The Exorcist, the most famous fiendish film, created such a stir with audiences that in 1973 Newsweek ran a cover story entitled The Exorcism Frenzy. Complete with stories of queasy theatre-goers and their Exorcist barf bags, it helped create hysteria and make the movie one of the biggest hits of the year.
The impact The Exorcist had on audiences has yet to be duplicated by any of the dozens of possession movies released in its wake, but this weekend’s The Devil Inside is hoping to bring a little good old-fashioned hellfire back to theatres.
The devil, of course, is the star of any possession movie, even if you don’t actually see him. What’s more petrifying than the idea of Old Scratch taking over your body and making your head spin 360 degrees?
But what about the brave priests who battle Beelzebub? Here’s a few cinematic celebrants who have gone mano-a-mano with Mephistopheles.
Father Lankester Merrin, as portrayed by Max von Sydow in The Exorcist, presided over the most famous Satan skirmish.
The statuesque Swedish actor played Merrin twice — he’s seen in flashbacks in Exorcist II: The Heretic — while Stellan Skarsgård played him in two prequels.
The loopiest of devil hunters must be Father Pierre Barre (Michael Gothard) from the Ken Russell film The Devils. He is a corrupt and despicable holy man who convinces a group of terrified nuns to fake a mass possession with the words, “You will scream! You will blaspheme!” His other questionable methods include “forcible colonic irrigation” with holy water and torture.
Barre isn’t the only real life exorcist to be portrayed on film, however. Both The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins as a real life exorcist tutor and The Exorcism of Emily Rose with Tom Wilkinson as a priest accused of murder when a young woman died during an exorcism, are based on true stories.
More fanciful is Leslie Nielsen as Father Mayii in Repossessed, an Exorcist parody co-starring Linda Blair, who played the possessee in the original film. When told she “has an ungodly voice and maniacal facial expressions” the skeptical Mayii replies, “That doesn’t prove a thing! She could be related to Joe Cocker.”
And finally, Beetlejuice has a different kind of exorcist. Michael Keaton plays a supernatural character called in as a “bio-exorcist” to rid a house of its human inhabitants.