From the infamous cross scene to its haunting Tubular Bells score, the 1973 film The Exorcist possessed the cinematic world in demonic fashion. Here are a few more true story exorcism movies for a spooky weekend marathon.

The true story behind The Exorcist

Based on the alleged possession of Roland Doe in 1949, The Exorcist, starring Linda Blair as 12-year-old Reagan MacNeil, paints an accurate picture of the 14-year-old’s demonic plight, from an introduction to the Oujia board, to the criss-cross scars mysteriously forming words on the boy’s body.

According to witness accounts, Roland’s bed shook, objects moved, and the teen spewed forth obscenities considered far too scathing for a boy his age. This behaviour led witnesses to determine this was not simply a case of mental illness.

Photo by Alexia Rodriquez<...>

After months of intervention by priests, Roland was finally cured. afterwards, he claimed to have no recollection of the terrifying events. However, it is rumoured that one of the priests who participated in Doe’s exorcism became possessed and tried to choke a nurse tending to him on his death bed.  

The Exorcist still reigns supreme among true story exorcism movies and has spawned a whole genre of films inspired by real life terror.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Supernatural crime drama, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, directed by Scott Derrickson, hit screens in 2005. The film follows defence lawyer Erin Bruner, who takes on the case of a Catholic priest charged with negligent homicide after he failed to cure 19-year-old possession victim, Emily Rose. The film is loosely based on the story of a young German woman called Annaliese Michel, who died due to a series of exorcisms in the 1970s.

Annaliese‘s plight began when she started experiencing blackouts at age 16, described by witnesses as a trance-like state. This escalated to convulsions and bed-wetting, until she was finally diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy – a condition causing memory loss, seizures and hallucinations.

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Despite being prescribed medication, her condition continued to deteriorate. Annaliese herself claimed she was possessed by six demons, including Hitler and Judas. This led to a host of disturbing events, including Anneliese barking like a dog under the table for two days, and allegedly eating spiders.

After this particular episode, two priests finally agreed to help her, performing 67 exorcisms on her while restrained. Sadly, despite their efforts, Annaliese died from dehydration and malnutrition in 1976.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The Enfield Case, the second instalment of the Conjuring series, featuring demonologist Ed Warren and his medium wife Lorraine, is inspired by the chilling events that took place at a London home in the 70s.

The Enfield poltergeist was a widely documented phenomenon in the British press of the time. The spirit allegedly wreaked havoc on the Hodgson family, and in particular, their daughter Janet.

The young girl was allegedly possessed by the spirit of an old man who had passed away in the family’s Enfield home. Before Janet’s possession, the mischievous spirit made itself known by moving furniture and knocking on the walls. A policewoman involved in the case signed an affidavit to say she had witnessed an armchair levitate in the family’s home. It’s also claimed knocking can be heard during an interview with Janet’s mother Peggy for a Channel 4 documentary.

Photo by Graham Morris via levitating from her bed, although sceptics believe she was simply jumping. Witnesses allege the girl would talk in the rasping voice of an old man for hours. Many believe the events were a hoax, and nothing more than a cry for attention. However, Janet and her sister maintain the events were genuine to this day.

Annabelle (2014)

Not your typical real-life possession tale, Annabelle is another paranormal staple of the Conjuring universe. The story takes inspiration from an allegedly haunted rag doll, currently locked behind glass at the Warrens’ occult museum in Connecticut. At the bottom of the case reads ‘Warning: positively do not open’.

The Raggedy-Ann doll became part of the Warrens’ collection in the 70s, after causing a number of supposed disturbances in a student apartment. According to nursing student Donna, the doll began turning up in different spots, and displaying notes including ‘help me’ and even bleeding from its plush, rag-doll material.

Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images

After a boyfriend of Donna’s flatmate awoke with bloody claw marks on his chest, accompanied by a burning sensation, a medium was called.

The medium alleged she could sense the presence of a deceased seven-year-old girl in the apartment called Annabelle Higgins, whose body had been discovered on the site where the home now stood. The students took pity on the seemingly innocuous spirit and allowed her to live in the doll.

But the Warrens had other ideas. After being contacted by acquaintances in the psychic world, they ordered an exorcism on the partner, fearing a potential demon looking for a human host. They personally removed the doll from the house, and later claimed their car brakes had stalled and failed numerous times until Ed finally doused the doll with holy water.

A Haunting in Connecticut (2002)

This movie is based on the real-life tale of the Snedeker family who realise too late that their new house used to be a funeral parlour. Allen and Carmen Snedeker moved into the home in 1986 with their four children. The house’s grisly history was revealed after Carmen discovered a cache of mortician tools in the basement.

Plagued by terrifying visions which eventually escalated into physical abuse – and, allegedly, rape – the family called on ghost-busting duo Ed and Lorraine Warren, obviously.

The movie’s true-story roots are considered dubious by many, including the family’s landlady who pointed out the family lived there a full two years before reporting any disruptions.

Image from via The Rite (2011)

Mikael Hastrom’s 2011 horror offering,The Rite, follows theology student Michael Kovak and his pursuit to debunk demonic possession. He becomes an apprentice to Anthony Hopkins’ veteran exorcist character, leading the young theologian to question his principles.

The film is based on the experience of trainee exorcist Father Gary Thomas in the Vatican, documented in journalist Matt Baglio’s book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.

A number of the exorcisms portrayed in the film were based on real cases Thomas attended to. He also participated in the making of the film, as an on-set advisor.

Among these cases, one stands out: the story of a woman carrying her father’s child. In an interview with the LA Times, Father Thomas acknowledges that some of the cases are a result of mental health issues rather than wayward demons. However, the disturbing case of a woman who spat up black nails, allegedly experienced by one of Thomas’s colleagues, remains unexplained.

Although filmmakers blur the lines between truth and fiction, one fact remains: true story exorcism movies have to get their inspiration from somewhere and, (un)luckily, the real world is plenty strange on its own. 

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