By Eithne Shortall
January 8 2017, The Sunday Times (Ireland)
An Irish priest who claimed to have carried out thousands of exorcisms and became a New York Times bestselling author, is the subject of a feature-length documentary that will premiere on Netflix worldwide next weekend.
Malachi Martin, who came from Kerry and worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, claimed to have been the inspiration for the archaeologist priest featured in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Hostage to the Devil, an Irish-Northern Irish co-production directed by Marty Stalker, reveals how his friends and supporters believe his final exorcism, performed on a three-year-old girl, was to blame for his death in 1999.
Hostage to the Devil also details correspondence from the Jesuit order that said Martin was expelled from the Jesuits* in the 1960s, despite continuing to act and promote himself as a priest for three further decades**. The film features interviews with those who knew Martin and footage of several exorcisms.
Martin was the author of several books including the bestselling Hostage to the Devil, from which the documentary takes its name. He made regular appearances on American television and radio promoting his writing and detailing his experience as an exorcist. Stalker, who worked on the project for five years, said it was difficult to corroborate many of Martin’s stories.
“The underlying question in this film was, did this man tell the truth or was he an absolute sociopath? For me, I feel like he was in the middle. He believed what he was saying 100% but I also believe he did enjoy the spotlight and the money coming in with his book sales,” said Stalker.
In the documentary, Martin’s supporters state that the former priest** believed his death was connected to an exorcism he carried out on a three-year-old girl in Connecticut. Martin died in 1999 after a brain injury sustained when he fell off a stool in his New York apartment. Robert Marro, a former CIA agent and friend of Martin’s, says he received a phone call after the fall.
“The phone rang that morning and it was Malachi’s voice on the other end, speaking in a very strained, weak voice,” Marro told the documentary makers. “And his exact words were, ‘Bob, I’ve taken a bit of a tumble.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘I’ve hit my head. I was reaching for a book standing on a stool in my study and I had the stool knocked out from under me.’ ‘What do you mean it was pushed out from under you?’ And he said, ‘Well, apparently Old Scratch wasn’t terribly happy with what we just did up in Connecticut.’”
Hostage to the Devil contains footage of Ralph Sarchie, a former New York police officer and student of Martin’s, carrying out an exorcism on the same girl four years later. There are earlier clips of Martin in which he claims to have received injuries and lost friends as the result of exorcisms. “It cost me a lot,” he says. “It cost me two broken legs and almost broken kneecaps. It endangered my life several times but I wasn’t supposed to die yet apparently.”
Martin was born in Kerry in 1921 and joined the Jesuits before the Second World War. He studied in Belgium and was based at the Vatican before being advised to leave Rome after he became critical of the more liberal Vatican II. In 1966, he moved to America where he remained until his death.
Hostage to the Devil was sold to Netflix at the Cannes film festival last year and will be available worldwide next Sunday.
The film was co-produced by Causeway Pictures in Northern Ireland and Underground Films in Dublin. It received funding from the Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen.
Martin was religious editor of the National Review magazine in the 1970s. He remained critical of the “liberal” Catholic church all his life, believing the Vatican was ignoring an epidemic of demonic possession.
* This is shabby reporting. Malachi Martin was not “expelled” from the Jesuits. He requested to be released from the order due to the way the Jesuits had become steeped in Modernism.
** Father Malachi Martin remained a priest all his life. He celebrated daily a private Traditional Latin Mass.