of the price paid by those who do battle with unseen evil:
“It cost me two broken legs, almost broken kneecaps. And it endangered my life several times. But I wasn’t supposed to die, apparently… it cost me a lot of hate. I had a lot of my friends turn away… Some bit of you dies with every exorcism. Some bit of you is consumed and goes away. I don’t know where it goes. And finally, you’re used up and it’s all over.”
The documentary “Hostage to the Devil” is currently streaming on Netflix.