When I decided on this theme for this week I did it for two reasons. The first reason was because I love researching the true stories behind “based on a true story” movies and books. I like seeing how many facts actually made it in the book or the script and how much is just Hollywood fluff that is written just to get you to spend some money. The second reason is because I wanted to have an excuse to finally watch the movie that I am writing about in this post. I have never seen The Exorcist. It came out before I was born and just never had the opportunity or the urge to really see it. I kind of remember reading the book as a teenager but after that one crucifix scene, I think I chucked the book. I just finished watching the movie and honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with it.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the movie or the book (they both came out in the ’70s) allow me to give you a very brief synopsis. The Exorcist is about a 12-year-old girl named Regan who starts acting strangely after playing with an ouija board. The child starts speaking in tongues, levitating, moving furniture, and acting erratically. Her actress mother takes her to a series of doctors that fail to give her a logical diagnosis. One doctor recommends an exorcism ritual to end the psychosis. The mother contacts a local priest who helps her with getting an exorcism for her daughter. Then all hell breaks loose so to speak.
I knew that this story was based on a true story but I didn’t realize until this year that the real story actually has ties to a place much closer to home than the movie let on. In the movie and book, the story took place in Washington D.C. but the actual story took place in both Maryland and 3 hours south of where I am, in St Louis, MO. The more I read about the real story, the more I realized how much Hollywood twisted. The only things in common between the movie/book and the real story are that a child was possessed, an ouija board may have been involved, and an exorcism happened. All other details were made up.
The true story is about a 13-year-old boy growing up just outside of Washington D.C. in the 1940s. Roland Hunkeler was an only child who lived with his mother and father. Since he had no brothers or sisters to play with, he often spent time with his Aunt Harriet. His Aunt Harriet was a spiritualist who taught him how to use the ouija board and basic witchcraft. When she passes, Ronald becomes obsessed with using the ouija board to contact his Aunt Harriet. At first, when he is able to talk to her spirit through the board, everything seemed fine. Then suddenly things took a creepy turn. Ronald started hearing furniture moving in his room, clawing sounds in the walls, and pipes clanking together. His family also claimed to have heard these sounds. Soon they heard angry voices in the house and witnessed claw marks on Roland’s body.
His family tried to help him. They took him to doctors and psychiatrists who could figure out what ailed the boy. When the medical experts failed to help them, the family turned to their Lutheran pastor. The pastor, in turn, recommended that they may need a Catholic exorcism to heal Ronald. A local Catholic priest by the name of Father Hughes comes over to perform the exorcism. During the exorcism, Ronald was able to snap a mattress spring out of the mattress that he was strapped to and hit Father Hughes on the shoulders with it. Father Hughes stopped the exorcism for his safety. After the exorcism was ended, LOUIS was found to be craved into Ronald’s chest. His family thought this was a sign that they were supposed to go to St. Louis where they had family living there.
After traveling to St. Louis, a cousin helps the family get in contact with two other Jesuit priests by the name of Raymond Bishop and William Bowdern. Bishop and Bowdern came to the home that Ronald’s family was staying at in St. Louis. They witnessed Ronald speaking in tongues and reacting to Christian objects. The priests gathered the evidence they needed in order to gain permission to perform an exorcism from the Catholic Church.
Once permission was granted to the two priests, they began to perform the first of several exorcisms on Ronald in the psychiatric ward at The Alexian Brothers Hospital. This was done there so that medical staff could monitor Ronald and provide care if needed. Multiple exorcisms took place at the hospital. During these exorcisms, a third priest by the name of Walter Halloran joined the other two priests to help them. During the exorcisms, the priests witnessed vulgar words and symbols being carved into Ronald’s skin. Ronald became increasingly violent, especially when presented with a holy or blessed object by the priests. Halloran, unfortunately, had his nose broken at one point during the exorcism by Ronald.
The exorcism continued daily until the day after Easter. That day the priests were able to exorcize the demon or Satan or whoever was possessing Ronald’s body. Ronald stayed in the hospital for a few more days so that his body could heal from the damage of the possession and the exorcism. After Ronald was released from the hospital, he went on to live a normal, unremarkable life.
Maybe it’s just me, but I would would have rather seen a movie based more on Ronald’s events than what The Exorcist showed. The real events were crazy enough without having to change things to fit Hollywood’s agenda. But like I said, that may just be me. I know of a bunch of people who loved The Exorcist and were actually freaked out by it. They are going to hate the fact that I was bored by it. Oops.