FIVE MOVIES THAT TEACH US HOW TO BE POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL by Peter Laws.

It’s my turn on the blog tour for Peter Laws’ new book, Possessed.

Without further ado, over to Peter to talk about movies!


In Possessed, Professor Matt Hunter is sceptical of exorcism. That’s no surprise. He’s an ex-church minister turned atheist academic after all. This means that any talk of Satanic influence tends to prompt his patented eyeroll. Yet when, in the book, he starts meeting people who claim to be controlled by demons, he’s immediately concerned. Not only is he worried these vulnerable people might be misdiagnosing mental health issues. He also suspects they’re unwittingly taking their cues from pop culture…and in particular, the cinema.

That’s right, movies have been the prime method by which our culture has learned ‘what possession looks like’. They tell us it must involve a sweary, wild-eyed, tongue-lolling victim (usually a woman), who gets strapped to a bed and strains away from the cross. All while spouting the type of sexually explicit one-liners that would make even the most laid back vicar blush.

So in a nod to the influence of these movies, let me offer five picks from what seems to be an ever-growing bank of possession movies. Note: these aren’t all chosen for quality reasons. In fact, some of them are decidedly ropey. Yet they’re all, in their own way, remarkable.

THE EXORCIST (1973)

No other movie has impacted our view of possession than this one – the story of a 12 year old girl in the grip of Satan. I read the novel as a young teenager and it gave me bad dreams. Then I tracked down the film, and that scared me too. It wasn’t just the idea of a rampant devil that creeped me out. The rational explanation was just as frightening. Could an otherwise normal everyday kid suffer a complete mental breakdown? Could they become, in a sense, a monster?

The Exorcist changed me. I was deeply antagonistic about church and Christianity at the time. Yet this story of a vomiting girl made me consider an insane question: what if the devil exists…might God exist too? It even showed the clergy not as useless weirdos, corrupt evangelists or paedophile priests…but as normal, flawed, human heroes filled with faith and doubt.

Course, not everyone was impressed with the film. An insightful Satanist called Nikolas Shrek said the films presentation of the devil was laughable. He may have a point. Satan does seem surprisingly juvenile in this. Contrast it with the brilliant Omen films (the Exorcist for protestants). In those films the devil is a master strategist, planning to dominate the world. In The Exorcist, he just likes swearing a lot and puking in faces. Who knows? Maybe possessing kids is just Satan’s idea of a fun night out. A way of letting off steam between world domination plans. Or maybe, the devil is so desirous of torment, that he’ll do anything to cause pain on both a large scale and a small scale. Whatever the case, The Exorcist is an  amazing film, and it’s the key cultural signifier when it comes to possession, not least because it was so blatantly copied in other movies…as we’ll see.

SEYTAN (1974)

Make no mistake. Seytan isn’t a homage to The Exorcist. It isn’t inspired by it. It’s a full on photocopy that replicates both plot and specific scenes with zero restraint. We even hear the unauthorised use of Tubular Bells in the opening credits! There are, to be fair, slight variations. For example, in The Exorcist, the little girl is first possessed by the spirit of Captain Howdy, speaking through the Ouija board. In Seytan, the Ouija voice is called Captain Larson.

Another new angle comes from the fact that Islam is the major religion of Turkey. Catholicism is, therefore, largely removed from the film. That’s not to say it’s replaced by clearly Islamic equivalents, though I did notice the exorcist turns up with some Zamzam water. That’s Muslim holy water, taken from a scared well in Mecca. It’d be easy to dismiss Seytan as a shameless rip-off as that’s precisely what it is. It also looks like it was made by sixth formers for a drama project, so it cant compare to the original. Yet for me, it ends up as an endearing, low-fi spin that fuses the Christian nightmares of the West with the 70s sensibilities of the middle east.

Note: Seytan was just part of a popular trend in Turkish cinema from the 60s to 80s known as Yseilcam (meaning Green Pine). Here, Turkey would simply remake Hollywood hits, because it was way cheaper than licensing the original. Fun fact: others copies include The Man Who Saved the World (Turkish ‘Star Wars’) Rampage (Turkish ‘Rambo’) Buddy (‘Turkish’ E.T.) and my favourite re-title Omer The Tourist on Star Trek (Turkish ‘Star Trek’). 

ABBY (1974)

Just look at the release dates of the last three films to see how there was an explosion of Exorcist imitators in the wake of the originals release. Abby was commonly known as the ‘black Exorcist’, where a young woman is possessed by an African sex spirit. I’ve got a soft spot for Abby, not least because it’s more of it’s own thing than Seytan is. For a start, in The Exorcist, the girl is trapped in her bed for almost the entire movie. In Abby, she’s out and about, sometimes in nice mode, sometimes in potty-mouthed demon mode, dropping into 70s discos and causing mayhem. It’s fun. Plus, the theology’s unique. The spirit that possesses Abby is Eshu, a God from the Yoruba religion (found in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo).

One of Abby’s masterstrokes is having the brilliant William H Marshall play the exorcist, who manages to fuse both Christianity and Yoruba by wearing both a vicars collar and a traditional African ceremonial garb. Lovely. Marshall is best known for playing the dignified and powerful Blacula, from 1972 (yes, there’s a black version of Dracula…and it’s awesome). In Abby, Marshall’s bass filled voice is the perfect sound to cast out the mischevious spirit of Eshu…but is it really Eshu, calling the demonic shots here?

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose strikes a Matt Hunter style chord, in that it keen to grapple with issues of faith. It’s unique too, being both exorcism movie and courtroom drama. Laura Linney plays a sceptical lawyer trying to defend a priest. He’s accused of killing a young girl through exorcism. Derrickson based the film on the horrifying 1975 case of Anneliese Michel – a young German woman who died during a series of catholic exorcism rites.

Linney starts experiencing strange phenomena as the case progresses, which she mostly dismisses it, absorbing it into her rational world views. Yet the audience is left wondering…what if there are such things? My Matt Hunter books live in that same netherworld too, so perhaps it’s no shock to learn that the film’s writer-director is Scott Derrickson, is a Christian too. He went on to direct hits like Sinister and Dr. Strange, and, like me, seems interested in exploring issues of belief through the horror and thriller genre.

DELIVER US (2016)

Finaly, we have Deliver Us (aka Liberami), a documentary that follows Father Cataldo Migliazzo. He’s an 80-year-old Italian veteran exorcist who finds himself in high demand these days due to the rising demand for exorcism (this genuine real-world boom is a key theme in my book). He has so many ‘clients’ that he carries out mass exorcisms every Tuesday with a three hour service. The film shows Migliazzo calling out the devil from the altar while people in the crowd start groaning and twitching. Some jerk in spasms on the floor, other wail and shake, speaking in chilling voices and animal sounds. A woman calls out, “I’ll never give her up! I’m taking her to hell!” In other words, we see the same behaviour form the movies above, in a real life documentary.

There’s no narrator explaining it all. No interviewer asking questions off screen. Just the priests and the possessed, and a camera you forget is there. It’s poignant too, like the haunting shot of a woman listening to hymns at church. We see a tear roll down her cheek – she’s desperate for God. Then a priest passes and she painfully flinches like she’s been slapped. This idea of the possessed flitting between shocking and ‘normal’ fascinates me. Which is why I made it a feature of my novel, Possessed.

Three Honourable Mentions: 

POSSESSION (1981)

Sam Neil worries his marriage to Isabelle Adjani might be collapsing. Is she having an outside affair…or an inside one? I doubt you’ll see another film like Possession. It’s a stunning, distressing and delirious blend of arthouse and horror. I loved it, and Adjani’s subway scene is simultaneously an acting masterclass, and a pure shot of nightmare fuel.

HEREDITARY (2018)

Toni Collette and her family face a sinister presence after the death of her strange and secretive grandmother. It’s not a possession movie in the ‘classic’ sense, but gosh it’s a good and horrible ride. Your heart-rate might suffer, so be warned. 

REPOSSESSED (1990)

As a teenager, I was deeply offended that Hollywood were decided to trash one of my favourite horror movies. ‘You’re turning The Exorcist into a goofy comedy?’ Said I. ‘How could you?’ Now I’m more mature, I can see the brilliance in having the great Leslie Neilsen limber up for his exorcism with a Rocky style training scene. He knocks back raw eggs, does some shadow punching, then he whacks his crucifix and holy water into a Rambo lunch box, ready to fight. Genius.  

So there you have it, a bunch of possession movies who’s screams and wails rise just that little higher, than the others. Keep them in mind when you’re reading Possessed, and ask yourself: do you think that movies have taught people ‘how to feel and act demonic?’ Just like Matt Hunter claims? Or do these films simply reflect a chilling reality? After all, William Peter Blatty claimed that his novel, The Exorcist, was based on a true case.

I’ll leave it to you to decide. Assuming, that is, you can be yourself long enough to decide it.  And if I left out your favourite possession movie from the list, let’s just say the devil made me do it.


Possessed, by Peter Laws is published by Allison & Busby. For a review, go check out @LizLovesBooks excellent blog

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When an unidentified and blood-soaked man is discovered with the name Baal-Berith scored into his flesh, Professor Matt Hunter is called in by the bewildered local police. As an atheist ex-minister and expert on religion, Matt can shed light on the ancient Canaanite demon known as the spirit of blasphemy and murder, but as he’s drawn into a frenzied murder investigation, a fury of media interest and a TV show documenting a mass exorcism, the situation follows a much murkier path. Striving to provide balance to the show’s increasingly sensational tone and rational support for the vulnerable ‘clients’, Matt cannot leave, even as events get seriously out of hand…

Sleep – M.K. Boers

A marriage made in heaven, a murder made in hell.
Why kill the man you love?
Lizzy was struggling, everyone knew that.
He shouldn’t have done those things.
He shouldn’t have pushed her so hard.
And now, her children, her marriage, her hope – gone.
It was all her fault, she knew that, but was there a chance of redemption?
Lizzy Dyson’s on trial for her life. She knows she must pay for what she did, even if it wasn’t planned, but will the jury believe her?

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blogtour for M.K. Boers’ Sleep. I’ve got a Q&A with the author for you today.

What was the inspiration behind Lizzy’s story?

I wanted to explore what drives a woman to murder. Having experienced anger & frustration in my own relationships, I wanted to explore what could possibly push someone that far, especially someone who still loved their spouse so much. For women it can be hard juggling so much: work and running a home, and then if they choose to have children it’s even more. If they start to feel unsupported by their partner it can really tip the balance. I wanted the reader to understand and even feel sympathy for her.

Why did you use the topic of miscarriages as one of the factors?

Having children isn’t always that straightforward, although many men and women think it is. A large majority of women suffer miscarriages but you only find this out when you experience one yourself, as I did between my two children. Mine was early on but it was still an emotional ride, but I have many friends over the years who have had multiple losses & some quite late on. It can destroy a person and a marriage. It’s a subject that isn’t talked about very often, if at all. And although I only touched on it lightly with Tony’s character, it affects men too. I considered his affair to be, in some ways, his way of dealing with that loss and what was happening to his wife.

Lizzy clearly suffered a breakdown; did you find that difficult to write?

I didn’t, it sort of wrote itself. From the opening it is clear that Lizzy has had a break from reality and lost it completely. I have spent time in therapy myself, both in my early 20s and early 40s due to a traumatic childhood, so I understand the process of analysing and taking yourself apart and putting yourself back together. I knew what a therapist would say or do, and how they would direct her to help her gain clarity. In some ways they were the easiest parts of the book for me.

This is your first psychological thriller, do you plan to write more?

I don’t tend to write within genre lines. I didn’t really know what this book was until another writer friend read it and defined it. I always tend towards darker stories, even horror, particularly in terms of people’s minds – my flash collection Mostly Dark contains many of them. But I also like exploring science fiction and am currently working on a sequel to my novella The Game (found in my short story collection, Slipping Through). In this story a the dark villain is playing mind games with his victims forcing them to chase him through different parallels universes in attempts to get to their own time. What can I say, a sick mind intrigues me.

And finally, who was the most difficult character to write in Sleep & why?

Tony was actually quite hard because I liked him. He had a good heart and really loved Lizzy. I found it hard to turn him into a bad guy. For a while I wasn’t sure he was coming across bad enough until my early readers expressed a hatred of him. I think maybe because Lizzy is the main point of view and she still loved him that it was hard for me as the writer not to as well.

(Mostly Dark & Slipping Through are written under pen name Miranda Kate)

You can get a copy of Sleep, by M. K. Boers here.

You can find out more on her website, or Twitter @PurpleQueenNL

Miranda Kate spent her early childhood in Surrey, in the south of England, and her teens moving round the UK, but currently resides in the Netherlands. Miranda has been featured in several Flash Fiction anthologies, and has published two collections, one of dark flash-fiction tales, called Mostly Dark, and another of science-fiction stories, called Slipping Through. The latter containing a short novella, for which a sequel is forthcoming.

Blog tour: 35 Deaths by Mason Ball

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mason Ball’s The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County. More on that later.

Mason has dropped by to let us know ‘Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Me’.

Over to you, Mason

#1 A painted fool
When not writing, I am a cabaret performer and award-winning emcee. As ‘Benjamin Louche’ I’ve hosted and appeared in shows up and down the UK, as well as in Europe and America. For the last nine years, along with my wife Rose Thorne, I have co-produced and hosted monthly cabaret show The Double R Club (inspired by the world of David Lynch).

#2 An explosive debut
I wrote my first poem, entitled Fireworks, Fireworks, Bang, Bang, Bang at the age of six: (transcribed from original)

Fireworks Fireworks bang bang bang.
They are pretty.
They Sparkle in the night.
Thhey spray some colours
They light the sky.
They are golden.
Whizz whizz they go.
The Catherine wheel gose round.
They spray a rash of stars in The dark.

#3 Cheers
I first tried gin when, at the bar, I ordered a beer and my friend Kris ordered a G&T. I ridiculed him good-naturedly for the next half an hour, then when we returned to the bar he suggested I try one; It’s been my drink ever since. For this, and for many, many other reasons, #35Deaths is dedicated, in part, to Kris. My favourite gin at the moment is probably Tanqueray Ten (gifts are always welcome).

#4 What’s the opposite of hagiography?
While at London Metropolitan University as a mature student, I won the Sandra Ashman Prize for my poem Mother Teresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. This was the first time I’d received money for something I’d written and as such it somewhat blew my tiny mind.

#5 Banana Man
Until the crowdfunding campaign for #35Deaths I had never eaten a banana. Yes, I know it’s weird. I promised when I reached a certain percentage that not only would I eat one, but that I would film it, in full cabaret garb, for people’s ‘entertainment’; which I did. The verdict was that I am not a fan of the banana.

#6 Like fingernails on a blackboard
The over-amplified sound of the pouring of carbonated drinks in TV adverts set my teeth on edge and drives me mad!

#7 Fleeing the scene of the crime…?
I was born in Essex, but I escaped.

#8 Hot chocolate
I once dressed up as a bar of chocolate to promote Walker’s crisps. Another performer dressed as a chili and together we represented the Chili Choc flavour on the Walker’s website. Our slogan was “where sweet meats heat!” The guy playing chili was a street dancer however and when we attempted a humorous ‘chest bump’ I went flying and cracked my head on the concrete floor, thus screwing up ex-footballer Gary Lineker’s dialogue to camera.

#9 Who am I?
As a child at playschool / kindergarten, I would wear a different hat every day: fireman’s hat, crash helmet, baseball cap, gangster’s trilby, army officer’s cap etc. I think these days they call that multiple personality disorder…

#10 “May the force be with you”
I appeared in Star Wars, episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars, episode VIII: The Last Jedi as a creature performer; in the former as Praster Ommlen, and in the latter as Sosear Latta -as Sosear Latta I was photographed by Annie Leibovitz! I was also a Vogon in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and a mummy in The Mummy and The Mummy returns.

The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County, by Mason Ball is published by Unbound. You can find Mason on twitter @MasonBallAuthor.

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Mason Ball for inviting me onto the blog tour.

The dying years of the great depression; John Bischoffberger is a Pennsylvanian doctor adrift in Naples, Maine, struggling with his loss of religious faith and retreating from painful memories of The Great War.

As Medical Examiner John must document deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Yet as he goes about his work, he begins to suspect that the deaths he is called upon to deal with are in fact far from routine.

He becomes convinced that three itinerants are going about the county, killing. An old woman, a little girl, and a thin man are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, brutally murdering men, women and children; and the deaths seem to be drawing closer to John: others who may suspect foul play, then acquaintances of his, then perhaps friends, even family members.

As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.

Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, Mason eventually took the whole writing thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received first class honours in Creative Writing. In his second year, he won the Sandra Ashman award for his poem Mother Theresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. He has subsequently had work published in Succour magazine and Brand magazine.
Mason is currently working on a number of writing projects, as well as developing his next novel. In addition to this, he writes, co-produces and hosts the award-winning monthly cabaret night The Double R Club (as Benjamin Louche, winner of “Best Host” at the London Cabaret Awards). He also worked as a performer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Last Jedi.
Mason is a trustee of East London charity Cabaret vs Cancer. He lives in East London with his wife, a cat called Monkey, and a collection of antique medical equipment.

The Cutaway – Q&A with Christina Kovacs

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

It begins with someone else’s story. The story of a woman who leaves a busy restaurant and disappears completely into the chilly spring night. Evelyn Carney is missing – but where did she go? Who was she meeting? And why did she take a weapon with her when she went?

When brilliant TV producer Virginia Knightley finds Evelyn’s missing person report on her desk, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened that night. But her pursuit of the truth draws her deep into the power struggles and lies of Washington DC’s elite – to face old demons and new enemies.

The new thriller by debut author Christina Kovac is set in the world of rolling news, a world that Christina knows well as she worked in TV journalism for many years in Washington DC. And today Christina is here for a Q&A!

Tell me about a typical day at the office when you worked in TV news?

It depended on where I was working, but my days were often like Virginia Knightly’s workday. Before I went into the office, I’d read the newspapers and websites and peek at the cable news. At the office, I’d read into the stories we were working on and call around to sources. Hunting for news, I’d call it. There were editorial meetings where stories were pitched. Sometimes I’d run out to grab an interview. Other times, I’d spend weeks on a special project, like election coverage or a crime story. It was always busy.

Washington is like its own closed little world to those of us on the outside – which books or films are the best way in?

This is only my opinion, but if you’d like a good explainer for how the United States government became the mess it currently is, read DARK MONEY by Jane Mayer. It’s non-fiction.
If you want to forget what a mess it is, watch Scandal. So sexy, but not even close to realistic, and you’ll need that after you read Jane Mayer.

Who are your writing heroes and heroines?

I read A Room of One’s Own when I was in college. It struck me as a good manual for women who want to do anything creative. It still does. I named my protagonist after Ms. Woolf.

Who do you think tells the best stories about contemporary America?

The sands beneath us are still shifting, so it’s hard to say right now. All we know is that everything has changed. Whoever captures the sense of being utterly lost, of no longer knowing who you are as a country or even what your country wants to be, whoever tells that story has got contemporary America. I say this with great love for my country, and tears in my eyes.

We were all hooked on podcast Serial and Netflix’ Making a Murderer. What do you think about the dramatic retelling of true crimes in a way that sets them up as entertainment?

Making a Murderer was so great, because you never knew who was telling the truth—which is how it is. You get to be the armchair detective in an investigation where everyone lies—or bends the truth. And the stakes are so high. Life and death, freedom or incarceration, innocence and guilt and the social stigma that comes with being accused, and don’t forget—the murdered girl who deserves justice.

Do you think people in power often get away with the abuse of the vulnerable?

Yes. They will often do what they can get away with. It’s up to the media to throw a light on abuse. That’s why we need a strong Fourth Estate—and whistle blowers.

How do you think books especially fiction coming out of the Trump era will differ from those that preceded it?

We’ll have to see. It’s only been two months! Doesn’t it feel like years? I do know it was much easier to write good prose under “No Drama Obama,” as we called him.

Who are your favourite literary heroines?

When I was a girl, I loved the MM Kaye female protagonists. They were adventurous and smart and carried me along with them to foreign lands—England, Zanzibar, India! Scarlett O’Hara got me through my parent’s divorce. Recently, I loved Tana French’s Antoinette Conway. She didn’t need to be loved. She just needed to do her job—and that made her lovable, to me.

 

Thanks Christina!

You can find Christina on twitter @christina_kovac and THE CUTAWAY is out now in hardback and ebook and is published by Serpent’s Tail (@serpentstail).

Get a copy at:

 

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.