The "Catholic horror" genre arguably hit its peak in 1973 with the film The Exorcist, adapted by Catholic writer William Peter Blatty from his novel.
But, it's still going strong, and lots of these films pop up around Halloween.
Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., who's also a film-school grad and film buff, took a few minutes to answer some questions -- from his unique perspective -- on films that depict Catholic priests facing down evil.
What is the movie that best dramatizes a priest confronting supernatural evil?
I liked your phrasing of the question as dramatizing. Most Hollywood projects (even when accurately adapting real-life cases) can’t resist sensationalizing the content and, thus, never emerge beyond the genre of horror.
One has to venture overseas for a true drama about exorcism. The German film Requiem (2006) adapted the tragic Anneliese Michel case. You get two believable responses from two different priests: one quick to dismiss it as psychosis; another who recognizes the supernatural at play.
To further see the distinction between a loud, lavish American production and the muted starkness of the European style, check out The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a Hollywood approach to the same Michel source material.
Which fictional movie most realistically shows a priest confronting supernatural evil?
Two-hour movies aren’t the best medium for realistically depicting freedom from exorcism. Only Jesus Christ, He of perfect faith, could free a possessed person with one prayer. Real-life cases take weeks, months and, in some cases, years, to resolve, given the imperfect faith of any priest.
A better format is television, either limited or continuing series -- and to specify, broadcast television. Binge-streaming television would also render the same injustice to the subject by portraying the entire exorcism story in a day or a weekend.
To that effect, the first season of Fox's 2016 series reboot of The Exorcist (currently available on Amazon Video and Hulu) was excellent in terms of realism, especially when considering a week that passes between shows was often a week that elapsed in the temporal scope of the story.
Broadcast television, over the course of a season, gives you a sense of how drawn out and difficult the sacramental of exorcism is.
How about a documentary?
The William Friedkin documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth, on the late Father Gabriele Amorth, seemed pretty accurate. Viewer beware: the camera actually captures said priest praying an exorcism.
EDITOR'S UPDATE, ON 10/27/2022: Announced this summer, The Pope's Exorcist, based on the life of Father Amorth, is in production, with Russell Crowe in the lead role.
For the record, Father Amorth was NOT the pope's exorcist, nor was he the Vatican exorcist. He was an exorcist for the Diocese of Rome (which surrounds the independent state of the Vatican).
According to this interview, originally published in the U.K. Telegraph, Father Amorth was also a fan of The Exorcist, adapted by Catholic writer William Peter Blatty from his novel of the same name:
Given his shining faith and scholarly approach, I hardly dare ask him whether he has seen the notorious 1973 horror film, The Exorcist. It turns out to be his favourite film. "Of course, the special effects are exaggerated. but it is a good film, and substantially exact, based on a respectable novel which mirrored a true story."
Not all evil priests face is demonic. Is there a film where a priest bravely faces human evil?
I liked the priest (Gary Lewis) at the center of Joyeux Noel. During the Christmas Truce of 1914, at the outset of WWI, he serves as mediator between the Allied (Scottish and French) and Central (German) Powers lining the trenches.
The most memorable moment was him offering Mass in no man’s land for both sides. So God’s grace shines through a lot of human stupidity and evil.
Do you have any personal experience with an exorcism or know anyone who's done one?
No. I’ve been told that while I might have the faith required by an exorcist, I may not yet have the age. Most dioceses appoint exorcist-priests who already served decades in general ministry.
To the second question, dioceses are tight-lipped as to who they assigned exorcism duties, so I don’t currently know any priest in the role.
Image: Adobe Stock
Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.