In 1973, William Friedkin directed what many consider to be the greatest horror movie of all time: The Exorcist. Friedkin was not a rookie director, he had already directed several titles, including Contact in France (1971) Oscar-winning film that also earned him his first nomination and only Academy Award for best director. But, although I did not need greater laurels, it was this horror film that ended up being the most important title of his entire career.
The film is based on the best seller of William Peter Blatty, which in turn was apparently based on a true case. Although most viewers did not believe that it could be a true event, the novel and the film served the purpose of terrifying. The exorcist went around the world and was a success everywhere. It quickly became an all-time classic and is imitated to this day. Years later, a director’s cut was even made that was capable, although it seems impossible, of being more terrifying than the original version.
However, for William Friedkin the subject of his most popular film would never be completely closed. For years he kept circling exorcisms without ever managing to film one. That would change in 2016, when he managed to contact the Father Amorth, an Italian exorcist who boasted at the time that he had performed around 30,000 exorcisms. The first thing he knew about this real-life exorcist was that he really liked the William Friedkin movie. That gave rise to the first conversations between the two.
The filmmaker asked Father Amorth if he could film one of his exorcisms. He asked this question with the certainty that he would not allow it. But surprisingly he told her that he would think about it. Even more unexpected was when he told Friedkin that he accepted. I only put one condition, for the director to go alone and carry a handheld camera, nothing more. Accepting this limitation, the long awaited moment began. Telling that experience William Friedkin built a documentary called The Devil and the Father Amorth (2017). Father Amorth told him that there was a complicated case of possession, a woman whom he had tried to free from the devil on several occasions. For William Friedkin this nightmare was a dream come true.
The images are at times chilling. They are very shocking because although they do not look like in the movie The ExorcistThe first shock while the exorcism is taking place is truly terrifying. Not only of this exorcism the story is armed. Friedkin himself introduces it and interviews all kinds of experts, skeptics, and even William Peter Blatty himself in a useful archive material to get into the subject.
However. The documentary has certain aspects of mystery show aesthetics that take away some of its credibility. At times we do not know if it is true or if there is any trick in what we see. We do not know if some of the things that are told are an invention of William Friedkin to make a new film on the subject of exorcisms, adding documentary aesthetics as one more trick to make an impact. Nor do we know if they wanted to deceive the veteran director.
If you ask me, I would tell you that the documentary he made about the actual exorcism is less credible than the movie The Exorcist. The best scene in history is told and not shown and there are some sounds during the exorcism that many have considered to be a trick done by the filmmakers and not emerged in real life. They are not the only doubtful elements that the viewer will find.
But still it is very interesting to think that everything is real. And that reality does not manage to be as spectacular or in this case terrifying as fiction is. It is true that it is not easy to beat the best horror movie of all time. William Friedkin has ceased to be a star director for years and this somehow brings him back into his world. Nobody has more right to film an exorcism than he.
In a world where the idea of the devil does not have the impact it did years ago, it is difficult to get viewers to find the idea of an exorcism filmed as real believable. For many, even the idea of Satan is somewhat forced and very implausible beyond fiction. But as the writer Charles Baudelaire said: “The devil’s best trick is to have made the world believe that it does not exist.”
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