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Case Number 00808

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In The Grip Of Evil

WinStar // 1997 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 23rd, 2000

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All Rise...

The Charge

An in-depth look at Exorcism and the terrifying true story behind the film The Exorcist.

Opening Statement

The Exorcist was a smash at the box office in 1973, terrorizing audiences spellbound by the battle between good and evil on the silver screen. A now classic film, The Exorcist has been released into theaters again after an absence of 25 years. To coincide with this event, Winstar Home Entertainment has released the documentary In The Grip Of Evil made in 1997, an in-depth and fascinating look at the real story behind William Friedkin's film The Exorcist. Including Interviews with filmmakers and Priests, newspaper accounts and a diary of the "exorcism" events, this DVD is jam-packed with information…but is it worth its price-tag?

Facts of the Case

In The Grip Of Evil is the supposed "real" story behind the film The Exorcist. Based on the real life case of the most documented exorcism ever performed, In The Grip Of Evil recounts the story of a young "Robbie," a boy who was supposedly possessed by the devil. Taking place in January of 1949, Robbie is a normal kid living in Mount Rainer, Maryland with his mother and father. His aunt (who was a spiritualist) comes to visit one night and brings with her a Ouija board. There is a belief (to some) that any contact with "the other side" opens up a gateway to evil spirits. Shortly after his aunt leaves, strange things begin to happen. When Robbie and his grandmother are sitting at home, they start to hear scratching from behind the wall, creaking floors, and objects moving on their own.

Months later, Robbie's aunt dies. Robbie, probably distraught, goes to the Ouija board to attempt to contact his aunt. Soon after, Robbie begins to behave in strange ways, plagued by nightmares, becoming withdrawn and irritable. The parents turn to the local priest for help.

What follows becomes a nightmare of events that many claim were the work of Satan himself. Others believe it was the boy lashing out with anger and bitterness. Was young Robbie spitefully acting up for attention? Or was this the work of a more evil and demonic force?

The Evidence

In The Grip Of Evil is a spellbinding look at the phenomenon of exorcism. It is a well-produced project, reminiscent of the special reports that I sometimes catch on CNBC or The Learning Channel. I found In The Grip Of Evil to be a nice companion piece for anyone who is a fan of The Exorcist. Interestingly, many of the details from the original exorcism on which the movie was based were changed for the film. One of the larger aspects was the fact that, in the "true life" story, Linda Blair's role of Regan was actually a boy, not a girl. I didn't know that. See, the new things you learn when you don't watch just movies, kids.

The interviews start out with director William Friedkin discussing the factors that made him interested in William Peter Blatty's novel, and how finding out that it was based on a true story piqued his interest even more. He also mentions how The Exorcist is a very good metaphor for people, and the constant struggle we all have inside us with good and evil (I'd poke fun at this, but I kind of agree).

The documentary continues on about Robbie and his story of being possessed. During the course of the interviews, it's interesting that they decided to not just interview priests and believers, but also a skeptic (and psychologist), Elizabeth Bowman, M.D. She often disagrees with what the clergy's views are on exorcism.

I found many of these interviews to be fun to watch, witnessing the different opinions of each person unfold. One, Father Halloran (who actually participated in the original exorcism) is absolute in his knowledge that this was the work of the Devil, not a troubled boy seeking attention. At one point, the narrator talked about markings that had shown up on the boy's chest in the form of words and pictures of the Devil. The psychologist refutes these markings as mere scratches that the boy inflicted upon himself. Halloran, however, believes that he saw these markings happen. There was no way that the boy could have made them on his own. Of course, Bowman once again clashes with this statement, stating that the boy could have done this even with his hands tied. And back and forth it goes.

The eternal struggle between religion and science wages on.

The documentary has re-enactments that are well done, if not a bit cheesy (as most documentary or "E! True Hollywood Story" re-enactments often are). Over all, however, they look good (most shot inside a bedroom), done with effective lighting and voice over (for the Devil in Robbie). The actors do a good job with their roles of either priests or family members.

Other parts of the re-enactments take place outdoors (such as when Robbie is looking over stone statues of Jesus Christ) or in the church. Many of these are done with the camera just following through the inside of the church, or though the yard with the statues. Not all that interesting, but it gives you a feel for where the story took place.

Overall, the production values and the acting are professional. The story has some fun facts in it that coincide with The Exorcist, and some stuff that is totally different than what the film portrayed.

In The Grip Of Evil is presented in full frame (1.33:1), however, there is an interesting feature for this; the whole thing is really shown in widescreen. I am relatively sure that full frame is the way this documentary was shot, but I couldn't find any proof of that on the Internet when I looked around. At Amazon.com they say that this is full frame, yet we get black bars on the top and bottom of your screen that says otherwise. Very peculiar. The video for this is good, sans any grain or artifacting I could detect. This is as good as any documentary will probably look on DVD. Audio is Dolby 1.0, so there is nothing spectacular for your speakers to do (besides, there isn't enough going on here that begs for your speakers to flex their muscles).

Bonus materials were plentiful, if not exactly what I look for in the extras category on a DVD. For one we get extra interviews with Father Halloran, the Priest present at the exorcism, Producer/writer Brain J. Kelly, editor/cinematographer Charles Vanderpool, and co-writer/co-producer Marilyn Vanderpool. These interviews are good to watch if you are looking for more info on the making of the documentary, or if you're looking to watch the complete interview with Father Halloran (telling the story of the exorcism he witnessed).

Also included are a few short newspaper articles accounting the events surrounding the exorcism, and pertaining to the making and release of the film The Exorcist. Fun little reads if you want to be thorough with this DVD and read up on he phenomenon of exorcism as much as possible.

"Father Bishop's Diary" recounts the exorcism that takes place. It's a little over 100 pages long (and dated) so it's a good read if you want to catch one person's POV of the exorcism. However, this is basically the same as reading the book before you go see the movie, as this is what the documentary is based off of. An in-depth read if you have the time.

Finally, there are some DVD-ROM features included, such as more newspaper articles to read, screen savers, printable versions of the case study, some background images for your desktop and some weblinks.

Excuse me, I must take a 10 minute break as I am so overjoyed that I have wet myself.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Although a fun look at exorcism, In The Grip Of Evil does not have a large repeatability factor. The documentary is only 50 minutes long, and not something that will probably be watched over and over again. Extra material was plentiful, but like the film, once seen and read there won't be much need to return to it.

My other complaint is that the box art of this DVD looks a bit cheesy, like it would be found in the 7.99 bin at Walmart. I'd have assumed they could have done something with it to spruce it up, but alas, we get a DVD that looks like something you'd buy for someone as a white elephant gift.

Closing Statement

In The Grip Of Evil is a well-done documentary giving us a look into the world of exorcism. This DVD is well worth the rental if you're a horror fan or have seen The Exorcist and are curious to learn more about what the Devil does on his off-time. In this reviewer's opinion, it's not worth buying but definitely worth the rental cost.

The Verdict

In The Grip Of Evil is let go due to the fact that his older brother, The Exorcist posted bail. Watch yourself out there among the English.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 83
Audio: 60
Extras: 79
Judgment: 76

Perp Profile

Studio: WinStar
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Newspaper Accounts Of The Events
• Additional Interviews
• The Original Case Study/Diary Of Father Halloran


• IMDb

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Review content copyright © 2000 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.