The Real Stories Behind All Those Exorcism Movies
The newest entry in the demon-possession horror genre, Deliver Us From Evil (out now) says it’s based on a true story. That claim has become par for the course for this vein of horror films, all of which hope to re-create the success of their “based on a true story” granddaddy, The Exorcist. But what constitutes a true story when you’re talking about supernatural events? Below, we take a look at seven exorcism films from the past decade, from The Conjuring to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and try to separate fact from fiction.
Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
The Claim: “Inspired by the actual accounts of an NYPD sergeant.”
The Movie Plot: NYPD officer Ralph Sarchie joins forces with a priest when he realizes that a series of local crimes may be demonic in nature.
The Real-Life Source: Police-officer-turned-exorcist Ralph Sarchie
The Backstory: Director Scott Derrickson based his screenplay on Sarchie’s paranormal experiences, some of which he documented in his 2001 memoir Beware the Night. The cop demonologist also shared his private exorcism videos with Derrickson and star Eric Bana, who told The New York Daily News that the footage is “forever etched into my brain.”(One of Sarchie’s exorcisms is shown in this YouTube video.) Bana plays Sarchie in the film, but the story itself — involving a possessed toy owl, a crazed war veteran and a woman who throws her baby to the Bronx Zoo lions — is an invention. “Scott took a lot of elements of my cases and put them in a different context than what I originally wrote about,” Sarchie, 52, told USA Today.
The Conjuring (2013)
The Claim: “Based on the true story of the Warrens”
The Movie Plot: Married occult experts the Warrens come to the aid of a Rhode Island family whose farmhouse is possessed by a malevolent demon.
The Real-Life Source: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, and members of the Perron family
The Backstory: Carolyn Perron, her husband Roger and their daughters are all adamant that the spirit who occupied their home in the early ‘70s was real — particularly daughter Andrea, who is documenting the story in her self-published, multi-volume memoir House of Darkness House of Light. “The only time I was truly terrified in that house was the night I thought I saw my mother die,” Andrea told the Providence Journal. The family participated in video testimonies to promote both the film and Andrea’s books. Lorraine Warren recalls investigating the house and seeing the spirit’s “grotesque face,” but according to Andrea, the Warrens’ amateur exorcism was a failure. The alleged ghost Bathsheba Sherman was an actual historic person, though evidence of the home’s gory history is questionable. (Here’s a video created by the current owner of the farmhouse with the intention of debunking the Conjuring backstory.)