William Friedkin, famous for directing 'The Exorcist,' considered by many to be the greatest horror film of all time and which has had an immeasurable impact on pop culture since is set to release his latest venture in the coming weeks. 'The Devil and Father Amorth' is set to hit screens on April 20th and will follow Father Gabriele Amorth as he sets forth on one of his harrowing house calls.
Father Amorth was the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome for over 30 years at the time of his death in 2016 and was said to have performed over 160,000 exorcisms in his lifetime, and Friedkin was handed the golden opportunity to film the father. The documentary contains footage of the father performing his ninth exorcism on an Italian woman who suffered from troubling fits and behavioral changes and explores humanity's centuries-long history with demonic lore.
Despite technological advancements in the modern-day world, rituals such as exorcisms persist in deeply-catholic nations such as Italy and Spain and continue to be sought out as solutions by those who feel medicine cannot offer a solution their 'unique' problem. The veracity of exorcisms is often questioned, and rightly so, but the numerous tales and stories of these gruesome rituals that make their way on to mainstream media and seem to defy all logic sometimes leave the non-believers equally traumatized.
In humanity's quest for logic and order, the events that seem to defy these principles to their very core - such as the 10 below - are what leaves us feeling the most vulnerable and disturbed:
#10 Anna Ecklund
The story of American woman Anna Ecklund is arguably one of the most abundantly documented cases of possession in human history, with her alleged demonic possession lasting several decades. Said to have started exhibiting signs of demonic infestation at age 14, it would be at age 46 that one final, extensive exorcism by German Roman Catholic Priest Father Theophilus Riesinge finally set her free.
Born and raised in a Catholic household, Ecklund began displaying an aversion to holy objects in her teens and became incapable of entering churches. She also began having 'disturbing thoughts' and partook in 'unspeakable sexual acts,' with the origin of her possession thought to have been her aunt, who was a reputed local witch.
She underwent her first exorcism in 1912, at the age of 30. It was conducted by Father Riesinger, who would once again be called to her aid 16 years later in 1928. The second time around, Ecklund's symptoms had grown considerably worse. The now-46-year-old fell into fits of rage over food that had been sprinkled with holy water and hissed like a cat, much to everyone's shock.
The exorcisms spanned three different sessions over five months and were violent; Ecklund is said to have levitated, howled, and hung from the doorway. The extensive ritual also took a toll on her body, as she refused to consume food and vomited foul debris. Thought to have been possessed by Judas Iscariot and her own father - who had cursed her in tandem with her aunt for rejecting their incestuous advances - her behavior was so violent that several nuns asked to be relocated to different convents after the exorcism was done.
On the final day of the exorcism, she collapsed on her bed and began to shriek, "Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina," followed by, "Hell! Hell! Hell!" Afterward, she opened her eyes, and then spoke in her own voice, saying: "My Jesus, Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!"
#7 The exorcism of Michael Taylor
Taylor was a resident of Ossett, West Yorkshire, and was a religious man who worked as a butcher. After his behavior began to grow increasingly erratic, ministers were called to cast out demons residing within him and an exorcism was conducted from 5-6 October 1976.
The exorcism lasted all night and exhausted the priests, with Bill Ellis, an expert on folklore and the occult in contemporary folk culture writing: "In an all-night ceremony...invoked and cast out at least forty demons, including those of incest, bestiality, blasphemy, and lewdness. In the end, exhausted, they allowed Taylor to go home, although they felt that at least three demons - insanity, murder, and violence - were still left in him."
That forewarning of murder was one which, in hindsight, should have been heeded, with Taylor brutally attacking and murdering his wife at their home. He tore out her eyes and tongue, almost tore her face off, and then strangled their poodle. He was found by a policeman, naked in the street and covered with blood. During his trial, he was acquitted on the grounds of insanity and sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
#8 Dr. Richard Gallagher and 'Julia'
Dr. Richard Gallagher is an Ivy League-educated, board-certified psychiatrist who teaches at both Columbia University and New York Medical College. A man of science, he is probably the last man on Earth who would chalk off odd behavior as demonic possession rather than a psychological issue that can be diagnosed and treated. Yet, in 2008, he found himself referred to a patient, who he only identified as 'Julia,' whose behavior he could not explain.
Julia was the queen of a demonic cult who approached a local priest for help because she was convinced she was possessed. The priest referred her to Gallagher for psychiatric help and the doctor ruled out mental illness after a series of inexplicable events; objects flew off shelves around her, she knew intimate details of his personal life, and during a phone call with the priest, both heard one of her demonic voices despite the fact that she was thousands of miles away.
A go-ahead was given for the exorcism and as the priests prayed, the woman allegedly went into a trance, before suddenly snapping to life. She spoke in multiple voices: one that was deep and guttural; a second that was high-pitched; and a third that spoke only in Latin. She also did not react to ordinary water but screamed when holy water was sprinkled on her.
#7 Clara Germana Cele
Clara Germana Cele was an orphan of African origin who reportedly made a pact with Satan when she was 16-years old and subsequently became possessed. The incident took place when she was a student at the St. Michael's Mission in Natal, South Africa, with witnesses corroborating that the teen could understand and speak languages such as Polish, German, French, and many others which she could not have possibly known.
Her story has become a part of folklore, with the nuns who were tasked with caring for her claiming that she had demonstrated clairvoyance by revealing the secrets and transgressions of people with whom she had no contact. She also could not bear the presence of blessed objects and was said to have been extraordinarily strong, throwing nuns around the rooms on a whim and beating them up. One supposedly wrote: "No animal had ever made such sounds. Neither the lions of East Africa nor the angry bulls. At times, it sounded like a veritable herd of wild beasts orchestrated by Satan had formed a hellish choir."
According to the Lutheran Pastoral Handbook, these were the signs of possession and not a mental illness, and consequently, two Roman Catholic priests were charged with conducting her exorcism. Rev. Mansueti (Director of the St. Michael's Mission) and Rev. Erasmus (her confessor) performed the ritual for two days, during which Clara's first action was to knock the Holy Bible out of the priest's hands and grab his stole in an attempt to choke with him with it. In the end, however, it was said that the demon exorcised and that the girl was healed.
#6 The Ammons Family
In November 2011, the Ammons' Family moved into a rental house on Carolina Street in Gary, Indiana. The next month, despite the freezing temperatures, big black flies swarmed the house and kept returning no matter how many times the family killed them. After midnight, they would often hear a steady clump of footsteps climbing the basement stairs and the steady creak of the door opening between the kitchen and the basement; the noise continued even after they locked the doors.
Ammons' mother, Rosa Campbell, said one night, she saw a shadowy figure pacing the living room and when she got out of bed to investigate, found large, wet bootprints. After the family found their 12-year-old levitating in the air, unconscious, they decided they needed the church to intervene.
After several refused to listen to their story, one finally told them they clean the home with bleach and ammonia, and then use oil to draw crosses on every door and window. Clairvoyants told them their home was infested by over 200 demons and that they had to burn sage and sulfur through the house to ward the evil spirits off. It got a little better before it got a lot, lot worse.
The family claims the demons possessed their three children and that the kids' eyes' bulged, evil smiles crossed their faces, and that their voices deepened. Even the local law enforcement, once suspicious and disbelieving, witnessed first-hand some of the strange happenings in the residence. Three exorcisms were conducted at the house to rid it of its demons, but the Ammons' still moved out, unable to take the supernatural presence any longer.
#5 The Haunting of the Perron Family
The Perron Family moved into the Arnold estate of Harrisville, Rhode Island, in December 1970 because they wanted to live a quiet life in the country with their five daughters. The 200-acre estate built in 1736 offered just the opportunity to do so, but they were given an ominous warning when they moved in: "For the sake of your family, leave the lights on at night."
While the spirits that haunted the residence were largely friendly at first - the children were said to have been very fond of them - they soon ran into some of the more malevolent entities that haunted the abode; those that smelled of 'rotting flesh,' tortured the children, banged on doors, and wailed in their haunting, disembodied voices.
But the prime demonic suspect at the residence was a spirit identified as Bathsheba Sherman, who is also the central plot point to 'The Conjuring.' Bathsheba died in the midst of accusations that she was a witch and had murdered an infant, and a once beautiful and youthful woman was left bitter and angry. As the hauntings got progressively worse, the family contacted Ed and Lorraine Warren to aid them.
The Warrens immediately proclaimed the house as infested by a diabolical spirit but said they could not perform an exorcism as the Perrons were not religious. Instead, a seance was attempted, which ultimately backfired and exacerbated the paranormal activity. Unable to withstand the hauntings any longer, the Perrons would eventually move out of the house to be replaced by Norma Sutcliffe, who says she has not experienced anything untoward in the estate.
#4 David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz became known as the Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer for going on a shooting spree in New York City in the summer of 1976 that resulted in the deaths of six people and injuries of seven others. In letters that he left at the crime scene taunting police officers and other law enforcement, Berkowitz claimed he had carried out the murders on the orders of a demon which had manifested in the form of a dog, 'Harvey,' and belonged to his neighbor 'Sam.'
After his arrest, he revealed that 'Sam' was the dog of his neighbor Sam Carr and that the animal was possessed by a 6,000-year-old man named Sam, an alcoholic who consumed human blood. He wrote in his diary that the spirit locked him in the attic and commanded him to kill through the dog, expressing concern that he 'may, one day, evolve into a humanoid or a demon in a complete sense.'
He has since changed his story on numerous occasions, swaying back and forth on his dog-and-the-devil story and later amending his confession to claim he was a member of a violent satanic cult that orchestrated the incidents as ritual murder.
#3 Roland Doe
Roland Doe was the pseudonym given to an anonymous 14-year-old boy who underwent a series of exorcisms in the late 1940s and was recorded by the attending priest, Raymond Bishop. The mystery and horror surrounding the events were encapsulated by William Peter Blatty in his 1971 novel, 'The Exorcist,' which would later be adapted into a film of the same name by William Friedkin and become one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
Roland was introduced to the Ouija board by his aunt and after her death, the family reported experiencing strange noises, furniture moving of its own accord, and ordinary objects such as vases flying or levitating when the boy was nearby. The family turned to their pastor, Luther Miles Schulze, for help and Edward Hughes, a Catholic Priest, was called to conduct an exorcism.
During the exorcism, Roland is said to have slipped his hands out of his restraints, broke a bedspring from under the mattress, and used it as an impromptu weapon, slashing the priest's arm and resulting in the exorcism ritual being halted. After more witnessed the supernatural phenomena that tailed the boy - shaking beds, flying objects, the boy speaking in a guttural voice, exhibiting contempt towards anything sacred - a second exorcism was sanctioned; one where three priests were in attendance for support.
Words such as "evil" and "hell", along with other various marks, appeared on the teenager's body during the ritual but he was reportedly cured after and went to live a normal life.
#2 The Smurl Hauntings
The Smurl Hauntings refers to claims made by Jack and Janet Smurl of West Pittston, Pennsylvania, who alleged that their house was haunted by a malevolent poltergeist that was bent on making their family's life hell. The case attracted the attention of the press and some became sensational news in the U.S, with clergy, psychologists, and skeptics brushing off the Smurl's claims and suggesting there was something wrong with their heads, not their residence. One characterized their claims as 'a hoax, a charade, a ghost story,' stating that their claims were due to delusions, hallucinations, or brain impairment, and advised that the family submit themselves for psychiatric and psychological examinations.
But one particularly powerful couple did believe them: Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous for their investigations into the Amityville haunting and the Enfield Poltergeist, felt there was credence to the story.
The haunting supposedly began in 1974, when the family moved into their double-block home located at 328 Chase Street in West Pittston. The demon that roamed the halls was a malevolent one that caused loud noises and bad odors, threw their dog into a wall, shook their mattresses, pushed one of their children down a flight of stairs, and physically and sexually assaulted Jack on multiple occasions.
Ed and Lorraine said that the demon that inhabited the home was 'very powerful' and that it shook mirrors and furniture after they tried to persuade it to leave by playing religious music and praying. Ed also claimed that he felt drops in temperature in the home, once saw a 'dark mass' form and that the demon left a message on a mirror telling him to 'get out.' An exorcism attempt ultimately failed, and a highly criticized book on the haunting later, the family said that the disturbances stopped after they offered intense prayers.
#1 The exorcism of Anneliese Michel
The story of Anneliese Michel, a 23-year-old German girl who died during her exorcism after being denied proper medical care, is the one that's often paraded out in an attempt to debunk the ritual as nothing more than a sham used by the church to scare pious churchgoers and stay relevant in a rapidly modernizing world.
Having suffered seizures, Anneliese was prescribed anti-convulsion medication such as Dilantin and Aolept, which did little to alleviate her depression and increasingly graphic visions. She began describing seeing 'devil faces' at various times during the day and later started hallucinating while praying, complaining that she heard voices telling her she was 'damned' and that she would 'rot in hell.'
Her religious upbringing meant she attributed these phenomena to demonic possession, claiming to become intolerant of sacred places and objects such as the church and the crucifix. The family appealed to a Catholic priest for an exorcism and after first being denied, had their plea accepted by Bishop Josef Stangl.
The 23-year-old was believed to have been possessed by a legion of demons and underwent exorcism rites in the days leading up to her death but was later found to have been mentally ill; she was suffering from psychosis and is now widely cited as an example of misidentified mental disorder, negligence, abuse, and religious hysteria.
The case was the inspiration for 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose,' which follows the trial of Anneliese's parents and the priests who conducted the exorcism after they were charged with negligent homicide. Despite its straightforward nature, it offered fuel for conspiracy theories because of the oddities that surrounded the trail that had many convinced there were supernatural forces in play.
But the trial had its desired effect and the number of exorcisms in Germany fell. While her grave still serves as an attraction to religious pilgrims to this day, the church was forced to backpedal and change its stance on Anneliese to state that her situation arose out of mental illness.
And while they have become increasingly rare, they persist. So what are exorcisms exactly? A showman's ritual to further propaganda or an age-old practice that that offers a glimpse into a reality that few wish to see, let alone comprehend?