Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thanks for a great Halloween!

Thanks to all for making Halloween 2009 a great one! Spirits on Sproat was a wonderful success (despite the crummy October weather) and attended by more visitors than ever before. 

Special kudos go out to the 2009 scare team, including Chris, Andrew, Jake, Bobby and Emma.  We couldn't have done it without you.

We'll see you again in October 2010. Until then, don't let the ghosts get ya!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Spirits on Sproat 2009 YouTube video is finally here!

Here is the official 2009 Spirits on Sproat YouTube video for your enjoyment, featuring the Fugue Phantom performing Bach and baseball favorites, along with his pals. Simply click on the image below to play the video. Also for replay below is our 2008 YouTube video. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spirits on Sproat in the news

The media is shining its spooky spotlight on Spirits on Sproat!

The Chicago Sun-Times and SouthtownStar newspapers were kind enough to publish articles and photos on our display in 2009 and 2008. Click on the images below to enlarge them for easy reading.

Article published Oct. 18, 2009 in the SouthtownStar

Article published Oct. 22, 2009 in SouthtownStar and online (click on screen grab photo below and scroll down to "Oak Lawn" listing)

3 photos published Oct. 21, 2009 on (click on each photo below)

Article published Oct. 19, 2008 in the SouthtownStar

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bring the kids to Oak Lawn's Spookview on Oct. 24

The Oak Lawn Park District's annual Spookview event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24 from 3 - 7 p.m. at Oak View Center (4625 W. 110th St.) in Oak Lawn.

For the third year in a row, your friendly neighborhood Spirits on Sproat curator will join the Spookview festivities, presenting Halloween-themed cartoons (ie, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Simpsons), classic horror movie trailers, Three Stooges episodes and more projected on the big screen between 3 and 7 p.m. Check the building signage for room number.

Join us for a frighteningly good time at this annual Halloween event. Our celebration is designed for kids ages 3 - 10. In addition to the groovy ghostly movies, come take part in our spooky scare stations, ghoulish games, chilling crafts, and freaky food. Come early to the Halloween Costume Parade at 2:45 p.m. and stay late for ghost stories outside by the campfire at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Activity fees range from $.50 to $2.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Check out our new attractions for 2009

This year, Spirits on Sproat is introducing a few new props--including a possessed girl, Headless Horseman, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Plus, on select nights visitors will be treated to a live performance by the Fugue Phantom, who will tickle the ivories on our all-new upright organ prop.

We may also have a few new surprises in store, so stop by for a visit on the nights we're open--if you dare!

Help us send the kids to Cooperstown!

Spirits on Sproat is trying to collect funds to send Oak Lawn's Westside Warriors 12-year-old baseball team to Cooperstown, NY, for a weeklong baseball tournament held next August.

Please help us raise money for this non-profit endeavor, which would be a dream of a lifetime for these kids. (0ne of those young ballplayers happens to be the Tree-Boy/Fugue Phantom organist you've come to know and love at Spirits on Sproat!)

If you see a collection bucket with a Westside Warriors logo on it when you visit Spirits on Sproat, please make a contribution.

We're also selling raffle tickets for this cause, as well as tickets to a special Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament to be held Jan. 16, 2010 in Oak Lawn. The Texas Hold 'Em event will also include door prizes and a big split the pot drawing. To buy tickets, become a team sponsor or for more information, call Erik at 708-529-9028.

We appreciate your generosity. And thanks for visiting our Halloween yard display!

Videos to get you in the Halloween spirit

Here are a few carefully selected videos to get you in the Halloween spirit. Enjoy!

Channel 9 Creature Feature introduction (fan re-creation)

Svengoolie "Vampire Carpets" commercial

Mayhem on Mansfield Thriller dance 2008 (formerly THE best decorated house in the south suburbs; we miss you already!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Treat your ears to a scary tale for Halloween

Long before there was television, people listened to the radio for entertainment.

Horror and mystery radio programs from the 1940s and 1950s like "Lights Out," "Inner Sanctum" and "Suspense" provided plenty of goosebumps to listeners, who enjoyed the theater of the mind, which required using their ears and their imaginations instead of their eyes.

We've gathered a great selection of old time radio programs to get you in the Halloween spirit, including Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast that fooled half the nation into thinking that Martians had invaded America!

Click here to access a list of MP3 format audio files that you can download. Simply click on the name of the program file you want and download it to your computer. Enjoy!

Unveiling the mysteries behind ghosts

by Erik J. Martin

Dr. Larry Montz knows from firsthand experience what can happen when ghosts attack. Irritate one enough and you could end up dead, like his partner nearly did, who was lying before him, breathless on the floor of a creaky old English mansion, gasping for air.

Dr. Montz, America’s only full-time parapsychologist and 27-year expert in the field of paranormal research, had been hired to travel to England and investigate the now-famous active hauntings at Tonge Hall, built in 1594. His research team consisted of himself, two scientific field investigators, and two clairvoyants. One of them tried to communicate with an entity believed to be present in the room.

Suddenly, one of the field investigators clutched at his throat in horror and keeled over in a breathless paroxysm of agony. The entity passed quickly in front of the clairvoyant, heaving her against the wall and knocking the field equipment out of her hand. The next moment the spirit was gone, and the field investigator was able to breathe again. The clairvoyants eventually determined that Tonge Hall was haunted by not one, but three entities: two males and one female—a young child. And everything they experienced was captured intact on film.

Apparition definition
Webster’s defines a ghost as a “supposed disembodied spirit of a dead spirit, appearing as a pale, shadowy apparition.” But ask paranormal researchers for their interpretation of the word and you’ll get a wide array of answers. Many experts maintain that ghosts are lost souls, spirits of people who met their death traumatically and who perhaps don’t believe that they’re deceased. These apparitions are believed to take many forms that can be seen, heard, smelled, and felt.

“There are many different types of apparitions,” says Richard T. Crowe, a Chicago-based ghost hunter who’s been running tours of haunted locations for more than three decades. “Cold spots, phantom footsteps, phantom perfume scents, flickering candle flames, you name it.”

Ghost experts like Troy Taylor, president of the American Ghost Society, based in Alton, Illinois, say there are two kinds of ghosts—active, intelligent ghosts, who maintain the personality of someone who died and who are present in the entity of a conscious being; and residual ghosts or hauntings, in which energy is imprinted on the atmosphere of a certain place and an image or phenomenon reoccurs electromagnetically without an actual personality or presence. The spirit who attacked Dr. Montz’ team at Tonge Hall would qualify as an active haunting. The ghostly apparitions of warring Civil War soldiers still commonly sighted on the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania would constitute a residual haunting.

“These spirits remain on Earth for various reasons,” says Dr. Montz, the founder of the International Society for Paranormal Research, who is a firm believer in ghosts. “Often it’s because they have a desire to protect or communicate with family members, or because they died too suddenly and want to continue living.”

True believers
Human beings have held a fascination with ghosts since as far back as 2,000 B.C., when the Epic of Gilgamesh—the Babylonian story of a man who communicates with his dead friend--was etched in clay tablets. Roman history espouses that Brutus, the army general who supervised the plot to murder Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., was visited twice by the ghost of Caesar, who served as an omen of death. Chinese and Japanese cultures continue to carry out archaic rituals and celebrate ancient festivals such as Da Jui (the “Hungry Ghost Festival”) in an effort to ward off evil spirits.

One needs only look to Hollywood and two of its biggest blockbusters of the last several years—"The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project"—to understand just how popular ghosts continue to be in contemporary culture.

“There’s never been more interest in the supernatural, and it shows throughout our society and culture,” says Crowe.

“I don’t believe everything I’m told about ghosts,” says Taylor, who has traveled the world in search of ghosts. “I have a skeptical approach, and I like to see things for myself. If you’re a real ghost hunter, you look for evidence—paranormal phenomenon that can be authenticated.”

Dr. Montz agrees with Taylor’s philosophy. “You have to have an open mind to accept all of the possibilities of the unknown. But the concept of ghosts can be frightening to many people because of the way they’ve been raised. Religion, television and movies have given ghosts a negative connotation to make people believe they should be afraid.”

Most ghost stories, whether they’re fact or fiction based, only seem to perpetuate the negative myths and fearful stereotypes associated with the paranormal. But Crowe argues that other ghost legends, such as the tale of Resurrection Mary, cause us to ponder deeper, more spiritual reflections.

The Resurrection Mary story concerns the death of a young woman who was actually killed by a hit-and-run driver outside of Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois, while hitchhiking home after a dance. Documented sightings of a girl in a long white dress and blond hair trying to thumb a ride continue to this day.

“Resurrection Mary has caused tens of thousands of people to reconsider the survival of the soul and the possibility of the afterlife,” says Crowe. “I think she’s a much more effective spokesperson for religion than all the world’s priests combined.”

Crowe’s most hair-raising paranormal experience came in on a beautiful starry summer night 1974, while visiting a legendary house in Hamm’s Lake, near Kenosha, Wisconsin, where one gang member purportedly slew another gang member and hid the body decades ago. Crowe and a fellow Chicago Sun-Times reporter were walking about the woods outside the house and noticed a shimmering, bluish-gray silhouette floating in the clearing some 50 feet away—a vision that vanished after one fleeting, paralyzing moment.

Phyllis Benjamin, president of the International Fortean Organization—a society dedicated to the scientific investigation of paranormal phenomenon--says she’s not sure if she believes in ghosts, but she find the evidence compelling, including her personal encounters.

In 1994, while lodging with a friend at a small inn in Marlborough, a little town in England, Benjamin dreamt about a small four-year-old boy in 19th century clothes. The next morning, she awoke to a cold room and found that her friend had actually seen an apparition of the same boy walking around their room.

“When we asked the innkeeper if any other guests had had such an experience, he replied, ‘Oh, sure—he’s our resident ghost, a little boy ho died in the 1870s.’”

Jim McCabe wasn’t a believer until he and his wife spent the night at the Old Colonial Inn in Concord, Massachusetts, site of the legendary ghost of Dr. Timothy Minot, physician and owner of the inn back in 1775. Mrs. McCabe awoke in the middle of the night with a stomach ache and, for kicks, called out, “Oh, Dr. Minot…”

“Suddenly a wave of electricity shot through her body and she couldn’t move,” recalls McCabe. “It was a terrifying experience that reoccurred twice in less than a minute.” Since that encounter with the ethereal, McCabe has dedicated his life to studying ghosts and conducting a year-round ghost tour of Boston.

Searching for spirits
Still not convinced that we live in a world haunted from ghost to ghost? If you’d like to go on a spook hunt of your own, be prepared, say the experts. Hauntings can happen anywhere, although some areas are more spirit-infested than others (McCabe’s ideal itinerary for sightings includes cities like York, England, Glasgow, Scotland, St. Bridgette’s Well in Lisconner, County Claire, Ireland, Williamsburg, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, New Orleans, Chicago and Boston). But you probably don’t stand a ghost of a chance of encountering an entity unless you try these tips from the pros:
  • Do your homework. Read up on the locations you want to visit and ask questions of current occupants and neighbors. Check to see if there’s any local folklore about the place. Research obituaries at a local library for people who once lived at the location.
  • Study previous sightings. Learn about when it happened, the time of day, who was present, and other important details.
  • Learn to use the tools of the trade: Professional ghost hunters often use Polaroid instant cameras, 35mm cameras loaded with high-speed black and white infrared and color film, tape recorders, thermometers, Cathode ray magnetometers, negative ion detectors, Gauss meters, night-vision binoculars, infrared detectors and spectrographs.
  • Never go alone, in case of accident or injury caused by non-paranormal factors during your investigation.
  • Be respectful of the dead. Don’t desecrate a monument or building, ridicule, tease or make fun of the deceased. Dr. Montz warns that ghosts can be dangerous if you upset them.
  • If you ever encounter a spirit or experience a paranormal phenomenon, Crowe says to follow the ghost hunter’s golden rule. “Be quite—don’t try to communicate. Just stand still and take it all in. When you movie or speak, you disturb the environment and cause the ghost to vanish.”
The 10 most haunted sites in America
Professional ghost hunter Troy Taylor ranks these locales:
  1. The Bell Witch Cave, Adams, Tennessee. Associated with the story of the infamous Bell Witch, who haunted a family and was believed to have escaped into this cave.
  2. The Old Slave House (Hickory Hill), near Junction, Illinois. This mansion marks one of the only places where slavery existed legally in Illinois and is today believed to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves who were imprisoned and mistreated there.
  3. The Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, Missouri. This home was one the pride of an eccentric brewing family named Lemp. After Prohibition was passed and the family fortunes dwindled, the house became the scene of suicide and tragedy. It is believed that several members of the family still linger today.
  4. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, near Midlothian, Illinois. Believed to be the most haunted place in the Chicago area, this abandoned and desecrated cemetery boasts more than 100 documented paranormal events.
  5. Gettysburg National Battlefield, in southern Pennsylvania. The site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battlefield is now thought to be haunted by ghosts of the soldiers who fought there.
  6. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California. This former "escape-proof" prison, closed down in 1963, has been reportedly haunted ever since and documentation by staff members and visitors leads many to believe that many of the former prisoners are still waiting here to be freed.
  7. Dudleytown, in northwestern Connecticut. Residents of this cursed and abandoned village, first settled in 1738, were plagued by accidents, suicidal urges and insanity. One of the most haunted sites on the East Coast.
  8. The Winchester Mansion, San Jose, California. This mysterious house—which features maze-like interiors--was constructed in 1884 by Sarah Winchester, who believed she was haunted by the spirits of those who died by Winchester rifles.
  9. The Myrtles Plantation, near St. Francisville, Louisiana. This house, built in 1796, has been haunted for more than a century by the ghost of a former servant who was hanged for poisoning the young children of the plantation master.
  10. The Whaley House, San Diego, California. This house was built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, whose entire family and the ghost of a man hanged there in the 1850s allegedly still haunt it.

Why old monsters never die

by Erik J. Martin

Old monsters never die, and they don't exactly fade away, either. Instead, they're reborn in fresh new takes on the horror genre that pay homage to the classic creatures and indelible demons of pop cultures past, a la contemporary fright films like "Twilight" and small scream TV series like "True Blood."

When I interviewed him a few years ago before his death, Forrest J Ackerman, the renowned horror historian and former editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, said that he believed many modern movies and TV shows pay a respectful homage to classic horror monsters and myths.

“It’s nice to see the legacy of pioneers like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi kept alive in contemporary horror movies and television programs,” Ackerman said.

James E. Gunn, Emeritus Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, told me that “almost every other kind of fiction is based on the notion that people earn their fates. What’s horrible about horror is that people often do not deserve the bad things that happen to them.”

Gunn argued that exposing viewers to timeless horror references—however subtle—in modern entertainment helps promote the classics of literature and film and form a more close-knit fan community.

“It tends to give viewers a kind of feeling of belonging, of being in the cognoscenti when they recognize something referenced” on their favorite TV show or new movie, Gunn said. “They feel as if their show is paying tribute to their knowledge of the horror genre. When a teenage viewer doesn’t ‘get it,’ they say, ‘gee, I’d better get with it and brush up on my horror history.’”

Why does the vampire mythos continue to be so popular, as evidenced by the strong following for modern horror series on television like "The Vampire Diaries"?

“A mummy or a werewolf are typically unpleasant, menacing characters,” said Ackerman. “A vampire, on the other hand, can be a more handsome, realistic creature that appeals to our humanistic, sympathetic side.”

Ackerman added that he does not worry about batminded burnout.

“There’s been a bit too much focus on vampires in the past few years in movies, books and television, and I fear that we may be getting burned out as a culture on vampires,” Ackerman says. “Being more of a purist of the classics, I also feel that they’re taking a bit too much liberty with the original Dracula archetype in some of these new creations. For example, vampires can get around by day now in some of these stories. But then again, they can’t have these vampires keep doing the same things over and over again. You have to add something new to the mythology.”

Ackerman, like most fans, believed that the undead, as well as their millennium-proof monster brethren, will never rest.

“I think classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, mummies and the like will stand the test of time,” Ackerman said. “I never saw the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character become forgotten. And Frankenstein, Dracula and the mummy have been brought back to life more times than you can count.”

Gunn agrees that these frightmare forerunners have staying power that will defy age.

“The reason characters like Dracula and the Wolfman have lasted this long is they are archetypal—they deal with certain basic human concerns. It isn’t that we’re afraid of turning into werewolves, it’s that we have these repressed feelings within us that we don’t often let out,” Gunn said.

The best and worst fright flick remakes

by Erik J. Martin

You can build a better mousetrap, but you can't build a better Frankenstein than the one brought to life by Boris Karloff. Or make Norman Bates any creepier than he was portrayed by Anthony Perkins in the original "Psycho."

Yet, like mad scientists confined too long in a haunted laboratory, modern moviemakers continue their attempts to improve on popular fright film formulas. They simply won't let some horror classics rest in peace, as evidenced by the slew of remakes Hollywood has churned out over the past three decades.

But fear fans can argue that there are as many good remakes of scary movies as there are rejuvenated celluloid monsters that were better left buried. Facelifts given to "Dracula," for example, either take a fresh bite out of the vampire legend (Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version, more faithful to Bram Stoker's original book) or just plain bite (the laughable 1979 attempt starring Frank Langella).

Wrap new gauze on the mummy's corpse and you either get a gripping sarcophogus comeback (Stephen Sommers' "The Mummy," 1999) or a tattered and tired retelling (the painfully awful "Mummy's Revenge" from 1973).

Put new fangs on the Wolf Man and you either end up with a fan favorite man-beast a la Jack Nicholson ("Wolf," 1994) or dismal dreck that should have been put out of its misery with a silver bullet before it hit the big screen ("The Wolfman," 1982).

We can only hope that if someday they dare decide to remake more modern terror touchstones like "The Blair Witch Project," "Scream" and "The Exorcist," moviemakers will put in a little extra eye of newt to ensure a quality witches brew of shock cinema. Meanwhile, conjure up a few old ghosts this Halloween by renting some of the remakes in my "best" horror film remakes list below. But beware of the dreaded retreads in my"worst" list!

Best horror film remakes
(remake year, followed by year of original release)

  • The Blob: 1988, 1958
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula: 1992, 1931
  • Cat People: 1982, 1942
  • The Fall of the House of Usher: 1960, 1949
  • The Fly: 1986, 1958
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: 1939, 1923
  • The Mummy: 1999, 1931
  • The Thing: 1982, 1951

Worst horror film remakes

(remake year, followed by year of original release)

  • Frankenstein '80: 1979, 1931
  • Island of Dr. Moreau: 1996, 1933 (Island of Lost Souls)
  • Night of the Living Dead: 1990, 1968
  • Psycho: 1998, 1960
  • Village of the Damned: 1995, 1960
  • House of Wax: 2005, 1953
  • Halloween: 2007, 1978
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 2004, 1973
  • Friday the 13th: 2009, 1980
  • The Haunting: 1999, 1963

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Exorcising the myths behind demonic possession

by Erik J. Martin

"And Jesus asked him, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him…And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them…Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked...Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed."-- Luke 8:30-36:

Reverend John J. Nicola will never forget that day many years ago when he was summoned suddenly to a convent outside of Rome. There, in the room of a 29-year old Spanish nun, he, a priest and his assistant, the mother superior, and an awestruck psychiatrist had witnessed an unbelievable phenomenon. The rigid body of the young nun, apparently possessed by a demonic spirit manipulating her body and voice, had horizontally levitated high above her bed.

If you thought the film “The Exorcist” offered a harrowing, realistic depiction of a helpless girl possessed by the malignant hand of the devil, tip your hat to Nicola, who served as technical advisor during production. It’s no surprise that the movie scared the daylights out of viewers upon its release, thanks in large part to the authenticity of its story, written by William Peter Blatty, which seemed to touch a nerve with audiences searching for truth and meaning behind Biblical references to demonic possessions and 20th century news accounts of such unexplainable phenomenon.

A quarter of a century after the release of “The Exorcist,” we’re still searching for answers and trying to make sense of the stories. Is possession by an entity possible, or is it a figment of a mentally disturbed imagination? Can a priest and an exorcism rite really cast out the devil? What makes us vulnerable to the whims of a demonic will?

Old beliefs die hard
The word “exorcism” comes from the Greek word “exousia,” meaning “oath.” By definition, then, an exorcism is technically the act of putting a spirit or demon on oath, and is not actually the act of driving out the entity, as is the popular belief. This is why a higher authority, such as Christ in the Christian belief, is invoked to control the demon and cast it out of the possessed person.

Many world religions besides Christianity practice a form of exorcism, including Judaism, Buddihsm, Shinto, Islam, and Hinduism. Jews believe in a “dybbuk,” or doomed, evil spirit, that can possess a victim. To expel the entity, a ritual is performed that causes the dybbuk to exit the person through the victim’s small toe. A Hindu exorcism calls for the blowing of cow dung smoke, the burning of pig excrement, the pulling of the victim’s hair, and other rituals. Shamans called in to perform an exorcism must travel to the “lowerworld” to speak with and help cure the soul of a dead person possessing a victim.

The belief in human possession by Satan, his demons, and other indwelling evil spirits became popular sometime around the first century after Christ’s death. To this day, demons are believed to disturb their victims in one of two ways: they can invade the victim’s mind with evil, negative thoughts and thus cause an “obsession;” or they can physically invade and dominate the victim’s human body, resulting in “possession.” Many people believe that to rid the person’s body and mind of such an entity or evil spirit, an exorcism must be performed.

The New Testament is replete with references to satanic possessions and exorcisms. Start flipping through the latter part of the Bible and you’ll be convinced that the devil was one busy Beelzebub during the days of Jesus. So, why were there more accounts of possessions then as opposed to now? Where have all the indwelling demons gone, you wonder?

The devil’s doing or a mind malfunction?
Some theologians believe that Christ’s presence on earth triggered extra activity from the minions of evil, and that his resurrection and the subsequent establishment of the Christian church helped keep Satan’s forces at bay.

Psychologists, scientists, and others argue that anything that couldn’t be rationally explained, which presented itself as foreign or strange, or which challenged accepted spiritual doctrines, was usually labeled as “evil” or “the devil’s work” in the centuries following Christ’s death. They contend that reports of demonic possession of humans from the past through today are actually misdiagnosed cases of mental illness. The symptoms of dissociative disorders such as schizophrenia often closely mirror those exhibited by people who claim to be “possessed.”

“I’ve seen cases where a priest will tell a mentally ill person that he is demon possessed and perform an exorcism on him. Then the person obviously doesn’t improve and becomes desperate or suicidal,” says Dr. Steven Waterhouse, pastor at Westcliff Bible Church in Amarillo, Texas, and author of “Strength for his People: A Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill.” Waterhouse has a brother with schizophrenia whose symptoms sometimes mimic those of a “possessed” person. “I do believe in demonic possession, but I think it’s rare. More often than not it’s a case of mental illness.”

Even recent guidelines from the Vatican emphasize that most behaviors apparently caused by demonic possession are actually provoked by psychiatric illness. Yet, despite recent changes in thinking about its exorcism rites, the Catholic Church is not about to proclaim that Satan is dead and buried.

“The existence of the devil is not an opinion that you can take or leave. It is an element of faith and Catholic doctrine,” said Cardinal Jorge Arturo Median Estevez, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacramental Discipline.

“I certainly don’t believe in demons,” says Dr. Larry Montz, the founder of the International Society for Paranormal Research and expert in the field of paranormal research as a parapsychologist. “If there were such things, I would have run into this line of work. Television, movies and religious beliefs are responsible for perpetuating these myths about devils. But I do believe that possessions by entities and ghosts of people who have died is possible. I’ve found in my research that they often occur in people who are very weak willed. And sometimes the spirit of a person who remains earthbound can become angry, possess a person, and cause problems.”

Montz worked on such a case in New Orleans a few years ago that involved a young child who was apparently possessed. “At first I thought he had a multiple personality disorder, but he was able to recite concrete, detailed information to us that no child his age would know.” With the help of two clairvoyants, Montz says he communicated with the spirit of an 18-year old who died violently in a car accident—an entity that was angry for dying prematurely who wanted to “take the body of someone else hostage.”

By reasoning with the spirit, his team was ultimately successful at convincing it to leave the child.

Even Nicola plays the skeptic sometimes. His subsequent explanation of the Spanish nun’s possession and levitation?

“Mass hypnosis—each person had hypnotized everyone else in the room.” Nevertheless, Nicola does believe in satanic possession. “My theory is that, contrary to popular belief, very innocent people who have a potential for doing great good in the world are attacked more often by the devil because they’re seen as a threat to him.”

A 21st century Christian exorcism In Jesus’ time, exorcisms were relatively simple—he or one of his apostles merely commanded the evil entity to leave the victim, and it obeyed. Today, however, the exorcism ritual is much more complex. The Roman Catholic Church, which last year revised its exorcism ritual for the first time since 1614, requires that an exorcism be performed only under direct order of a bishop after two thorough investigations that rule out mental illness or other causes. A church-approved priest trained in exorcisms (every archdiocese is required to have one) is then assigned to perform the rite.

The new exorcism rite begins with prayers, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying of hands on the possessed, and making the sign of the cross. Next, an appeal is made to Christ, the Holy Spirit and the saints of the church. The priest then employs an “imploring formula,” in which Satan’s evils are listed and God is asked to free the victim. An “imperative formula” follows, in which the devil is ordered to depart the possessed via the words “I order you, Satan…prince of the world…enemy of human salvation…”

According to the writings of Reverend Malachi Martin, the late author of the 1976 bestseller “Hostage to the Devil,” though each exorcism is unique, most follow four phases: the presence stage, in which the exorcist team becomes aware of an evil entity; the breakpoint stage, during which the entity recognizes its foes and wreaks havoc upon the possessed victim via physical abuse, disturbing noises, smells, sights, and voices; the clash stage, in which the exorcist grapples with the spirit for control of the victim; and the expulsion stage, denoting the victory of the exorcist in ridding the victim of the entity after invoking Jesus’ name.

Martin insisted that an exorcism’s success depends greatly on the strength, will, and guiltlessness of the priest. An easily intimidated clergyman or one with hidden sins can be vulnerable to the evil spirit, and may even become possessed by the entity himself if he’s not careful. For this and other reasons, most exorcists do not practice alone—they are usually accompanied by another priest or assistant, a medical physician or psychologist, and a family member.

Before you scoff at the notion of exorcisms, consider that you may have had one performed on you without realizing it. Every person given a formal Christian baptism at birth or later in life undergoes an “exorcism” of sorts, a la a short prayer delivered by the clergyman that is intended to cleanse you of original sin and renounce Satan.

Making sense of the supernatural
Every specialist has a different means of explaining away the phenomenon of possession, says Nicola. “A psychiatrist will say that it’s an illusion in your mind. A parapsychologist will say no, it’s psychokinesis at work. A physicist will say it’s a natural happening based on the laws of nature. A religious person will say it’s the devil’s doing. The church will say, we don’t know, so let’s use the principle of scientific economy, rule out other possibilities first, and then refer to a preternatural explanation.”

So, what’s a person to think?

“People today are more aware and intelligent—they want to know true answers to things they can’t explain,” says Montz. His advice for someone who is on the fence about the possibility of entity possession is to “Be open to all possibilities, but don’t believe everything you see and hear. Trust your internal gut feelings, and take your experiences with a grain of salt.”

Waterhouse recommends visiting a doctor to rule out physical and mental problems if you feel that you are being possessed. He also warns against dabbling too deeply in the occult. Satan worshipping, Ouija board playing, channeling and other occult activities can lead people away from their families and possibly promote antisocial, destructive behavior, he says.

Celluloid possessions
Delve more into demonic possessions and exorcisms by checking out these flicks—some renowned, some obscure, and all available on home video.
  • The Entity (1983). Barbara Hershey gets dominated by a lusty demon in this sometimes laughably lame fright flick.
  • Exorcism (1974). A satanic cult goes on a gruesome crime spree in a little English village. Tame by today’s standards, but has its spooky moments.
  • Exorcism’s Daughter (1974). Cheap ripoff of The Exorcist released a year later depicts the insanity of a woman who witnesses her mother’s death during an exorcism.
  • The Exorcist (1973). The grand poobah of exorcism movies and the feature that sparked our cultural obsession with demonic possession. Directed by William Friedkin, it’s also considered to be the most realistic and frightening horror film of all time.
  • The Possessed (1977). An oh-so-dated made-for-TV fleshcrawler starring James Farentino as an exorcist called in to cast out Satan from a private girls’ school.
  • Possession (1981). Rosemary’s Baby clone in which a secret agent’s wife prepares to give birth to an evil manifestation. The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972). Eerie flick about a wealthy divorcee whose brother, apparently the victim of Caribbean voodoo, undergoes harrowing transformations. Earns admiration points for predating The Exorcist by a year.
  • Repossessed (1990). A silly satire that’s still worth the rental just to see Linda Blair spoof herself—with the help of Naked Gun-slinger Leslie Nielson—and the entire demonic possession genre.
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968). A highly stylized and chillingly effective tale about a mother impregnated with the devil’s child, directed by master auteur Roman Polanski.