Beating The Devil
Here’s the latest from /Film
In May 2020, a former NASA engineer named Ronald Edwin Hunkeler passed away at the age of 85. During his time with the space agency, he had patented heat shields that helped put people on the moon in 1969, but he lived in constant fear that his other claim to fame would be unearthed. For during his teenage years, he was the boy who inspired “The Exorcist.”
Although the case has been subject to great scrutiny and skepticism since it was reported in 1949, the “Roland Doe” exorcism remains one of the most famous possession cases, largely thanks to its relation to William Friedkin’s blockbuster movie. Hunkeler, who was given pseudonyms to protect his identity, was 13 years old when the disturbances began. First, there were strange noises and moving objects. Then he started displaying increasingly unusual behavior, talking in a guttural voice unlike his own, speaking Latin phrases, and showing extreme discomfort when presented with sacred objects. He also became violent, attacking a priest with a piece of bedspring during one attempted exorcism, and words appeared scratched on his skin. In a later ritual, his bed was seen to shake and he broke another priest’s nose before he was finally freed of his ailment.
Author William Peter Blatty heard the story while at university and later used it as inspiration for a novel. He switched the sex of the victim and the rest was history: First published in June 1971, “The Exorcist” was a hit, topping the New York Times bestseller list for 17 consecutive weeks (via The Guardian). Friedkin’s film version came two years later and was also a controversial success, a box office smash with urban legends of audiences puking in theaters, and becoming the first horror movie to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Let’s take a look at how it all plays out…
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