The True Story Behind The Exorcist

Chances our whenever a large group of people are polled over the question “What is the scariest movie of all-time?” there is no doubt that in the runner-up column you will see titles like; The Shining, House on Haunted Hill, or Psycho. But inevitably the single film that is chosen as the single most frightening picture is, The Exorcist. Directed by William Friedkin and based off of the popular novel by William Peter Blatty; it tells the tale of a troubled priest confronting a creature of pure evil that has taken up residence within the body of a little girl. The film broke through the usual Hollywood snobbery when it comes to the genre to receive numerous awards and accolades and even landing two Oscar wins and many other nominations. Naturally it inspired so many imitators that everyone is no doubt familiar with all the hallmarks of exorcisms. But few know that the true terror of this movie lies with the fact that the tale was inspired by actual event. In fact the tale of a real child in Washington DC inspired Blatty to pen his own tale of terror which would spawn one of the most influential and important films of all time. With our modern knowledge of mental illness and such it is easy to come to a logical conclusion to many cases of alleged possession, but this was not always the case in fact for many people this is a very recent development. And even with the knowledge we now hold many alleged cases of possession still puzzle experts and fall into the realm of the paranormal. Much like the field of demon possession and exorcisms, much of what happened to a young boy known only by the alias, Roland Doe remains a mystery.

exorcist1Nowadays everyone may be familiar with; Latin cursing and spitting pea soup, but for much of the twentieth century a pamphlet by Reverend Father Celestine Kapsner was the standard source of knowledge during an exorcism. Kapsner was a Benedictine priest and renowned exorcist in Minnesota, in the 1930’s he penned Begone Satan!  the publication utilized testimony from an exorcism performed in 1928 in the American Midwest. This is still utilized by many Catholics the world over. In the late 1940’s when a boy known only as Roland Doe was in need of an exorcism this was the text which was relied upon to aid the young boy. But at the time it was unknown that Roland Doe’s alleged possession by demonic entity would go one to inspire a story which would surpass the pamphlet as the go-to source on dealing with possession. Little is know about the boy, but what we do know is that his mother was not a famous actress in the Washington DC area for a film, but instead his parents were average blue-collar Lutherans.  Doe took an interest in spiritual beliefs of his aunt which often clashed with the more traditional faith of his own parents. According to the rumors which arose in the years which have followed, Roland Doe attempted to contact this aunt once she passed via the use of a Quija board, and many claim this is where the entity which plagued him gained a foothold in the child’s life.

No doubt everyone who saw the Exorcist knows the exact moment when it became abundantly clear that young Reagan McNeil’s exorcist2friend “Captain Howdy” was a demonic entity bent on destroying her soul. For many it was the disturbing crucifix scene, or for many younger fans it may be the spider crawl down the stairs; regardless it is a moment that will haunt viewers for the rest of their lives. Historically in cases of demonic possession there also comes a moment where it is abundantly clear something paranormal is afoot; and in the case of Roland Doe it was the year 1949 when things escalated.Things in the house reportedly began to move on their own and odd noises were heard, from whipsers to what can only be described as an army marching. Many of these events were documented not only by the family, but also by their neighbor Alvin Kagey. In fact it was from Kagey who witnessed Roland tossed around by an unseen force on one of his visits.  Rumors ran rampant through the Washington DC suburb as Roland Doe, became withdrawn and started showing scratches and injuries of unknown origin.

Local clergy from the Catholic Church were called in to investigate the claims that something was wrong with Doe, when every traditional avenue to find a solution had been exhausted. Rather than a brooding priest struggling with his faith such as Father Karras, instead they turned to Father Edward Albert Hughes. Hughes suffered abuse at the hand of whatever was troubling the boy, both physically by an unseen force as well as verbally in Doe’s new found tongue of Latin. It was determined that Roland Doe was indeed possessed by a demon. Hughes had the boy moved to a hospital where he and other priests could perform an exorcism. Those of you hoping for a the imagery of a cold and dark single night full of intensity, will be sadly disappointed to hear the event took place over several weeks in the spring. Eventually it was discovered that one of the priests present even kept a journal of the process which was eventually published, but not by Blatty.

Afterwards as word spread through the DC-area, young author William Peter Blatty became inspired and penned his now famous novel which left an imprint on film and pop culture. Despite dramatic flourishes many in the priesthood consider the details within the novel to be frighteningly accurate to what occurs when an exorcism is performed.