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Throwback Thursday (Halloween Edition): The scariest film of all time?

The Exorcist is a movie that could perhaps count as many viewers as people who have refused to see it. It's a movie you’d watch only if dared, on Halloween night. It has been famously called “the scariest movie of all time.” It makes visceral a very old question: Does The Devil exist?

The film was of course based on William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel, and for this Halloween Throwback Thursday we're linking to our archived writing on both the book and the 1973 film that came of it (and that made Linda Blair infamous). Reviewing the movie, Colin L. Westerbeck found director William Friedkin successful in “possessing” his audience:

The keystone of the film is not in any of those scenes where Regan (Linda Blair) is being exorcised, spewing bile and howling blasphemies, but much earlier when doctors think her fits result from a brain lesion. In scenes where her brain is being X-rayed, Friedkin depicts with documentary explicitness the injection and insertion into her neck of probes for a spinal tap. As she cringes with pain, enormous machine lurch and clank with a mechanical vengeance more horrific than anything unseen spirits have done to her so far.

When indeed the X-rays do not turn up any brain damage,“Life becomes unbearable,” Westerbeck wrote. “It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the Devil.”

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., an associate editor of Commonweal in the ‘70s, and William O’Malley, S.J., the actor who played Father Dryer in the movie, both wrote articles in Commonweal’s pages either trying to redeem or to exorcise the aim of Blatty’s novel. Schroth argued that, regardless of what Blatty set out to write, what he ended up bringing forth was a “piece of Catholic nostalgia of more service to the cause of supersititon than to true religion.” O’Malley (admitting first his role-in-the-movie bias) contended:

Even Father Schroth can't deny that this novel has drawn many readers at least to consider the possiblity of a personal reality transcending our senses. If one can make an audience, jaded by immensity, do that, he deserves better treatment -- and deeper study -- than Ray Schroth gave Bill Blatty.

To which Schroth responded:

The sense of "awe" brought on by the sight of human suffering is a poor gimmick to inspire faith...Blatty's "devil" in Regan did not increase the faith of any character in the novel. It killed two priests and got Regan's mother to believe in Satan, not in God. Nor has it increased Father O'Malley's already strong belief in God nor helped him make up his mind on whether there are devils. That's not religion. That's not awe. That's Show Biz."

About the Author

Kaitlin Campbell is Commonweal's Assistant Digital Editor.



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Best line I've seen so far about the two decade anniversary of this movie:

"'The Exorcist' Still Turns Heads at 40"


I was going to contribute this comment to the "Looking for a Good Scare" thread below, but figured it wasn't high-brow enough to qualify.  Like Dominic, I read a book as a 7th grader that scared the pants off me - in my case, it was The Exorcist.  All I can tell you is, after reading it, I became a believer.  And it's stayed with me.

I've never seen the film.  There aren't many films I've seen of books I've liked that haven't disappointed me (certainly, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is in this category), so I tend to stay away from them.

The Bells of St. Mary's.


I had to take a shot of insulin after watching it.



An earlier thread:

And it wasn't even Hallowe'en.

And yet, the book was based upon a true story per a graduate course at CTU taught by one of the Jesuits involved in the case.  The actual case was a young boy in a hospital in St. Louis.  Our primary goal in this course was to explain what we believed about a physical manifestation of the devil or evil - does it happen?

Fr. K, thanks for that link to the previous thread.  Man, there are some commenters from 2009 that I miss.  I note, too, that Jean surprisingly missed the bulls-eye with this: "Pleasantly surprised by LOTR. Sure beat reading those damn books." :-)

That William O'Malley SJ certainly was a snide and nasty little writer! 

Of course, I may be biased. Colin Westerbeck taught me creative writing and Ray Schoth taught me journalism when I was an undergraduate at Fordham in the late seventies. I found both of their reflections much more incisive and persuasive than anything O'Malley said in the essay linked above. Ugh. But then I think the fame of the Exorcist had very little to do with the quality of the work itself. Fame is a false gauge of importance.

NPR had a 40th anniversary interview with director William Friedkin today. There were several interesting tidbits about the production of the movie, but Friedkin was candid to admit that he believed that there had been some sort of evil presence in the person whose true story formed the basis for William Peter Blatty's book. Friedkin also related that though he was raised as a Jew, his research for the movie exposed him to the New Testament. Friedkin said that he he was greatly affected by the Jesus he met in the Gospels and that his great admiration for Jesus continues these 40-plus years later.

The Schroth piece is quite interesting.  Equally interesting - and perhaps an even more enjoyable read - is a negative book review by Mark Taylor, part of which appears on the last page of the Schroth piece.   It begins, "These dreadful books deserve review (if at all) only because two reputable, commercial publishers have seen fit to stamp them with their imprimaturs ..."  Those poor poets!

My old Greek teacher, Father Bermingham, was in that movie, too.  He mentioned the director a few times in class; I think Father Bermingham spoke highly of him,  and Fr. Berminham was a pretty great guy himself. Bermingham would get interviewed about exorcism from time to time after that movie, though I don't think it was anything he knew all that much about- he was a classicist.

"The Haunting"  (orignal version with Claire Bllom) I thought was really scary.  But when I was a very little girl, I saw a B-movie on TV, "Picture Mommy Dead" that gave me nightmares for months.  Also a movie about a killer wig had the same effect; I had to sleep with the lights on.  

My husband talks about a movie about a giant crawling eye that he saw as a kid that was really scary for him.

In the little town of Mt. Rainier, MD, a suburb of Washington, D.C., there was a vacant lot where, the story was, an exorcisim had had to be performed some decades ago.  All that was left was the short set of concrete stairs leading to nowhere and nothing.  I seen to recall this possessed house was said to be connected to "The Exorcist."  

The story behind The Exorcist is drawn from the stories of a boy in Mt. Ranier, MD, as mentioned by Fr. Komonchak, and the story of a boy in St. Louis, as mentioned by Bill deHaas.  As a Fordham undergraduate, I got to play a Georgetown student in the flim, ironies of ironies.  Many of the movie's interior scenes were filmed in New York. The scene I am in was shot on the top floor of the old Fordham Prep building.  Since they had a new schoolby then, the building was empty and not being used. I was unaware that it had been forty years, the time has sure flown by.  All I got for my part was $38 and lunch with the stars.  

Alan C. Mitchell and Fr. Komonchak (and anyone else who wants to answer),

Do demons or devils exist? Is demonic possession possible? Was the case on which The Exorcist was (loosely) based a credible case of possession? 

Jesus performed many healings and many exorcisms, and he is depicted as giving his disciples the power to do both. Exorcisms are still performed, but I am unaware of any attempted healings by bishops or priests. Why did exorcism continue as a rite but not healing? (Yes, there is the anointing of the sick, and prayers for the sick, but I am unaware of any Catholic clergy claiming the power to heal the sick.)


The Humanities are slowly being dropped in many universities.  Too bad that movies with important themes and which inspire serious discussion aren't routinely made part of the curriculum.  Some movies are as provocative as some novels.  Granted, movies and novels do different things well, but both raise important existential questions.  I say include, for instance, The Exorcist movie in Freshmen Humanities.  Kids these days are much more open to movies than to lit.  And why not? Not that movies alone are enough, but they belong in a liberal education. 


Do you think demons exist?

1)  In the early 60s (and probably before and after), if you went into the College Church at St. Louis U. during the afternoon, there would always be at least one green light on above a confessional.  Father Bowdern (on whom The Exorcist was based) was always there, waiting to hear confessions.  

2)  I read that he believed the boy was really possessed, but the other priest involved expressed doubt later.  

3)  David N., it doesn't hurt to have some holy water around or to say the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.  

4)  I didn't think The Exorcist was scary at all.  (As a little child I was scared by the headless horseman in the Disney version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.)


I wouldn't say yes and I wouldn't say no. I find the idea of demonic possession one of the most frightening things imaginable. Clearly many of the people involved in the actual case The Exorcist was partially based on thought it was an authentic case. ("Nine priests and 39 other witnesses signed the final ecclesiastical papers documenting Roland's experience, with Halloran, Bowdern and Bishop all going on record as to believing Roland's case to be one of actual possession.") The fact that the Church still carries out exorcisms in the 21st century indicates to me that somebody believes in demons.

Strange and inexplicable things do, it seems to me, happen. I am skeptical about the paranormal and supernatural, but  I don't rule out any possibilities.

I am extremely skeptical about Satan, fallen angels, and hell. That whole business makes no sense to me at all. And accepting for the sake of argument a lot more of the story of Christianity than I actually do, I can't for the life of me see why God would allow demons to roam the earth and tempt people, let alone possess them. However, I was a very serious pupil in Catholic school in the 1950s, and it left its mark. 

I am reminded of a Jewish guy I once knew who said that "Catholic hell" was such a potent concept that as a kid he was convinced he was going there. 

So my answer is, "I don't know." I can say that if a Catholic priest called me up and invited me to witness an exorcism, I would be absolutely terrified by the thought and would decline, no matter how skeptical I was about the existence of demonic possession. 

Grant, do you think demons exist? And did you think I raised the question with Alan C. Mitchell and Fr. Komonchak so I could scoff if they said demons do indeed exist? If so, you misjudged me. I think very highly of both of them and genuinely want to know what they think, Professor Mitchell being a New Testament scholar and Fr. Komonchak being a theologian who has always given extremely thoughtful answers to questions I have raised in the past. 

As a little child I was scared by the headless horseman in the Disney version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I was absolutely petrified by the headless horseman, and there was a large evergreen tree about 30 feet from my bedroom window that I associated with him. I suppose I thought he was in it or behind it. I was a kid, but I wasn't all that little.


When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Ruth Manning-Sanders' Book of Devils and Demons. She produced dozens of books for young readers, but that one I read incessantly (I told my school guidance counselor, on career day, that I wanted to be a demonologist when I grew up).

I love the Exorcist, and am  downright embarrassed for Schroth. I would like to give a brief shoutout to the Exorcist III. For a host of reasons, it could never be the sort of zeitgeist phenomenon of the 1st, but whereas the first sequel was just abysmal*, III actually has some legitimately scary stuff. The staircase scene was a horror touchstone for my fellow kids. Also: Brad Dourif.

*The first sequel really is just awful, but let the record show that John Boorman (who has directed a lot even worse than Exorcist II) followed the stinker up with Excalibur, which is really Boorman-ish, but also really good.

David - if you haven't seen it already, you might be interested in this 2006 lecture by Philip Jenkins entitled "Believing in the Global South".  Beyond the passage I'm pasting here, there is a bit more on the belief in evil spirits, and a lot of other interesting stuff.  


Demonology is credible for African and Asian churches in a way it can scarcely be for most educated westerners, and so are ideas of exorcism and healing. A leader of the West African Musama Disco Christo Church preaches: “We are all here in this church because we have found healing here. But for this church, the great majority of us here assembled would not be alive today. That is the reason why we are here.” The point is so obvious in Africa, and so very strange to western believers.

Spiritual healing is accepted across most denominations, including those that in North America would be regarded as strictly mainstream. At a healing revival in Uganda, a woman reported being cured of a spinal complaint. After this event, “a whole stream of people . . . stood up one by one to declare joyfully what Jesus had done for them. They had been dumb, mad or psychologically disturbed; crippled, epileptic, hemorrhaging; they had had cancer, epilepsy and asthma. By turns they declared that they had been healed by prayer and the power of the Lord Jesus. So many people wanted to testify that in the end the parish catechist simply resorted to calling out the afflictions and doing a head count of those who had been healed.” This may sound like the typical currency of charismatic movements the world over, except that this particular example occurred in a Roman Catholic church, through the ministry of an Indian priest, and the initial miracle described took place during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

Good summary:

Exorcism took place in St. Louis.

St. Louis University (Jesuit) had a convocation on the anniversary of this 1949 event - Thomas Allen who wrote the book from Bowdern's diary and Halloran's notes, was present as were a number of Jesuit theologians including one of my profs from CTU.

David - not sure I can answer your direct question.  Even like Rev. Halloran during the event, I am extremely skeptical.  But, our graduate course used actual records/data/documentation that came from Bowdern's diary; Halloran's observations, etc.  Basically, the final exam question was personal - do you believe in the devil?  What I can say, is that the course forced me personally to analyze my own feelings, thinking, and experience of and about evil.  Would offer that, IMO, evil exists in this world and others experience it in different ways; through different expressions, people, events.  Do I think that there is a physical being - devil - who roams the world?  Well, now my doubts and skeptism come into play.



Irene - "The Crawling Eye" (original title: "The Trollenberg Terror") was a staple on WPIX's Chiller Theater up to and thru the mid 70s. Forrest Tucker's best work outside of "F Troop."

Bill DeHaas

I am wary of the blog post you linked.  The guy quotes Thomas Eutneuer who is an unreliable witness.  He tried to revitalize exorcisms until he sexually abused a woman during one and that was the end of him.  Also the author identifies the Jesuits as "brothers" and (monks).  Furthermore, he cites Tom Allen whose book is filled with errors.He interviewed me for it and sent me a copy of it when it was published.  The exorcism was begun in DC as the author notes.  Blatty himself claimed the story was based on the boy in MD and the exorcism in St. Louis.  For a good long while people have tried to unravel the riddle of the Exorcist (hence, Allen's claim to know the true story), and I am not sure we know the full story yet.


David Nickol,

The questions you posed for me and Father Komonchak are excellent and challenging.  I do not think I can answer all of them.

Just as I do not beleive that God intervenes directly in the world or in peoples' lives, because that would compromise the freedom of the world and of humans, I cannot believe there is a devil who does that either.

I believe in good and evil, and that people can fall in love with good and become enamored with evil.  Some people can internalize the evils of society and its chaos as to become "possessed" by them.  Is this what happenes to individuals like Adam Lanza and others who commit atrocities similar to his? There is much about the human psyche that we do not know.  I do not think there are actual demons in the world as the ancients believed, but still we can speak of metaphorical demons which "possess" us to one degree or another, some people more some people less.  Obsessions and compulsions are real phenomena in our world.  In the ancient world exorcism was a pre-scientific form of psychotherapy.  Auto-suggestion is real, and so in treating "possessed" people today, in my opinion, psychotherapy should be preferred over exorcism.  

On Jesus' miracles and demons I could do no better than to recommend to you the chapter on Jesus' miracles in Gerhard Lohfink's excellent book on Jesus, the best available to us today.  it is Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was?


I was wrong in what i wrote earlier to Bill deHaas about Blatty's claim that The Exorcist was based on the story of the boy from Mt. Ranier, MD.  Blatty actually denied that claim and aaid he made the story up, according to this Washington Post story:  I had always thought he was infuenced by the boy's story when he was a studnet at Georgetown.  


What a richness in this post.  The exchance between O'Malley and Schroth is classic Jesuit repartee.  From the time you are a novice you cut your teeth among the best and the brightest.  In the pit of the dining room or the recreation room you master the skill.  Sometimes you bottom out and at others you succeed until eventually you master the art.  What better way to be prepared for the world ahead than to go toe to toe with smart people, who help you to become smarter.  And, in it allm you cannot help but notice the deep affection O'Malley and Schroth have for one another.   AMDG.

Alan C. Mitchell,

Thanks for your very thoughtful and interesting response to my questions. I bought the Lohfink book about a year ago, quite possibly on your recommendation. Now that I am retired, I should be able to find the time to read it.

Thanks again!

I think "The Blair Witch" project was one of the scariest movie I've ever seen ... because you don't really see anything. The horror is mostly left to your imagination, but you have a sense that some unseen presence is slowly drawing people toward it. I agree that "The Haunting of Hill House" is also pretty scary for the same reason. Ditto the original "Halloween."

Doesn't context have a lot to do with how you react to a movie? I saw "The Exorcist" at a late-late showing, and a lot of the audience had had quite a bit to drink. When Linda Blair was floating and Max von Sydow tells the devil, "I compel you to leave!" somebody in the back row yelled, "She ain't being compelled, honey!" it went on like that, and really took away most of the scares for me.

I'd never seen "Deliverance," so I was stupid enough to watch it on DVD at home alone when Raber was out of town. I always thought hillbillies were mostly figures of fun (like here:, but I found the movie pretty scary. 

Alan - agree with you and hesitated but reviewed a number of links and this one seemed to convey the best historical explanation based upon my memories.

Agree about Enteneur - what a mess.

Agree also that Allen may have had some gaps but then remember my prof saying that there were some differences of opinions about even the happenings - the memories were different; etc.

But, thanks - your post gives good caution.

The sheer diabolical inhumanity of many human beings points to the existence of some exterior force.  I don't think people created in the image and likeness of God could be so very bad without help.

I haven't spent much time thinking about the devil, but I don't believe that we can easily dismiss the weight of the biblical testimony or of the Church's tradition.  I get concerned, however, when people conceive or imagine him as almost an equal to God or Christ in a great cosmic combat.  The devil is a creature, no match for the Creator, and Christ has triumphed over all forces of evil by his death and resurrection. In addition, he has no power over our wills that could lead us where we do not ourselves choose to go.  So I do not give him anything like the significance some presentations of Christianity assign him.

 Luther is said to have been haunted by the thought of the devil, but his great hymn declares the great Christian conviction:

1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling. 
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? 
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us. 
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

To which I add the caution for those Catholics who think it enough to sing only one verse of a hymn. If one were to do that with this hymn, one would have the devil winning: "On earth is not his equal."


I remember the time that great hymn was sung in my parish.  The rule had recently been changed allowing some of the great old Protestant hymns to be sung in Catholic churches.  But I have never heard the hymn repeated  in a Catholic church.  I assume it's because Catholics these days don't really believe in Satan so it has become irrelevant.

I'm not sure what sort of principle of evil Satan really is, but it seems to me that because my generation  witnessed the uncovering of the Holocaust and the participation of some ordinary Germans in it, it became impossible for us to deny that terrible evil is indeed possible in this world but also that, paradoxically,  it is possible for ordinary people to ignore evil when it occurs around them and to deny their responsibility when they are "required" to participate in it.  

What I think we are seeing around us these days is the rejection of the idea that people are capable of being very evi.  If we don't sin badly,  it follows that  there's no reason to think there's a devil who helps us to do so.  Oh, terrible things are done, but we assume they're the result of mental problems, not palpable temptations and moral choices.  In such a framework "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" doesn't say anything of interest.

Yes, our whole concept of sin needs rethinking, including the concept of very evil human choices.  Not to mention the old idea of "temptation". That too seems to have been lost in the mists of history.  I don't think I've heard the word used in decades.  

Bill deHaas,

I am curious about one thing.  How did they arrive at the boy's name, Robby Mannheim?  In DC his identity was hidden under a pseudonym, Roland Doe.  I have read that it was local Church authorities, which I take to neam the Archbishop or the Chacery, that gave him that cover.  His name should never been used in any Church documents.  Did you run across it in the material you perused? An excerpt from the diary of Fr. Raymond Bishop, SJ, that I have seen, refers to him as Roland.

That brings up another point.  Was it Allen who claimed the diary belonged to Bowdern? The diary was kept by Bishop.

I watched a TV movie adaptation of "The Turn of the Screw" as a child and it haunted my memories for a long time. There was also another TV movie about a child who is bullied at school and finally commits suicide, with his parents madddeningly oblivious to the situation all along. And another one about a woman who is pestered by anonymous phone calls, figures out the source, starts giving him anonymous calls herself to get back at him, then is horrified when she witnesses her calls driving him to a sudden suicide, and the movie ends with her picking up the phone and the anonymous calls resuming - she had picked the wrong guy!

But even worse than all of those was the "Holocaust" TV series which I saw as a young teen. For me that was the scariest movie of all times.

My son watched "Jaws" with me when he was about 7 years old, and it stunted his swimming: for many years after that he was deeply reluctant to go into open water. But once he grew out of it, I got him to see another horror movie: he watched "An inconvenient truth" with me when he was about 12, and had trouble sleeping for days after that.


Pope John XXIII is often accused of "naive optimism," as is the Council's Gaudium et spes.  I don't agree with either characterization, but it has made me wonder why no one ever speaks of "naive pessimism," by which I would mean the tendency to attribute responsibility of evil to the devil instead of to human beings who are, as Ann says, capable of extraordinary evil--as the twentieth century has super-abundantly demonstrated.   It's like Flip Wilson's Geraldine: "The devil made me do it!"  As long as we palm the evil off on the devil, we don't have to face up to the evil in human wills and in human institutions.

Btw, me gustan los jueves de nostalgia.

I think the devil can provide a mythological construct for our understanding of incomprehensibe evil.  I agree, however, that this way of formulating it lets humans off the hook.  This is what I tried to express in my earlier post.  The biblical understanding of demonolgy shoud not be absolutely dismissed, but we need a hermeneutic to help us understand how that configuration of evil is present in a post biblical world.  

Alan - if I could find my class notes from 36 years ago, probably could answer your question. Thought that after so many years, the diaries of both Revs. Bishop and Bowdern were the source of the actual records of the events including the real name and that the request to the STL archbishop did include the actual name of the child.

Dark Shadows pretty much rocked, though. All of the kids on my block would watch it at 4 :00 pm after school. The episode where Anquelique the Witch got what was coming to her, we all poured out into the street to celebrate.

The radio also could be a medium of terror.  When I was a boy, we (my siblings and I) would be sent to bed at 8:00, and of course we'd talk for a while in bed, but I always hoped to be asleep by 9:00 because there was a mystery drama that ended just before 9:00 with a warning: "Be on the lookout for So-and-so (supply the worst-sounding name you can imagine) who was convicted of murder but has escaped from Sing-Sing (which was just across the Hudson from our home) and is believed to be in neighborhood and is presumed to be armed and dangerous."  I kept expecting to see him peering in our bedroom window.

And then there was a show in which the bad guy has a wooden leg.  Terrifying sound effects would tell us when he was approaching to do some dastardly deed. 

I might suggest "I, Lucifer," the novel by Glen Duncan to conversants here. I think it's overly long (a criticism I seem to be throwing at a lot of books these days). The ending ***SPOILER TO FOLLOW; DON'T READ MORE IF IT'S ON YOUR TBR LIST*** is that Lucifer only thinks he is orchestrating any of the evil of the world; complete impotence is his true punishment. Lucifer exists, but he is made to understand that the horrors he believes he has inspired and suffered agonizing pain through the ages for, have been concocted by humans alone. It's his final punishment--that he is completely irrelevant and pointless, his physical sufferings now compounded with psychic ones coming from the knowledge that he is useless.

Wonder if any theologian has come up with a similar idea or has worked over the novel. I thought it was a pretty interesting idea.

I like the way Jim Mc Crea put it;the shear  diabolical inhumanity of people, made in God's image,  [ their behavior] points to the existence of an exterior force.I believe that Demonic reality is present in acts of great cruelty. I believe I felt it when I read a magazine article on the Cambodian genocide;the shear cold cruelty of the tortures  as presented in that article made me aware of the reality of the devil.I regret I  read the article[the Atlantic Monthly, I believe it was. It was left at my work station while I was  on the night shift, and I read it during my breaks in the middle of the night.I hesitated to read it because I knew it would be horrible but the temptation to know was there and i gave in to it as the magazine cover  headlined "the Tortures" and I had to know]. The man and woman who ran the place pictured in the magazine LOOKED SO ORDINARY and that they could do such horrors is beyond human[IMO].I wish I had never seen the article. That it was placed in front of me is itself demonic ,I believe. So too seeing a simple black and white  pencil drawing ,depicting the prisoners and the prison camps  of North Korea and reading the acompanying article[on a web site,another thing I wish i never came across] for me anyway, revealed the reality of the devil.I also believe that the devil is involved in the bizarre fact that Assad has managed to get the right, left and center to side with him  after he has gassed his own people and is comitting a holocaust.                                                                                                                                            The movie The Exorcist did not scare me ,the Headless Horseman did as a child as did that Chiller Theater monster eye and the Twilight Zone music.

Irene, didn't Angelique wind up being a quote good guy endquote?

--  The radio also could be a medium of terror. --

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

To a young whippersnapper in the rural Midwest in the early 1950s, that opening line of each radio show could cause goosebumps.

Abe: I think Angelique did turn out good in the end. Same with Quentin the werewolf. who was a really bad guy when he first showed up- kind of like the ghost in Turn of the Screw - I 'm not sure he was still a werewolf at the end, but he was a good guy.

I just loved that show when I was little.


My dad told me about his uncle, a presbyter, called to a farmhouse to investigate a levitating bed in the dead of winter (the locale may have been rural Ontario or Kentucky).  I don't recall what my great uncle may have found or determined, but, upon looking out the bedroom window, he noticed footprints in the snow.  He went outside, followed the tracks --- until they suddenly disappeared in the middle of a field!  I remember the good sisters teaching us in the 1950s/early 60s that the devil didn't need to tempt us to sin:  Being lazy, all he had to do was sit back, relax, and watch us sin well enough on our own!

the locale may have been rural Ontario or Kentucky

Same difference.

The (London) Tablet in its Oct 26 issue has a book review of "The Devil Within:  Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West."


"In the end, this book is a study of strangeness . what Freud called Das Unheimliche ("the uncanny") - as it erupted in the early modern period, specifically the seventeenth century.  That which was repressed in society, its fears and fantasies, was manifest in a repetitive series of religious reactions and counter-responses.  The mistake which is all too easy to make is to imagine that the possibility for similiar epidemics to resurface is past.  But Levack (the author) is surely right to insist that when those forces lurking in the underground break through to the daylight, they always take a form that is born of a particular age and speak in a dialect that has been crafted by a specific community."

I just came upon these comments of St. Augustine:

"Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world is coming”–who is this but the devil?–“and in me he has nothing” (Jn 14:30), that is, no sin at all. Thus he indicates that the devil is the prince, not of creatures, but of sinners whom he here calls “the world.” Whenever the word “world” is used in a negative sense, it refers to lovers of this world, of whom elsewhere it is written: “Whoever would be a lover of this world would become an enemy of God” (Jas 4:4). We must not, then, understand the devil to be the prince of this world as if he somehow wielded power over the whole world, over heaven and earth and all that is in them, the world, that is, of which it was said, with a reference to Christ, “And the world was made by him” (Jn 1:10). The whole world, then, from the highest heavens to the lowest earth, is subject to the Creator not to the deserter, to the Redeemer not to the destroyer, to the Deliverer not to the enslaver; to the Teacher not to the deceiver.

And in what sense the devil is to be understood as the prince of the world  is still more clearly unfolded by the Apostle Paul, who, after saying, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood," that is, against men, went on to say, "but against principalities and powers, and the world-rulers of this darkness” (Eph 6:12).4].  For in the very next word he explained what he meant by "world," when he added, "of this darkness;" so that no one would understand “world” to mean all of creation of which in no way are the fallen angels the rulers. “Of this darkness," he says, that is, of the lovers of this world. Some of these lovers were chosen, not from any merit of their own but by God’s grace, and to them Paul said: “You once were darkness but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:*). For all were once under the rulers of this darkness, that is, of wicked men–darkness under darkness, as it were. But "thanks be to God, who has delivered us," says the same apostle, "from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:12-13), in whom the prince of this world, that is, of this darkness, had nothing. (Augustine, In Ioannem Tr. 79, 2)

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