The man of a 160,000 exorcisms: The true story behind the documentary 'The Devil and Father Amorth'

The Devil and Father Amorth follows exorcist supreme Father Gabriele Amorth as he conducts the ninth exorcism of a possessed Italian woman.


                            The man of a 160,000 exorcisms: The true story behind the documentary 'The Devil and Father Amorth'
William Friedkin (Source : Getty Images)

Beyond faith, beyond science, lies the truth. This is how legendary filmmaker and storyteller William Friedkin, of 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist' fame, introduces you to his latest documentary - 'The Devil and Father Amorth'.

Having redefined the horror genre with 'The Exorcist' and earned innumerable plaudits for the same, Friedkin admitted he had never seen a real exorcism and he wondered how close he came to portraying the real thing. On May 1, 2016, that would change.

Produced by Mickey Liddell and Pete Shilaimon, Friedkin's latest venture chronicles an exorcism conducted by Father Gabriele Amorth, an Italian Roman Catholic Priest who had been the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome for over 30 years and claimed to have performed over 160,000 exorcisms in his lifetime. 

 

Born in Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, Amorth was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1954, and officially became an exorcist in June 1986 under the tutelage of Master Exorcist and Italian Roman Catholic Passionist Priest Rev. Fr. Candido. Since then, after Candido's passing and till his own death in September 2016, Amorth became the face of the Catholic's church's crusade against demonic possession.

 

Referred to with titles such as 'the Vatican exorcist,' 'Rome's chief exorcist,' and 'the Dean of exorcists' amongst many others, Amorth's had said his favorite film was Friedkin's 1973 horror masterpiece because he felt it was substantially correct and based on the truth. So, when Friedkin contacted the father, an innocent conversation led to the filmmaker being given permission to accompany the priest on one of his harrowing house calls.

 

The documentary follows Amorth as he conducts the ninth and final exorcism of an Italian woman identified only as Cristina, who is suffering from troubling fits and behavioral changes that oddly seem to exacerbate and heighten on Christian holidays. Friedkin was given strict instructions on how he could film the process - it could be filmed by him alone, with no other crew allowed, no light other than natural light in the room, and just a small digital camera and mic-unit that could capture the intricacies of the complicated ritual.

Combining the startling and one-of-a-kind footage along with interviews from priests, psychologists, neurosurgeons, and non-believers, the documentary attempts to explore humanity's centuries-long history with demonic lore and the persistence of medieval belief in a technologically and scientifically-powered modern day world. With Friedkin's expert touch and Father Amorth's endearing and charming humor, the 1-hour long 'The Devil and Father Amorth' offers unique insight into a world that few explore and even fewer wish to understand.

 

And this is the story that Friedkin will tell the world on April 20, 2018:

 

It was Father Amorth's 91st birthday, but there would be no celebratory shenanigans for the deeply religious priest. Business would go on as usual and on the agenda for the day was an exorcism that was nine months in the making. He woke up at the break of dawn, as was tradition, and offered prayers to Joseph of Cupertino and Father Candido Amantini. After a light breakfast and taking time to reply to the hundreds of letters that arrived at his doorstep every day, it would be time to get down to business.

At exactly 3 pm, the ninth exorcism of Christina began. Cristina is a quiet, unassuming woman in her mid-30s who works in an architecture firm in a small town 200 kilometers from Rome but has found it increasingly difficult to do so due to the fits and behavioral changes that overcome her - especially on Christian holidays such as Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, and Pentecost.

 

Cristina, who is accompanied by her father, mother, and boyfriend, is familiar with the father. They had previously administered his expertise to cure Cristina's sister, who was one day found convulsing on the floor and growling like a wolf. After psychiatrists had been unable to cure her, it was the priest who had rid her of her demons after four separate exorcisms.

 

Her father explained that Cristina displayed no apparent medical symptoms and that her struggle was the result of a curse that her brother's girlfriend - who Amorth said belonged to a powerful demonic cult - has inflicted upon her. With Father Amorth in the room, are five other priests, one of whom, Alessandro (name changed), has been the priest's personal assistant for seven years. Also present are 20-odd relatives and family members who were there to provide whatever support necessary. 

As the ritual begins in earnest, the father calls upon everyone in the room to join him in saying the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary, invoking the names of Saint Joseph, Padre Pio - a priest who experienced bleeding wounds corresponding to those inflicted upon Jesus Christ on the cross - Father Amantini, his mentor, and the Blessed Virgin for their protection.

 

Cristina's head begins to nod, and soon, she's in a deep trance. The father, in a loud, clear voice, then commands in Latin for the Lord to set her free of the demonic possession: EXORCIZO DEO IMMUNDISSIMUS SPIRITUS (I exorcize, O God, this unclean spirit).

 

It was then that the mood in the room darkened and Cristina's body simultaneously began to throb and convulse, as if something was trying to break out. Amorth issues a series of quick and loud commands in Latin - INFER TIBI LIBERA, TIME SATANA INIMICI FIDEM, RECEDE IN NOMINI PATRIS, SANCTISSIMO DOMINE MIGRA - all of which relate to the devil dispossessing the soul of the victim, and Cristina, or the being in Cristina, responds by thrashing wildly in the seat and attempting an attack. She is held down forcibly by the other priests in the room.

While others in the room pray for her well-being - SPIRITO DEL SIGNORE. SPIRITO, SPIRITO SANCTO SANCTISSIMA TRINITA (God’s spirit, Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity.  Look after Cristina, O Lord, destroy this evil force so that Christina might be well and do good for others. Keep evil away from her) - the father continues the exhausting ritual, calling out the evil that was responsible for her plight.

 

Friedkin wrote that while most of the previous behavior could somehow be chalked off to spectacular acting, his stance on the exorcism changed when Cristina began speaking in fluent Latin, desperately fighting the father's attempts to rid her of the demons that had taken her body for a vessel.

 

Her voice hits a strikingly-low register, not too dissimilar to that of Linda Blair Regan's character from 'The Exorcist,' as she screams MAI! (Never!) over and over again to the priest's commands of CEDE! CEDE! (Surrender!). Interspersed with "DON'T TOUCH HER! DON'T EVER TOUCH HER!" in Italian are claims she's the devil himself - IO SONO SATANA (I am Satan) - and that eighty legions of demons currently reside within Cristina's body.

Following is a snippet of the exchange between Cristina and Amorth as the exorcism reaches its inevitable crescendo, it's most violent moment, before then leveling out and reaching its conclusion:

"IN NOMINE DEO QUANDO TU EXIS ?!"(In the name of God, when are you leaving?!)

 

"MAI! MAI! MAIIIIII! SHE IS MINE! SHE BELONGS TO ME!"

"She belongs to Jesus Christ."

"WE ARE AN ARMY!"

"REQUIE CREATURE DEI" (Rest, creature of God.)

 

And just like that, it was over. Cristina woke up disoriented, oblivious and with seemingly no recollection of the events that had passed over the past hour. She was led to the corner of the room by one of the priests, only to once again suddenly rage, thrash, kick, scream, and curse. She was held firmly in the neck by one man, while another grabbed on to her legs, and the episode played itself out. When she came back to, she seemed lucid, serene almost.

Everyone sang Happy Birthday to the nonagenarian. That is, everyone except Cristina. She said that the suffocating feeling of being possessed was one that she lived through for two years and that psychologists and psychoanalysts had done nothing to cure her pain. When asked if she felt better after the exorcism, she said: "Each time, it feels like I'm becoming free. I can feel the devil suffering inside me."

 

The story was not done; Cristina was scheduled for her 10th exorcism on July 4, later that year. But with D-Day about to loom, she inexplicably called up Amorth to cancel her appointment and reschedule it for a later date. While the ninth exorcism had relieved Cristina for a bit, the convulsions and the spasms had soon returned and her behavior had grown increasingly erratic.

 

Friedkin, who wanted to see the whole ordeal through to the very end, decided to set up a meeting with her, to which she obliged. But even he began sensing that something was off. On the phone, she often sounded exasperated and frustrated, breaking into random bouts of shouting and anger only to apologize later. The pair decided they would talk in Alatri, a deeply religious town and old-world town located 90-miles southeast of Rome.

The filmmaker expected a quiet and peaceful talk where he could probe the Italian woman on her experiences since the exorcism but instead, received a much more hostile welcome. Accompanied by her mother and boyfriend, she was being held by her neck and waist as she growled, screamed, and struggled to break free. She slid to the floor, rolling around in anguish and flashed a malicious grin at Friedkin, one that he says he will never forget.

 

Her boyfriend and mother repeatedly asked Friedkin for the tapes on which he had recorded the exorcism, and each request was met with Cristina screaming her disapproval and claiming that she wanted the world to see it. The mother said she was concerned for the well-being of her son once the tapes became public and her boyfriend said that the footage would be used by Satan's followers. Friedkin flatly rejected the demands and said he would never hand them over.

 

The antagonized family then resorted to threats; they said they would sue him; they said they would sue Father Amorth; and when neither seemed to affect Friedkin, they said Satan would kill Friedkin, and if the devil failed, they would hunt him and his family down and murder them. Shaken, the filmmaker bid a hasty retreat, and says the threats bother him to this day. 

Cristina would never have her 10th exorcism; at least, not from Father Amorth. The priest developed breathing problems later that month. He had to cancel all his appointments and was admitted to the hospital, where he was subsequently diagnosed with a pulmonary condition and pneumonia. He died at 7:37 pm on Friday, September 16, 2016.

 

Friedkin was convinced that the reputed neurosurgeons, psychologists, and psychiatrists would debunk the footage he had captured, but to his surprise, not a single one ruled out outright that something surreal and supernatural. Conversations shifted to the possibility of the existence of God and how some events are beyond the limit of human understanding.

The Devil and Father Amorth is set to hit screens on April 20, if haven't been convinced by Cristina's story so far, maybe you will then. 

 

The trailer of The Devil and Father Amorth: