How real are exorcism movies?

Films such as The Exorcist and The Devil Inside are more realistic than you might think

This week sees the UK release of ‘The Devil Inside’ - yet another film based on demonic possession. It follows a filmmaker who investigates her own mother after she commits a triple murder while possessed by the devil.

It’s a silly ‘found footage’ flick (think ‘The Blair Witch Project’) that features a scary nun. It’s received awful reviews but has made more than $78 million (£50 million) in the US already, proving that the public’s appetite for films about exorcisms – such as ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ and ‘The Rite’ - is as strong as ever.

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But how close to reality are these films? We spoke to Father Vincent Lampert, one of only 50-odd officially sanctioned real-life exorcists working in America (he trained in Rome). He told us the truth behind the swivelling heads. 

Head-turner... The Exorcist (Credit: Rex)

“Some movies are better than others,” he told Yahoo! Movies. "'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' is pretty accurate." 

But he admits that some of the details you see in these films are completely made up - but you’d be surprised which ones aren’t.

For example; the most famous demon possession scene of all is of course in ‘The Exorcist’ – which saw Max von Sydow and Jason Miller play priests battling Satan in Linda Blair’s bedroom on a stormy night.

The reality would have been somewhat different, says Father Lampert. “An exorcism always takes place in a sacred space, such as a church or chapel, but never in a darkened house at the end of the street at night during a storm!”

However the iconic ‘Exorcist’ line - “The power of Christ compels you!” - does actually get used in real life. Priests will use certain prayers from the Catholic Church's Official Rite of Exorcism, but they mix things up with “commands to the demon or demons to depart in the name of Jesus”.  

Another famous feature of exorcism movies is how the victims of demonic passion behave – from vomiting, uttering obscenities and doing strange things with crucifixes.

Father Lampert says that he uses a four point check list (what he calls “parlour tricks of the demon”) to determine satanic possession – and these tally rather closely with what we’ve seen on screen. They are:  “(1) Speaking a language otherwise unknown to the individual, (2) strength beyond the normal capacity of the person, (3) knowledge about things that should be unknown by the person, such as naming the sins of the priest or others who are present - and (4) aversion to sacred things - Bible, crucifix, holy water, etc.”

Even if many of the details in these films are actually closer to the truth than we thought, Father Lampert thinks that these movies usually miss the point.

Realistic... The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Credit: Rex)

“I think there are those people who get so caught up in the sensationalism that they become either scared or convinced they are possessed,” he said. “People need to be fascinated more with their relationship with God as opposed to the antics of evil spirits.”

He thinks the public have based their expectations about what exorcisms are like on these films, but insists that priests themselves, “stick to the official rite of the Church and don't alibi in any way”. 

Which is a good thing, as apparently Father Lampert gets at least a call a day from someone asking for an exorcism - from both Catholic and non-Catholics - and that interest in the occult is on the rise.

“Demonic possession is real, it does happen, but it is extremely rare. The rise in interest regarding evil and exorcism coincides with a drop in faith in God, especially in the Western world. People seem to be bored with our Christian roots and more interested in things associated with the occult. 

He concludes: “I don't think the devil has upped his game. I just think more people are willing to play his game.” *Shudder!*

‘The Devil Inside’ is released in the UK on March 16.