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.

The Mothman of Point Pleasant

Point Pleasant, West Virginia. From November 1966 to December 1967 hundreds of people saw a flying creature with a pair of red glowing eyes and a wingspan of over ten feet. The Mothman of Point Pleasant does not tell us who dubbed this creature the Mothman. I am assuming it was an enterprising reporter or perhaps John Keel, who wrote a book called The Mothman Prophecies.

The sightings quickly escalated, with the Mothman chasing teens in their cars, the Mothman hanging out at the abandoned TNT factory, the Mothman peering through windows. The filmmakers give us footage of a number of credulous-sounding locals describing their close encounters with the Mothman. One man saw the Mothman by the side of his bed, and when he thought of the blood of Christ the Mothman went away.

The sightings went on for months, evolving from Mothmen to UFO sightings, Grinning Man encounters and culminating in the city of Point Pleasant being invaded by the Men in Black. The sightings ended after the Silver Bridge collapsed ten days before Christmas 1967, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. Unfortunately, some have tried to link the Mothman to this horrible tragedy; fortunately, the filmmakers do not make this connection.

If – like me – you don’t know much about the Mothman, The Mothman of Point Pleasant is informative and entertaining. It’s obvious the filmmakers are true believers, so keep that in mind. They speculate about mutant birds and the Indian chief who was murdered by the white settlers and supposedly cursed Point Pleasant, and gloss over the fact that there were hundreds of eyewitness sightings and nobody ever managed to snap a picture. Many eyewitnesses state that the Mothman looked like a big bird, with a few insisting that it was a barn owl. I tend to think that’s the most likely explanation, but realize that people are going to believe what they want to believe.

What was the Mothman? A barn owl? An extraterrestrial? A demon from Hell? A case of mass hysteria? We will never know. But there is now a Mothman Museum and a Mothman Festival, which takes place every year on the third weekend of September. So the Mothman lives on…


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.

My Amityville Horror

My Amityville Horror is a 2013 documentary directed by Eric Walter, the founder of The Amityville Files. Here is a brief recap of the Amityville Horror, for the innocent: it refers to the house where Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in 1974. George and Kathleen Lutz and her three children moved into that selfsame house a year afterwards and fled twenty-eight days later claiming their former abode was full of poltergeists and demons, including a devil pig with laser beam eyes.

The Lutz family’s story spawned a bestselling book, a movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder featuring the most awkward love scene in the history of cinema and a number of sequels, each worst than the last. I will not go into the truthfulness of the Lutz family’s claims except to say that when I bought a copy of The Amityville Horror a week or so ago, it was shelved under Horror Fiction. The book itself, which shows every sign of being written in great haste, contradicts itself and has trouble keeping its facts straight.

The subject of My Amityville Horror is Daniel Lutz, the eldest son. Mr. Lutz, now in his early fifties, is intense. Parts of his story are unbelievable. Besides seeing the devil pig and having his hands crushed by a runaway window (don’t worry, his hands got better), he himself was possessed by the entities inhabiting the house. We also learn that his stepfather, George Lutz, was well read in Satanism, practicing transcendental meditation (?!?!), mind-control and telekinesis. After his mother and stepfather went on tour they left Dan behind with the priests, who beat him and repeatedly tried to exorcise him. When his parents came back, he didn’t have a lot to say to them.

The scariest part of My Amityville Horror is hearing Mr. Lutz talk about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather, whom he loathes. Most of the people in this documentary are true believers, although when Mr. Lutz visits Lorraine Warren (see: The Conjuring!) and admires her caged roosters he seems to have trouble keeping a straight face.

Many parts of Mr. Lutz’s story are unbelievable, but he is absolutely truthful on one topic. When he tells an interviewer that he’s smiling because his stepfather’s dead and he’s a free man, I believed him.

My Amityville Horror is available on Hulu Plus.