WASHINGTON, May 24, 2016 — Marsha Fottler, film critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, called it a “social disease” spread by a “tremendous amount of unfounded publicity in reputable publications. Why else would sane people stand hours in line and pay high prices for the dubious privilege of fainting or vomiting?”
These visceral reactions hit some audience members who watched the 1973 film, “The Exorcist.”
Fottler added, “Countless impressionable folks are seeing the film one week and finding themselves or their children possessed by demons the next.”
More than 40 years later, American audiences look back at that ’70s film as harmless kitsch.
That may explain why the Fox television network recently announced that the horror classic, based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, has been adapted for television and will join its lineup of new shows this fall.
Notable among “The Exorcist” cast is Oscar-winner Geena Davis.
As Fottler notes, the ancient Catholic rite of exorcism was all but forgotten until the Blatty novel and the horror film based on it rekindled the public’s interest—and fear.
In his book “American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty,” social anthropologist Michael Cuneo credited the resurgence of interest in demonic possession to Blatty’s book but also to “the publication of Malachi Martin’s demon-busting pulp classic ‘Hostage to the Devil.’ As if by alchemy, the dramatic (and seductively grotesque) arrival of demons on the screen and the bestselling page resulted in demons rampaging through the bedrooms and workplaces of Middle America.”
In 2010, the Baltimore Sun announced that Catholic bishops would hold a closed-door conference on the subject of exorcism at Baltimore’s Marriott Waterfront hotel.
“We have only a small number of priests who have any training in this area in the United States,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the archdiocese of Springfield, Illinois, told the Sun.
Two years later, the New York Times reported, “The Vatican has formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who say they liberate the faithful from demons … Pope Francis speaks frequently about the devil, and last year was seen placing hands on the head of a man purportedly possessed by four demons in what exorcists said as a prayer of liberation from Satan.”
The late Malachi Martin is credited with helping to raise public awareness of the spiritual battles taking place in the unlikely enclaves of suburban America.
Martin was not just a writer and religion editor for the conservative journal National Review. He was a former Jesuit priest and scholar who taught paleography (the study of early manuscripts), Hebrew and Aramaic at Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute.
While on a visit to Cairo in 1958 to examine newly discovered manuscripts, he told an interviewer, “I was asked to help with the exorcism of an Egyptian youth who had got involved in Satanism to the extent of participating in the sacrifice of his own sisters. What I saw convinced me forever of the power of evil—and the need to fight it.”
In a 1996 discussion on the late-night radio show “Coast-to-Coast,” host Art Bell asked Martin how he knew if a person was possessed by a demon.
“You know,” said Martin. “Everybody in the room knows … The manifestation of the spirit, when it’s cornered by an authorized exorcist, is palpably clear, like the nose on your face. Everybody knows, and there’s no deception about it. And it has this bone-chilling effect.”
He claimed that on two occasions he was personally threatened with death by demons.
It’s a horrible feeling knowing that unless something happens (heavenly intervention) you are going to die—now. It’s like an invisible animal with claws, and it wants you dead. It really wants your life’s blood. It really wants you extinguished.
He said exorcism is not “a series of prayers, of pious wishes and of deliverance and healing invocations. No, no, no, this is a confrontation between the exorcist’s will and the possessing demon or the harassing demon. And, thereby, there comes the conversation, because the exorcist has to find out the name—what the demon calls himself … and their name is usually a reflection of their function.”
Martin added that the exorcist loses bits of himself with each battle. “When you do exorcisms, you give something that you can’t get back … A little part of him [the exorcist] dies and goes away and waits for him in heaven … you’ve been locked in combat with a very, very insalubrious, unhealthy, anti-human, hating spirit that has communicated with you … What most people don’t realize is that there is a spiritual war on … It’s a war with the forces of evil, the invisible forces that want men’s souls.”
Martin was asked how he confronted his fears.
If you really love him (God) as father, as savior and as final end of everything … as the creator of nature, creator of all beauty in our lives, it can expel fear. But if you nourish fear, fear can grow and equal or surpass the amount of love you have in your heart. And then you are in danger, because that fear is going to make you despair. That fear’s going to make you timorous. That fear’s going to make you vulnerable. Love is the only thing that can cure it. Love is the only protection we have.
Martin claimed that on one occasion, he was pushed to the floor by an unknown force, breaking a bone in his shoulder.
And if a soon-to-be released documentary on Malachi Martin’s demonic confrontations is to be believed, his death in 1999 was anything but natural.