William Friedkin’s film L’Exorciste, released in 1973, is still part of today’s scene as one of the most terrifying and cult horror films of all time. But also, without a doubt, one of the best possession films ever made equalled so far. But did you know that the film’s origin was a book written by William Petter Blatty in 1971 with the same title, itself inspired by a real ownership story in 1949 in Mont Rainier, Maryland (USA).
Image from the film The Exorcist (1973) by William Friedkin
In 1949, the young Roland Doe, whose real name was Robbie Mannheim, lived with his parents in the quiet little town of Mount Rainier. Robbie was a young 14-year-old teenager, quite introverted but studious. He was also an average student at school.
Robbie was very close to her aunt Harriett, a spiritual medium who regularly used the Ouija for her spiritual games, in which she trained the young Robbie. But Harriett died after a long illness leaving Robbie alone and depressed. He then made the decision to use the board he inherited, and locked himself in his room for long hours to communicate with the cursed board. His parents, convinced that it would be good for his grief, let him do it. But unfortunately for the young man and his parents, he managed to get in touch with someone, who was not his aunt and even less a “beneficial” entity.
Shortly after the death of Aunt Harriett, small noises began to be heard in the house, the most heard was in the young teenager’s room. Gradually, the noises became more and more violent, and spread throughout the house. Then the small scratches became brutal blows against the wall, objects that moved from one place to another were thrown violently against the inhabitants or visitors of the house. At the same time, Robbie changed his character, he became more and more withdrawn, and at night, strange noises and screams came from his room, in order to determine if it was from him or someone else….
One day a friend next door to the family, was able to observe Robbie sitting in a chair, being thrown several meters away, without any rational explanation being known. As at school, her desk began to shake and her things were thrown out in front of the stunned eyes of the other students and her teacher. Same thing, when he was in his bed, he then began to tremble.
Helped by Robbie’s neighbours and relatives, his parents then decided to contact the Anglican Church in their city, which then agreed to contact Fathers Raymond Bishop, Hughes, Halloran and William S. Bowdern, a famous Catholic exorcist priest.
After investigation, Father Bowdern asked for permission to perform an exorcism on the son of the Mannheim family. The church agreed, provided that the father had to keep a diary of the facts during the purification process. It is precisely this journal that William Petter Blatty will have access to for the book The Exorcist, but also, written by Father Bowdern, who was never questioned about his statements and experiences on the beings of the lower astral, so no one can ever question the veracity of the facts.
It took several months and daily prayer sessions to get the demon, the particularly ferocious lower astral entity, out of the young teenager’s body. The more the priests made sessions to drive out the demon, the more aggressive, violent, mocking, insulting he became. Father Hughes had stitches on his arm when he was hospitalized, Robbie demolished his bed and grabbed a spring to open the priest’s arm. There were also bites, sputum, sexual proposals of the possessed against his exorcists.
According to Father Bowdern’s diary, the young Mainnhem was not baptized, and his aversion to churches, sacred texts, made exorcism delicate and difficult because the priests wanted to convert the child to Catholicism to deliver him from the devil.
Subsequently, bruises appeared mystically on Robbie’s body, bite marks, and inscriptions, including “help me” which can also be found in the film. Likewise, when the priests ordered the demon to make himself known, he replied to them when he was legion. After several weeks of spiritual struggles, Father Bowdern saw his health decline, and worried that he would not be able to complete his exorcism. Nevertheless, as all seemed lost and the priests began to lose the child, more and more rooted in his possession and aversion to sacred texts, he changed abruptly and began to say, in an amazing way:
“Satan! Satan! I am Saint Michael and I command you, Satan, and the other evil spirits, to leave this body now! “
New marks appeared on his body, which was the words “hell” “demon” “evil”. Some time after uttering these words, it seemed that the demon, or at least the demons, had left the body of the young boy, who went quietly to Mass without ever returning to the phenomena of hauntings and possessions.
Robbie Mannheim also lost his memory of the terrifying events, he is now married and grandfather and gives no interviews on his story, in order to remain as anonymous as possible.
Highlighted image credit: The Exorcist (Film) / Unknown