Return of the Exorcists

Return of the Exorcists

There are a few telling scenes in The Return of the Exorcists, a documentary about the resurgence of popularity of the practice of exorcism in Italy. But they aren’t what you might expect.

The first: a busy priest sits in front of a computer, clicking away on the mouse. He’s discussing the case of a person who might be possessed by Satan on the phone. When he hangs up we see the computer screen, which is broken. The exorcist was clicking on an empty screen.

The second scene takes place in a church whose leaders and parishioners are part of the Charismatic Movement. At this particular church you have to take a number to get an exorcism – it’s like being at a deli, but instead of getting roast beef or low-salt ham, you get exorcised.

I suppose you can tell what I think of Return of the Exorcists. I am not Catholic; I was brought up Lutheran. I am now agnostic. This documentary is not really for horror fans unless you are super-interested in exorcism. Even then, the documentary doesn’t go into much detail and at points outright contradicts itself.

We learn that possessed people go into trances. A priest tells us about the possessed woman who almost levitated. Of course, there isn’t any film of this. We do see footage of a number of disturbed people who may or may not be possessed. The filmmakers talk to a woman who has been going to an exorcist for years and now only cooks with olive oil and salt blessed by an exorcist.

The Return of the Exorcists isn’t interested in these people. The focus is on the men who perform the exorcisms, who are the real stars of the show. Or – depending on your point of view – the sideshow.

If you need your exorcism fix, watch The Exorcist again.

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Hostage to the Devil

Hostage to the Devil is not a movie about exorcism, nor is it based on Malachi Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil,” which deals with exorcism. This is a documentary about Malachi Martin himself. Full disclosure: I read Mr. Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil” last year and formed definite opinions about the author.

Hostage to the Devil makes no claims to being unbiased about its subject. The movie is full of sincere people talking about what a great man Malachi was, making it clear that Mr. Martin attracted a band of devoted followers. Demonologists (Lorraine Warren) and conspiracy theorists (Art Bell) make appearances or pay tribute. There are clips of Mr. Martin being witty. The lone dissenter states that Mr. Martin was a huckster who started believing his own horseshit; he also thinks Mr. Martin had an affair with his wife, making it unclear if he’s a lunatic.

Mr. Martin was no longer a Jesuit when he wrote “Hostage to the Devil” and cashed in on the success of “The Exorcist,” but if this documentary is to be believed he and his posse went around performing exorcisms in New York City for years. The movie shows us footage of a few ‘possessed’ people being exorcised, which is disturbing in that we are watching the mentally ill being exploited. Mr. Martin does not appear in this footage, so I don’t know if he participated in these exorcisms.

Unless you are obsessed with Malachi Martin – and apparently some people are – Hostage to the Devil is a bore. The documentary tries to build suspense by reenacting an encounter Mr. Martin had with The Devil in Connecticut, and there are those who believe Satan murdered him. What can you say to that? I’m sorry Mr. Martin passed away.

If you want to learn more about Mr. Martin’s beliefs concerning exorcism I’d recommend his book “Hostage to the Devil.” Mr. Martin was a traditionalist, in that he thought Vatican II turned back the clock (before Vatican II, the Catholic Church conducted its services in Latin) and unleashed Satan upon an unsuspecting world. The book rails against such social ills as belief in evolution, sexual expression, self-exploration, yoga, the counterculture, women’s rights, etc., etc., etc. It’s quite a long list. Mr. Martin also believed The Satanic Panic of the 80’s really happened. Ironically, despite Mr. Martin’s professed hostility to New Age beliefs, the book “Hostage to the Devil” is at its core a New Age book because of the author’s willingness to believe anything couched in religious jargon.

I’ve seen a number of good horror documentaries over the past few years, including Cropsey, The Imposter, Killer Legends, Lost Soul and Room 237. I’ll even throw My Amityville Horror in there, because of Mr. Lutz’s onscreen charisma. Unfortunately, Hostage to the Devil was not one of them.

Not recommended.