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The True Story of Father Gabriele Amorth – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

The True Story of Father Gabriele Amorth



When it comes to movies based on real-life events, horror seems to top the list. There’s something about the fear factor being grounded in reality that makes it all the more effective. Filmmakers who stray too far from realism risk losing credibility, and yet, those movies often get more credit on the “how scary can it get” scale. The Exorcist, released almost 50 years ago, is a prime example of this phenomenon. While the film was based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, which was loosely inspired by a true story of possession in the 1940s, audiences still try to argue that it’s based on a true story.

Director William Friedkin presented his argument for this in his 2017 documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, which is a tribute to Father Gabriele Amorth, the Italian priest who founded the International Association of Exorcists and was the Catholic Church’s go-to in the case of modern possessions. While some call Friedkin’s film tabloid trash, others are still astounded by it. Father Amorth was a real man, and his position in the modern church is validated by countless documents and books. He was a prankster who always had a joke up his sleeve and was quite vocal about some shady aspects of the Catholic Church. As a result, the church didn’t love him, a fact that is explored in the film The Pope’s Exorcist.

According to the film, Father Amorth was the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican, and his career as an exorcist for the Diocese of Rome speaks for itself. He claimed to have performed over 150,000 exorcisms throughout his 91 years of age and wrote books about his experiences. While some claim the cases documented in those books are true, others say that they are simply opportunities for speculation. Nevertheless, Father Amorth represented opposition to conservative views and claimed that the Catholic Church had demons in the closet that they’d rather hide to avoid staining themselves with crimes that could make them stumble.

The Pope’s Exorcist is a full-blown horror film inspired by the actual files of Father Gabriel Amorth. While it’s possible that some of the events shown in the film happened in real life, it’s hard to link the case to a specific possession documented in popular culture. However, the film is decent enough for a Friday night watch, with Russell Crowe portraying Father Amorth and doing a pretty good job of portraying the priest who could make a joke during the most serious of matters.

In conclusion, horror movies based on real-life events continue to fascinate audiences, and filmmakers who stay true to realism often get more credit for their efforts. The Pope’s Exorcist is a decent horror film that draws inspiration from the actual files of Father Gabriel Amorth, the Italian priest who founded the International Association of Exorcists and was the Catholic Church’s go-to in the case of modern possessions. While the events depicted in the film may not be linked to a specific possession documented in popular culture, it’s still a movie worth watching for horror fans.

In our never-ending (and sort of morbid) fascination for watching movies based on real-life events, horror is always on the top. It’s weird, but scary movies are more effective if they are based on something that befell someone real. Filmmakers tend to jump the shark and lose credibility by staying away from realism, and even so, people give those movies more credit in the “how scary can it get” scale.



Almost 50 years after The Exorcist was released, audiences are still trying to come up with a “based on a true story” argument for it. The film was actually based on William Peter Blatty’s novel that was loosely inspired by a true story of possession in the 1940s that changed the life of Robbie Mannheim, the actual victim. But again, based on a true story? Not likely.

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However, William Friedkin, the director of the film, presented his argument for this discussion in the form of the 2017 documentary feature The Devil and Father Amorth. Friedkin’s film is very, very divisive. Some call it tabloid trash, some say it belongs to a supercut for the Mondo Cane franchise, and some are still astounded by the film. We don’t know where you stand, but we’d rather see it as a Friedkin’s tribute to a very strange man: Father Gabriele Amorth, the Italian priest who founded the International Association of Exorcists and was the Catholic Church’s go-to in the case of modern possessions.

Father Amorth was a real man, that’s a no-brainer. Countless documents and books validate his position in the modern church. He was a prankster who was always trying to make people laugh, and always had a joke up his sleeve. He was adjoined to the Vatican, but he constantly opened his mouth in regard to some shady aspects of the world’s largest religious organization. Needless to say, they didn’t love the guy.

This is a very important aspect that’s revealed in the film The Pope’s Exorcistthe 2023 horror film directed by Julius Avery from a script by Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Nevertheless, the film isn’t as much about him as it is about a very unfortunate family who move to the wrong house and days after, one of the members starts showing signs of possession. Of course, Avery and company, and the studio behind the film, would use the most effective title card you can use in horror. But is The Pope’s Exorcist a true case that Father Amorth dealt with or are they lying to us? Let’s take a look.



Who Was Father Gabriele Amorth, and Why Was He Important?

William Friedkin and Father Amorth
The Orchard

According to the film, Amorth was the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican. We are not sure if such a title actually exists, but his career as an exorcist for the Diocese of Rome speaks for itself. People claim he performed over 150,000 exorcisms throughout his 91 years of age. Of course, he wrote a couple of books about his role as the Church’s scholar figure in the case of demonic possessions: An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories. Those were the books that inspired the film’s writers.

Related: The Pope’s Exorcist: 10 Reasons You Need to Watch This Russell Crowe-Led Horror Film

To say the cases documented in those books are true depends on where you stand in the whole “possessions are displays of mental health conditions” conversation. Yes, they’re pretty disturbing, but they’re also perfect speculation opportunities. As expected, detractors claim Father Amorth was a liar who used his position in the Church to educate worldwide audiences into thinking “deviations” could make you prone to possession.

However, Amorth also represented opposition to conservative views. He was quite vocal when claiming the Catholic Church had a few demons in the closet that they’d rather hide to avoid staining themselves with crimes that could make them stumble. The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t dig into this because it’s another kind of film. This is a full-blown horror film that features Amorth giving the religious authorities the middle finger in another fashion.

Is The Pope’s Exorcist Actually Based on a True Story?

the pope's exorcist
Sony Pictures Releasing

It’s possible that some of the events shown in the film happened in real life. But the case itself is hard to link to a specific possession documented in popular culture. A possession of this caliber and effect would have been huge in the modern age, considering newsprint was pretty popular worldwide in the ’80s, the decade portrayed in the film.

Related: Best Serial Killer Movies Based on or Inspired by True Stories

In any case, you could absolutely trust the film’s poster when it says that the film is “inspired by the actual files of Father Gabriel Amorth,” and get your fix of horror based on true events. Or you could just enjoy the film for what it is. It’s decent enough to make for a Friday night watch, where horror follows the rules of the subgenre and there’s a place for cheesy one-liners. ​​​​​

Russell Crowe plays Father Amorth, and he does a pretty good job of portraying the priest who could make a joke during the most serious of matters. He imprints credibility with a performance that doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of what you saw in previous exorcism films. And if you actually get around to seeing The Devil and Father Amorthyou will see Crowe does a fine job at recreating the best and worst of Amorth, the man whose greatest mystery lies in a question that will probably never be answered. Not even by your favorite horror film.

You can stream The Pope’s Exorcist on several VOD services.

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