★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Written and Directed by William Friedkin.
Part hucksterism. Part faux science. Part Unsolved Mysteries. All exploitation. This film is a sad commentary on many levels, but it’s also a fascinating peek into horror history that’s impossible to turn away from.
The Devil and Father Amorth is a horror-related documentary that will have you scratching your head till it BLEEDS. Staring William Friedkin, the director of the Exorcist, as himself playing an investigative reporter. As if Deborah Norville and the crew over at Inside Edition decided it was high time they got the bottom of the Catholic Church and exorcisms and they sent along intrepid reporter, William Friedkin, to piece the story together.
While the film does spend a hot-second looking at the original Exorcist and it’s real life origin story set in Maryland, it largely focuses on Father Gabriele Amorth, a 91-year old priest performing his ninth exorcism on an Italian woman.
Friedkin is quick to point out that Father Amorth has performed thousands of exorcisms over the years. He’s the modern day version of James Brown — the hardest working man in show business! Less funk, but plenty of souls. Father Amorth has his sights set on a troubled young woman who he has exorcised eight times previously. We here at the Scariest Things Podcast are not licensed psychologists, but it’s safe to safe this poor woman has a screw loose. At least that’s our diagnosis.
After blithely running through some crappy interviews with William Peter Blatty, the original writer of the Exorcist, Friedkin turns his camera to the main event — a 30+ minute private exorcism where Father Amorth works his dubious magic.
Again, we here at the Scariest Things Podcast are not sound engineers (…although our podcast sounds pretty decent if we do say so ourselves), but throughout the exorcism the possessed woman caterwauls in a clearly artificially enhanced voice. Pazuzzu courtesy of auto-tune. She slips in and out of the demon’s grip as she writhes and shimmies through a constant T-Pain-sounding demonic presence.
The whole affair is culturally bothersome and pretty darn shrill. Friedkin, who was 82 when he directed The Devil and Father Amorth, was allowed to do the filming as long as it was only him with a simple DSLR. No crew. No lighting. And no sound people. While that was the proviso under which he filmed Father Amorth’s exorcism, he seemed to be content carrying around his DSLR for a good number of the other interviews in the film and opting for a more guerrilla approach to his film.
Friedkin does eventually get around to interviewing a number of neuroscientists and psychiatrists about their thoughts on exorcisms. Several of the scientists offer reasoned explanations ranging from delusions, to brain tumors, to even collective cultural hypnosis, but each one of them selectively stops short of completely discounting demonic possession. In all fairness, these cherry-picked interviews make it clear that Friedkin desperately wants to keep the door to the dark world wide open.
The exploitation and lack of care that’s on display in The Devil and Father Amorth is quite the sight to behold. Maybe more concerning is that Friedkin seemed really pleased with himself and the fact that he got to play a low-rent version of Deborah Norville.
If you’re after more Exorcist-related content, while we wait for the new David Gordon Green opus, we highly recommend 2020’s Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist. This will satiate your demonic possession needs in a much more fashionable manner.
The Devil and Father Amorth is unrated (likely PG-13) and streaming on Tubi.
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