Guest / Limited Access /

The new supernatural horror flick The Rite, opening Friday and starring Anthony Hopkins, is the latest in a long line of Hollywood films in the subgenre inaugurated by William Friedkin's 1973 landmark film The Exorcist. Movies had explored exorcism before 1973, but Friedkin's film spotlighted the phenomenon in an unprecedented way.

The Exorcist represents a pivotal link between the Catholic-inflected piety of Golden Age Hollywood and the demonic world of latter-day horror. It is also the source of much of our culture's awareness of and ideas about possession and exorcism. Real exorcisms in both Catholic and Protestant milieus proliferated in the film's wake, and its impact continues to be felt in recent films.

The form of exorcism used in The Exorcist is from the Roman Ritual of 1614, which remained unchanged until updates in 1999 and 2004. The film's depiction of the rite and phenomenon of possession, though sensationalized, is fairly authentic. Notable elements include the demon's resistance to exorcism and other ambiguities. For example, the victim writhes in pain when a priest sprinkles her with water—though it is not blessed holy water. Placebo effect? Or is the demon deliberately casting doubt on the reality of the possession, the effectiveness of the church's arsenal, or both?

Casting out demons goes back to the ministry of Jesus, and in cinema, back to the silent era. The 1912 film From the Manger to the Cross depicts Jesus healing a demoniac. Cecil B. DeMille's silent The King of Kings (1927) opens with Jesus dramatically delivering Mary Magdalene of seven demons.

Although the Devil and satanic cults surfaced in films prior to The Exorcist, possession and efforts to cast out demons were rare. But by the late 1960s, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Tags:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueChristianity Today’s 2017 Book of the Year
Subscriber Access Only Christianity Today’s 2017 Book of the Year
The release that best embodies our pursuit of Beautiful Orthodoxy.
Current IssueIs the Way Our Cities Are Designed Keeping Us Apart?
Subscriber Access Only
Is the Way Our Cities Are Designed Keeping Us Apart?
How churches can benefit from a lesson in urban geography.
RecommendedScorsese’s ‘Silence’ Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus
Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus
Martin Scorsese adapts Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel about faith, mission, and suffering.
TrendingCompassion Has 'Very Little Hope' for India, Sets Deadline to Shut Down Sponsorships
Compassion Has 'Very Little Hope' for India, Sets Deadline to Shut Down Sponsorships
About 145,000 children have already lost its assistance with food, education, and health care.
Editor's PickThe Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
The Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
It begins by recognizing the name above every name.
Christianity Today
The Devil in Tinsel Town
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January 2011

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.