William Friedkin will always be best-known as the director of 1973’s The Exorcist, still widely considered the scariest horror movie ever made over 4 decades after its initial release. The film’s legacy forever bound Friedkin to exorcisms and demonic possessions, and stories of on-set turbulence have given the film an almost otherworldly aura. While there were moments on the set of The Exorcist that were truly harrowing, those experiences pale in comparison to the time Friedkin filmed an actual exorcism.
Related Article: “Confrontation with Evil” Explores the Human Side of America’s Most Infamous Exorcism
You can experience it for yourself when the documentary The Devil and Father Amorth is released in 2018; the film recently screened at the Venice Film Festival, where Friedkin sat down with Variety for an extensive interview. While I highly recommend reading the entire interview, I’ve quoted the most intriguing excerpts below.
Variety: What was the experience of witnessing a real exorcism so close up like?
Friedkin: It was terrifying. I went from being afraid of what could happen to feeling a great deal of empathy with this woman’s pain and suffering, which is obvious in the film.
V: You have subsequently consulted with scientists in the U.S. about what you witnessed and filmed. What did they say?
F: I consulted with neurologists, brain surgeons, some of the best in the United States. The brain surgeons had no idea what her affliction was and none of them would recommend an operation. They believe that everything originates in the brain but — and they say this in the film — they have never seen anything quite like these symptoms…. Then the psychiatrists…all described how Psychiatry now recognizes demonic possession. It’s called dissociative identity disorder/demonic possession. And if a patient comes in and says they are possessed by a demon or a devil, they don’t tell them that they are not…. They do whatever psychiatric treatment they think is necessary, including medication. And they bring an exorcist in.
About The Devil and Father Amorth: Friedkin, of course, directed the screen adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist in 1973 which had moviegoers lining up around the block to see it. The documentary looks at how the exorcism in the movie compares to a real exorcism. The film’s title comes from the filmmaker’s ability to attend Father Gabiele Amorth’s ninth exorcism — it took place with an Italian woman who had been experiencing behavioral changes and “fits” that could not be explained by psychiatry; they became worse during Christian holidays.
Known as the “Dean of exorcists,” Father Amorth performed thousands of these rituals to rid evil from the human body. On the Italian woman, Father Amorth and the demon inside the woman began conversing in Latin, a language that the woman did not know. The priest has since died (at the age of 91). [Source]