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Fox Lorber presents
In the Grip of Evil (1997)

"Wednesday, March 16. Permission was granted by The Most Reverend Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter that Father William S. Bowdern might read the prayers of exorcism according to the Roman Ritual."
- Father Bishop's diary

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: September 28, 2000

Stars: Fr. William Halloran, Thomas B. Allen, Elizabeth Bowman, William Friedkin
Director: Charles Vanderpool

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 0h:50m:00s
Release Date: July 05, 2000
UPC: 720917302621
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BB+B+ A-

DVD Review

This is a very entertaining documentary created for the Discovery Channel that uses interviews and re-enactment to tell the "true" story of demon possession behind The Exorcist movie. In 1949, there was a reported case of exorcism discovered in a young boy living in Mt. Rainer, Maryland, a nearby suburb of Washington D.C. At first the problem was considered a case of poltergeist manifestation, when the child's Lutheran ministe witnessed many strange events, such as objects moving on their own. After attempts to determine psychological causes, the case was referred to a Catholic priest.

The film is well done and maintains an even keel even though it is dealing with such unusual and unbelievable material. A full range of interviews address the events as they are recorded in news accounts of the times and the diary of the priest involved in the exorcism. Father William Halloran, who was an actual witness to the exorcism, corroborates many of the unusal manifestations recorded in the diary. Elizabeth Bowman, M.D., who has treated many psychological disorders, attempts to tackle the questions with science.

The re-enactments are very well done and are not exploitative, as surely could have been the case. The scenes are low-key and illustrative and do indeed give us a feel of the real people involved in these inexplicable events. The story is told in a very compelling manner and is considered from several angles, making no grandiose claims. Questions of the supernatural and religion are discussed with an even-handed approach.

There are some decent background digressions about the nature of Satan, the history of exorcism and a visit to Milan where Bishop Emmanuel Milingo performs actual modern day exorcisms.

For viewers interested in exorcism or made curious about the actual events behind the movie The Exorcist, the information in this film makes for interesting viewing. This would also make a good scary disc for Halloween, because its low-key approach makes it quite frightening.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Director Charles Vanderpool goes into great detail in his interview in the extras about the visual techniques he used to create the look and atmosphere of this documentary. The transfer preserves his aims quite well. A mixture of interviews and re-enacments, the film achieves that scary kind of Nostradamus realism that make this type of documentary very enjoyable as a diversion. The images are crisp where needed and suitably foggy where necessary as well.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer is very solid. The filmmakers use a certain amount of music and sound effects to add atmosphere to the film. But, it is not over done and the sound was very pleasant in the care taken for a documentary.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Transcripts — News Articles and Father Bishop's Diary
  2. Interviews with Father William Halloran and the filmmakers
  3. Windows Screensaver
  4. Printable PDF documents of Diary and Letters
  5. Background Images for Windows Desktop
Extras Review: There is a good selection of extras for this disc. I am not going to speculate over who might want to use the desktop images or the screensaver included. But, for someone doing a study of this particular exorcism or exorcism in general, this would be a useful research tool. In the "Transcripts" section, there are viewable images of four separate news articles about the case and the entire contents of Father Bishop's diary (referred to incorrectly on the packaging as Father Halloran's diary). The packaging also refers to "Additional Interviews with Witnesses." This turns out to be interviews with the filmmakers, director Charles Vanderpool, producer Brian Kelly and producer Marilyn Vanderpool. In addition, Father Halloran's interview as a witness to the exorcism, which was excerpted during the documentary, is shown in full.

Also found on the disc are PDF versions of the diary and other documents that are suitable for printing.

I found reading the entire diary quite chilling.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Quite an eerie tale in its own right, this disc is a must-have companion to The Exorcist movie as it documents the "true" story of actual possession that author William Peter Blatty fictionalized in his horror novel. It features many of the documents that are hinted at in the interview extras for the The Exorcist disc and contains insights from an actual participant, as well as others close to the story—answering many of the questions about this terrifying event.


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