The Exorcist: The True Story Behind The Film

First Published: July 13, 2016 Last updated: May 10th, 2017 Written by Ian Stephens Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Are you a fan of the horror genre? Most of us are. Nothing is more thrilling than scaring yourself silly. Likewise, nothing is more terrifying than trying to work out how you would handle events in horror movies. However, one issue with horror movies is that they tend to paint an awkward picture of really scary stuff.

As a horror fan, you’ve no doubt seen The Exorcist. The 1973 movie was a massive hit and, to this day, inspires horror fans, writers and directors with ease. The movie was a great way to give publication to the terrifying story of Roland Doe. Doe was exorcised in 1949, and this goes on to take on a major amount of creative liberties with the real story.

Whilst a great tale, the actual “facts” of The Exorcist aren’t quite as clear cut as hoped. It’s obviously acceptable to add a bit of creative flair, but The Exorcist – and many other horror tales – go too far. Instead, they create unsteady ground for the realism of genuine paranormal activity and horror to succeed.

Horror movies make actors and directors a lot of money, and audience’s smiles. They tend to have a more brutal effect on the legitimacy of horror, though. People begin to relate horror situations as “like something from a movie”.

Exorcist cover

Exorcist cover

In reality, though, the horror movies are “like something from real-life”. It’s time that we started to accept that and appreciate it, which we’ll be doing in this piece. We’ve taken a look at the real Exorcist story, and want to try and shine a light on what the real tale was. This should help you see that horror can be even more terrifying than its artistic representation – sometimes, reality tends to be even scarier!

VIDEO: The Exorcist 1973 Trailer

The Basis of the Movie

The first thing that we need to do, then, is take a look at the factual basis for the movie itself. If you have never seen The Exorcist, go and watch it now.

Movie artwork poster for The Exorcist

Movie artwork poster for The Exorcist

The film takes the story of the 1940s exorcism of a young boy. Various priests of the Roman Catholic Church had to engage in an exorcism in the United States to help a young boy. Nobody knows the real name of the young boy, only known as either Roland Doe or Robbie Mannheim. Whatever name you decide to go with, the story is the same.

Born in 1935, this young boy was the victim of an alleged possession by a demon. What the movie attempts to follow, then, is the possession itself and the events as recorded by the priests. The attending priest who dealt with the exorcism, Raymond Bishop, is where much of the story comes from.

This, then, is the “factual” basis for the 1971 book and the movie which followed two years later. However, the “entertainment” of these books use the supposed factual happenings to create a good story. The story itself, though, comes from a newspaper article. Several newspapers in mid-1949 were producing wide numbers of anonymous reports about possession and exorcisms taking place. It’s believed the family pastor, Luther Schulze, was the one who let the information out to the press. According to an account at the time, close to fifty people witnessed the event take place.

A popular author of the time, Thomas B. Allen, recorded much of what occurred. He spoke in 2013, saying that the proof of possession was no longer attainable. He believed instead that the boy perhaps suffered from mental delusion, illness or that his actions were the after-effect of years of abuse.

Exorcisms of the Time

Otherwise, it’s believed that the whole event was actually fabricated by the boy for attention. However, according to Allen, events had to be dealt with. The life of the family had taken a strange turn after the death of a loved auntie. The usual things like furniture moving around, objects levitating as the boy was nearby etc. and it was at this point that a decision was made to look for some kind of help.

The family decided to enlist the help of a local Lutheran pastor, Schulze. Schulze had the boy stay in the home himself to observe the child, and noted otherworldly events. The likes of objects moving on their own again etc.

Afterward, the child went through multiple exorcisms. One of the exorcisms took play at the Jesuit institution of Georgetown University Hospital. We know this as Edward Hughes, a prominent RC priest, conducted this exorcism on the boy.

Hughes claims that, as the exorcism occurred, the boy broke free of his restraints, pulled bedspring from the mattress, and attacked. He slashed the priests arm and, as such, the exorcism ended. Flummoxed, they turned to the St. Louis University and Raymond J. Bishop. Bishop turned to William Bowdern, an associate, and both priests arrived to see the child.

What they found haunted them – shaking beds, flying objects, guttural tones from the child. The most striking element, though, was the supposed rejection of the child to anything that could even be seen as slightly sacred in any fashion.

Levitating above bed: from the film.

Levitating above bed: from the film.

The Final Attempt

After receiving permission, they began yet another exorcism attempt on the child. However, another person helped out this time – Waler Halloran. Walter also brought along Jesuit priest William Van Roo. As a group, they performed the exercise. Halloran states that words like “evil” appeared on the child as they went through with the event. They also claim that the mattress shook heavily. This occurred most during the Litany of the Saints portion of the ritual.

The child even broke the nose of Halloran during the ritual! However, Halloran did state that after the events, the child left an “ordinary” life.

Does this mean that it worked? Or that nothing was going on in the first place?

Anyway, this is the “factual” basis for the rest of The Exorcist. Now, you can see what may be true, and what is 100% part of the movie alone.

VIDEO: The True Story behind The Exorcist

The Real Story

Whilst we know that the film is fictionalized and that the claims of the “true” events are probably similar, the real story out there is very interesting. One of the most interesting elements of the real story, though, is probably the fact that glossolalia occurs.

This is what many would probably see as the child – like in the movie, and indeed Roland – talking nonsense during the event. A major element of an exorcism is someone being able to talk a language that they do not know normally, a clear sign of possession apparently.

This, though, differs in a major way from what glossolalia is. This condition means that you just talk incoherently for long periods of time, like you’ve temporarily lost your mind. To the untrained ear, though, glossolalia sounds like they are talking Latin to some. Even to those who know Latin, it has some similarities at times.



The problem is that this sounds brilliant for talking about exorcisms. Sound ancient demon who is making a possessed kid talk in Latin? It’s like the tick-box for a possession. Even the old term of someone “talking in tongues” is to do with the same event; this is glossolalia, albeit in a different manner.

The flailing around and the sense of perceived euphoria? That’s part of glossolalia, not possession. However, this is seen in the movie and has now gone some way to making sure that people equate both together.

The Theatrical Aspect

The point we are trying to make is that many old forms of exorcism that we associate with “the truth” come from this movie. A movie that does a poor and rather ungratifying take on what an exorcism would be like. This now has created the general idea that this is what you would expect if you were to go through with an exorcism.

We have to praise the brilliance of the directorship that comes into the movie, though – the team behind the film have done an exceptional job of making it about as terrifying as it has to be. The masterful direction of the exorcism is great for footage, but not so great for those pesky things called facts.

Sadly, the world of exorcisms is now seen purely through this prism. Many people turn to this particular story and see it as a “rough idea” of what to expect when the reality differs so much. The only elements we can use to base what we see in the movie with real-life are the eyewitness accounts of the real event.

The problem is that eyewitness accounts on something so specific are hard to believe. With no photos, no imagery and no videos whatsoever to use, we have just the “take” of those who were there. Are you really likely to spill the beans on what it was really like with all of that press attention?

The theatrical aspect played a major role in the development of this unfortunate theory.

VIDEO: Real Exorcisms caught on Tape

Interesting Claims

Many interesting claims exist about the real story. For example, one thing that seems to be left out a lot is that, in a desire to “cure” the box, the priests put him through six weeks of torment. They tried to make him eat a communion waver into his mouth and baptize him to try and “have more power” over the spirits. Does this not all sound a little harrowing?

Imagine your own child was dealing with such a perilous problem. Would you really be happy with a group of priests pressuring the child in such specific circumstances and scenarios?

The most interesting claim, though, is that the boy himself seemingly rejected the spirits himself. Witnesses claim that, one day, he sprang up from his bed and yelled “Satan! Satan! I am Saint Michael, and I command you, Satan and the other evil spirits, to leave the body now.”

After that, the boy apparently started to regain normality in his life. He grew up, lived a life outside of the spotlight, got marred himself, had children, and lived a quiet simple life. Is it really likely that this all happened? Did he really sit forward and denounce the supposed evil spirits?

Further Investigation

In the 1990s, an investigation took place into the reality of what an exorcism holds and contains. It was released by the author we mentioned earlier, Thomas Allen. His findings into the reality of the story versus what was claimed, too, is quite shocking.

Here are just some of the “facts” that made up the story of the movie that turned out to be hokum;

  • The exorcism took place in a different location, not 3210 Bunker Hill Road.
  • The boy never even lived in Mt. Ranier in the first place.
  • There’s no evidence that more or less any part of the story is even true. We looked for references and facts that back up just about everything in the true version of the story. Nothing exists – it’s never documented or fact checked.
  • Father Hughes never even visited the boy’s home, apparently. Indeed, the vast majority of the involvement of Hughes and his aftermath is seen as nothing but hearsay.
  • In fact, the investigation concluded that every expert seen what they wanted. Psychiatrists seen a mentally ill boy. Priests seen a boy who was possessed. Authors and producers seen a terrifying story that was a gold mine.

Even the ideas of “demonic strength” are ruined in the further investigations that happened. Breaking news: the force of an angry teenager could hurt an adult!

Real exorcism

Real exorcism


We’re pretty damn doubtful of that, to be honest. Exorcisms after all have been shown not to be the magic they are in the movie. The real story is that exorcisms, whilst “successful”, can cause major problems. Many young lives have been ruined by an exorcism. Indeed, they tend to leave lasting physical and mental scars.

Whilst the child The Exorcist is based on never seemed to suffer from these problems, this is not a lone incident. Exorcisms happen far more than we think and they tend to have the same zealotry involved. Given that it’s a deeply religious event, only those with deep religious ties should see it as a genuine event, in our opinion.

Take the 2005 story of the 23-year-old Romanian nun. She was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, and died of dehydration and suffocation. Why did this happen? Because she was tied to a cross!

These “saviors” gagged her with a towel, and let her there for three days without any food or water. She died from these attempts to save her. Whilst The Exorcist may be a great watch, the true story of exorcisms is even scarier than the move itself.

An exorcism is, for all intents and purposes, seriously damaging to a child. An eight-year-old child was killed by exorcism in 2003. He was asphyxiated and died. His crime? He was autistic…

There’s not really any legitimate basis for believing that exorcisms are particularly real. Whilst it might work in the mind of the zealots who perform them and the desperate people looking for answers, their ideology and very usage is a craven, morally bankrupt exercise.

In the modern world we tend to look at elements of exorcism and associate them with torture. A good move it may be, but it’s not true and – if it was – it’d be even more terrifying. The only thing scarier than the hyped up TV exorcism of the movie is what people can do when they try it in reality.

About Ian Stephens

Ian Stephens is an editor and writer for UFO Insight. He has a keen interest in the fields of strange phenomena, UFOs and aliens. He is also interested in space, physics and science in general. Writing for over 10 years in these fields, Ian has a lot of experience and knowledge to share.

Ian has written a total of 95 articles for UFO Insight. You can contact Ian via email.

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