1. The Exorcist
Starting with this classic that everyone’s seen, the common story you may have heard is that the movie The Exorcist was based on a book by William Peter Blatty. However, the backstory of this one has gotten mixed and mashed up to the point that many people seem to think the book was a first-hand account. In truth, Blatty’s book by the same name was a novel, not an account of real events. Where the ‘true events’ come in is that Blatty based his 1971 novel on a series of stories he’d read in the newspaper while attending Georgetown University in the 1940s.
The original story that Blatty heard was about a boy named Roland Doe. Roland (real name Robert Manheim), an only child, had no playmates growing up and spent much of his time with his aunt who was a spiritualist. She even introduced him to Ouija boards. When the aunt died, a number of unexplained phenomena reportedly began to occur including strange noises and objects being moved around without explanation. When Roland was removed from the house and observed by a parapsychologist in another home, the same phenomena was reported to have occurred. It was then that the family sought out a Catholic priest and Roland underwent several exorcisms at Georgetown University Hospital.
During one the exorcisms, Roland was said to have broken out of his restraints and used a broken bedspring to cut the arm of one of the priests. In another instance, multiple priests observed objects levitating in the room around Roland and supposedly heard him speaking in a guttural voice and that the words “hell” and “evil” as well as other marks began to appear on Roland’s body. Roland is even said to have broken one of the priest’s noses.
Historians who looked at the case years later now tend to believe that Roland was actually just a little shit who tormented his family with pranks for attention and to get out of going to school. They also believed he carved the words and scratches into his own skin with his fingernails which the priests involved in the exorcisms reportedly never checked for skin or blood.
An entire documentary was created about Roland and the exorcisms. It can be seen here.
2. The Conjuring
The Conjuring is based on the research of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who visited the home of the Perron Family in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. According to the Warrens, the Perron family home was cursed by a woman named Bathsheba Sherman (among other spirits) who lived in the home during the 19th century. The home itself was built in 1736 and sits on a 200-acre property. Locally the home and land are known as the Old Arnold Estate. The families that lived on the estate allegedly endured multiple horrors over the generations they owned it, including several suicides, possible murders, two drownings, four people that froze to death on the land, and the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl as well as multiple hauntings. The only family that allegedly did not experience these things were a minister and his family.
Keeping in mind this is over eight generations, it’s still an incredible number of deaths (and wholly unsubstantiated by history). This lead families, including the Perrons, to believe the land was cursed. It’s also where the Warrens enter the picture. The Perrons claim to have repeated experience with spirits, some nice, some terrifying, over the nine years they lived in the Old Arnold Estate. After the Warrens spent some time in the home they determined that the primary malevolent spirit dwelling there was Bathsheba Sherman who, according to legend, was accused of murdering a child she was taking care of by sticking a knitting needle in the back of its head. The Perrons had reported being awoken at night by sharp stinging pains and then finding small bloody holes like that created by a knitting needle in the morning. This, the Warrens claim, was the work of Bathsheba.
Of course the answer to this nine-year ordeal would have been to simply move. However the Perron family believes they were meant to experience these horrors year after year.
“I hear that question most every day. I think we were supposed to have this experience and share it with the world.”
The Perrons also claim to have experienced a possession during a seance, although no exorcisms were ever conducted as it’s portrayed in the movie.
The Warrens also attribute a lot of things to Bathsheba Sherman based on folk legends of dubious origin that simply don’t appear to be true. There was a Bathsheba named Bathsheba Thayer, and she was born in 1812 and lived on the property. She was apparently tried for killing a child and was found not guilty of the crime. The community wasn’t convinced though, and stories about her being a witch and sacrificing the child to the Devil began to be repeated. Bathsheba also allegedly wasn’t very nice to the domestic help, and this most certainly didn’t do her any favors in regards to the rumor mill.
Folklore also claims that Bathsheba had four children, all of whom died. Records do seem to show that she had four children, but she had a son who lived to adulthood and married. People also seem to forget that the early to late 1800s were a time when Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death. Twenty percent of the people who died during these years died of Tuberculosis. Indeed, other sites discussing legend of a “witch Bathsheba” note this and unwittingly endorse the idea that her children very well may have died of the disease rather than because of “cursed land” or some pact with the Devil.
Despite what the Warrens and Perrons claim, there’s really no evidence that any of the myths about Bathsheba are true, and all the evidence that does exist seems to characterize her as a woman who may have been demonized after a tragic event, while living with possibly several tragic deaths in her own family because of disease.
What’s more, the current owners of the Old Arnold Estate say that everything in The Conjuring is nonsense, and they’ve been badgered by movie fans ever since the film came out because it basically doxxed them. In 2014, they even made a fascinating hour-long YouTube video explaining why it was all completely made up by the Warrens and the Perrons.
3. The Rite
As a movie, while the film itself was pretty derivative, the story behind the movie is particularly interesting. The Rite was based on a book called The Making of a Modern Exorcist and was written by Matt Baglio. To do research for the book, Baglio participated in a Vatican-sponsored seminar on exorcism. There he met a priest named Father Gary Thomas of California, one of only 14 Vatican-certified exorcists in the United States. Baglio got permission from Thomas to then go on and observe him perform 20 exorcisms.
According to Father Gary, The Rite actually depicts exorcisms very realistically and while he says most people seeking exorcisms are actually suffering from mental illness, demonic possession is very real. Here’s one account from an L.A. Times interview he gave in 2011.
Thomas recalled an occasion when he was visited by a young Venezuelan woman who had been involved in palm readings for several years. “I was beginning to do some deliverance prayers. Within a few minutes she began to tremor and her facial countenance began to change. You saw a snake. She began sticking her tongue out like a snake and hissing and rolling her eyes. She coiled herself up.
“Her mother and father began to restrain her a bit. I went to get the Eucharist. The woman almost jumped out the window [at the sight of the Eucharist]. Her parents held her down. One minute you could see the demon, the next minute it was her. She kind of came back. I said, ‘Can you take the Eucharist?’ She said, ‘I’m not sure, but I’ll try.’ As I offered it to her, she resisted. I said, ‘Just open your mouth.’ All I had to wash it down was holy water.”
4. The Haunting in Connecticut
Based on the book In A Dark Place by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the book was actually ghost-written by horror author Ray Garton. The book recounts the two-year ordeal of the Snedeker family as they lived in a rented house that had once been a mortuary. The Snedekers have recounted a series of hauntings including spirits attempting to take things out of the family’s hands, pulling blankets off their bed, unexplained music playing at night, voices of older men talking, and actual physical manifestations of spirits including visible hands sexually molesting male and female family members.
All that sounds awful, however the family lived in the house for two years despite ghost sodomy, and the author of the book that the movie is based on basically says the Snedeker family and the Warrens made the whole thing up and that the Snedeker’s son who claimed to be seeing and hearing things got better after beginning to take psychiatric meds. Here’s what he told Horror Bound back in 2009.
As I gathered all the necessary information for the book, I found that the accounts of the individual Snedekers didn’t quite mesh. They just couldn’t keep their stories straight.
I went to Ed with this problem. “Oh, they’re crazy,” he said. “Everybody who comes to us is crazy. Otherwise why would they come to us? You’ve got some of the story—just use what works and make the rest up. And make it scary. You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. So just make it up and make it scary.” I didn’t like that one bit. But by then, I’d signed the contract and there was no going back. I did as Ed instructed—I used what I could, made up the rest, and tried to make it as scary as I could. The book was called In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting.
As soon as it was published, I started telling my story, knowing full well that it would not be too popular with the Snedekers or the Warrens. I was right. Carmen Snedeker, now Carmen Reed, has denounced the book. She claims they had little involvement in it, which is a lie.
5. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Anneliese was a German girl who underwent the rite of exorcism in 1975. At the age of 16 she had been diagnosed with epilepsy and depression, and was eventually prescribed the anti-psychotic Aolept, similar to Thorazine.
She soon began to complain of hearing demonic voices and both her and her family became convinced she was the subject of demonic possession because of her inability to be near religious objects and her seeming hallucinations. After initially denying her family’s request for an exorcism, the Catholic Church went on to perform 67 separate exorcisms, but none of them improved her condition or alleviated the supposed devils living inside her.
She died a year later in 1976 with the cause of death listed as starvation. However, a court found both her parents and two of the priests involved in the exorcisms guilty of negligent homicide, finding that Anneliese had been in a state of near starvation for a year before finally succumbing.
Below is a recording of six of the demons exorcists claim she was possessed by. They include Hitler, Cain, Nero, a former priest named Father Fleischmann, Judas, and Lucifer.
Featured still from "The Haunting in Connecticut" via Lionsgate