The Real Exorcist, Channel 4

by | Feb 24, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

A spine-chilling mixture of drama and documentary telling the story of the 1949 exorcism of a young possessed teenager called Richard that inspired William Peter Blatty’s novel and the subsequent film that terrified millions.

What to say if you didn’t like it

A docu-drama that favoured cheap thrills and terrors over scientific information, thus largely missing the chance to skewer the story of a 1949 exorcism as the religious claptrap it really is.

What was good about it?

• The dramatisations of the exorcism were effective and, while not exactly terrifying (that wasn’t the point), the performances did make it quite disturbing.

• The real life Spanish exorcist Father Fortea (with his incredible bulging eyes and interesting beard that afforded him a surprisingly devilish veneer) telling how he’s been exorcising one woman for two years. She’d apparently had an affair with a rabid satanist and every time Father Fortea managed to rid her body of some spirits, the satanists replaced them again. He said it was like a tug-of-war. Gruesome.

• The programme managed to interview the only surviving witness of the original exorcism, Father Walter Halloran, who had to restrain devil-boy Richard while Father William Bowden performed the exorcism over four weeks. This gave credence to the story as Halloran was clearly still disturbed by the episode and was utterly convinced that the boy was not faking, deliberately or otherwise.

• The information that after the movie The Exorcist was released, people in America (and probably elsewhere) flocked back to religion. Churches everywhere began to get more and more requests for exorcisms. Sounds like the devil can be a real boon for business.

• The information that Richard went on to be a scientist and has apparently no recollection of the exorcism at all.

• While we heard that Richard shouted insults to do with masturbation at the fathers, the worst we heard him yell was “You ox!”, which was pretty funny – the devil needs to work on his insults.

• The apparent candour of the Evangelical Lutherans (the faith that Richard’s family belonged to), who took one look at the possessed boy and told the family to call a Catholic priest.

What was bad about it?

• The professors and psychologists interviewed gave perfectly rational explanations for why Richard may have acted as he did (a form of epilepsy, for example), but it was surely a little far-fetched that it could have been a mere ‘prank’ or ‘mischief’ as Prof Thomas Sachy suggested. Carrying on the charade, punching and urinating over the gathered Fathers every night for a month would take some amazing resilience and willpower that apparently just disappeared after 28 days.

• Some interesting things were left totally unexplained (unless it’s just our ignorance on the subject) such as, why was ‘LOUIS’ the first word to be carved onto Richard’s chest?

• Along the same lines, we were told that Father Bowden regarded baptising Richard as his most potent weapon against the devil. But there was no explanation at all as to why it took him 17 days of chanting from the Rituale Romanum before he decided to bring out this big gun.

• The programme was broadly a documentary with elements of drama added in and while this told the story pretty well, the scientists were marginalised somewhat, meaning we didn’t learn a lot more than the film told us in 1973.

• Oddly, Richard was always fine during the day and only went really crazy during the actual exorcism at night. Maybe Father Bowden should have just left him alone.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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