A year ago, Christopher Olson and I published a book on the representation of exorcisms in cinema. Possessed Women, Haunted States: Cultural Tensions in Exorcism Cinema (November 2016) was a comprehensive analysis of films across time and culture for the common themes surrounding who was the possessed and who was the exorcist. This analysis concluded that a “traditional exorcism narrative” exists that positions women, people of color, and queer individuals as those who present dangers to themselves and others, and typically a white male is needed to remove the demon, and the threat, this marginalized person poses.
In the book is our Filmography or list of fiction films we found that have depictions of exorcism. We did not include documentaries on this list, and we did include films that feature a variety of attempts to remove the demon or invading entity from the possessed person. Thus the list includes films that feature Catholic, Judaic, Islamic, Voodoo, Shinto and other religious exorcisms, as well as other acts that serves as exorcisms, such as violence.
Using these parameters, we put together a list of 125 films, beginning with:
- Der Dibuk (aka The Dybbuk). Poland: Michal Waszynski, 1937.
Now that a year has passed, we decided to start the work on updating the list so it could include films that have come out since publication, or films that we missed when we first wrote the book.
First, in doing some additional research into previous films, we learned that the following may need to be added to the list:
- xxx. Beloved. USA: Jonathan Demme, 1998.
- xxx. The Order. USA: Brian Helgeland, 2003.
Beloved, for instance, appears to feature an exorcism in it, although the film itself is not a horror film. Analyzing this film would make for an interesting comparison with other exorcism cinema. The Order appears to be more related to early 2000 films that question the secrecy of Catholicism — in relation to the revelations about Church cover-ups of priests molesting children — but the film also involves exorcism, at least in the history of the main character, the priest played by Heath Ledger. Thus, the film needs to be considered for adding to the list.
Along with these two films, another 18 films could be added to an updated list. Of these 18, only 4 have not yet been verified. The 4 films in bold need verification that an exorcism is depicted on screen; I have been in contact with the directors of those four films and will update this list once they have gotten back to me. The remaining 14 all appear to have such an exorcism. Thus, the list currently is:
- Geomeun sajedeul (aka The Priests). South Korea: Jang Jae-hyun, 2015.
- Tor dei gui mou yan (aka Keeper of Darkness). China: Nick Cheung, 2015.
- Scream at the Devil: Exorcism of the Mind: USA: Joseph Stachura, 2015.
- Dark Exorcism (aka …In the Dark). USA: David Spaltro, 2015.
- Forsaken. USA: Justine Price, 2016.
- No Estamos Solos (aka We Are Not Alone). Peru: Daniel Rodriquez Risco, 2016.
- Exorcist House of Evil. United Kingdom: David Trotti, 2016.
- Zhong xie (aka The Possessed, aka Exorcism). China: Kai Ma, 2016.
- Amityville Exorcism. USA: Mark Polonia, 2017.
- Devil’s Whisper. USA: Adam Ripp, 2017.
- Exorcism of the Dead. Canada: John Migliore, 2017.
- Ruqyah: The Exorcism. Indonesia: Jose Poernomo, 2017.
- Islamic Exorcist. India: Faisal Saif, 2017.
- Possession Project X. Romania: Peter Wolf, 2017.
- Exorcism of the 7th Demon. USA: John Reign, 2017.
- The Possessed. USA: Shawn Anthony, 2018.
- The Last Exorcist. USA: Robin Bain, 2018.
- Exorcistas Carinhosos (aka Cute Exorcist). Brazil: Vinicius Santos, 2018.
About half of this list are films we missed when we first put together our filmography. Several came from outside of the United States, and thus may not have been as easy to find at the time as they are now, a couple years after their release. The ones produced in the United States were all indie films, which also do not receive the same distribution and marketing as higher budget or mainstream films.
As of now, at least 10 films have come out, or are scheduled to come out, since the publication of our book. Since more films continue to be greenlit and released, this list will continue to be updated to reflect the new films, and an updated list will hopefully be added to any future edition of the book.
In these new 18 films, we see even more cultures and nations representing exorcisms in their films. Along with films from well-established film cultures in China and South Korea is Ruqyah: The Exorcism from Indonesia, which is also using Twitter to market the film internationally: https://twitter.com/RUQYAHmovie.
Additionally, Islamic Exorcist from India includes a rare depiction of an Islamic exorcism — the only other example we know of such a depiction comes from Turkey with Seytan. Islamic Exorcist uses Facebook to reach the international audience: https://www.facebook.com/IslamicExorcist. I was able to verify that the film depicts an Islamic exorcism with the film’s director via Facebook Messenger, who sent me this image to share.
Indeed, Facebook and Twitter have been useful for verifying the depiction of exorcism in these newer or yet-to-be-released films. For example, Robin Bain confirmed the exorcism in her film via Twitter, as John Reign did for his film via Facebook. The use of social media in film marketing helps these lower budget films reach a wider audience, including a global audience who might be interested in their work.
Now, it should be noted that we haven’t been able to watch any of these films yet. A horror fan who has been of tremendous help to us, ChillerPop, has watched some, and his viewing has helped keep us alerted to new films we need to check out. But because we have not watched these films, we cannot yet verify their content and the exact nature of the exorcism’s depiction.
I can say, having watched trailers for the majority of the films on this list, that they appear to align with the traditional exorcism narrative in representing who is the possessed and who is the exorcist. Again, the films commonly show women being possessed and becoming a threat and men having to save them and the world. Thus, from what I have seen in the trailers, the films appear to replicate the ideas we discussed in our book on how possession works to empower the marginalized and exorcism works to return the marginalized to a state of oppression.
But, again, that assessment comes only from the trailers, which often cannot demonstrate the nuances of the narrative that may lead to the film’s critiquing this traditional exorcism narrative. I look forward to watching them — especially the ones from outside of the United States — to see how their social and cultural values relate to this seemingly globalized traditional exorcism narrative.
Until then, I encourage everyone to check out these films, and the other 125 on our original filmography, and let us know what you think about the depiction of possession and exorcism in them. What is your reading of those cinematic depictions?
UPDATE #1: ChillerPop brought to my attention the following scene:
I had totally forgotten about this sequence, but it does show a wiccan exorcism ceremony. More than that, it shows women as exorcists, which is rare. And more than that, it shows women saving a woman from a masculine invasive spirit, which is insanely rare.
So, we have to add it to the list:
xxx. Practical Magic. USA: Griffin Dunne, 1998.