Possessed

Possessed by Thomas Allen was originally published in 1993 by Doubleday. I am fortunate enough to have an original hardback copy I bought second hand fifteen years ago, while researching for my first novel, When Evil Visits. The inside of the front cover of  Possessed sums up this fascinating book perfectly:

‘In August 1949, an article in the Washington Post caught the eye of William Peter Blatty, then an undergraduate: ‘Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip’,  said the headline. The story went on to describe many of the bizarre and harrowing events that Blatty would later draw upon in his best selling novel The Exorcist and in the celebrated film of the same title: the scratchings in the attic, the lacerations on the child’s body, the cursing, the moving bed.

More than forty years later, a priest’s diary, hidden for all those years in a mysterious locked room in a St Louis mental hospital, came to light. It turned out to be a detailed account written by one of a team of Jesuits who had carried out a series of exorcisms of the boy (Roland Roe). This diary fell into the hands of Thomas Allen, who made a point of researching every fact and tracking down every living witness connected with the case, including the victim. The latter went on to live a normal life and is now a married man in his fifties.

Possessed, the result of Allen’s meticulous researches, describes in detail the best documented real-life exorcism in history – and the evidence he has uncovered is so shocking, so chilling and so credible that it needs no hyperbole. Suffice to say that as you read this book you will understand at last the force of the old maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.’

THOMAS B.  ALLEN

Thomas Allen born 1929 is an American historian and author of sixteen books, amongst them Wargames, which Tom Clancy called ‘totally fascinating’ and ‘the standard work on the subject’.  Possessed is his most famous book. It was reissued as a revised paperback in 2000 to coincide with the release of the film Possessed starring Timothy Dalton.

THE EXORCIST (The Film)

The Exorcist is an American supernatural horror film released on 26th December 1973, the screenplay by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name and starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism of Roland Roe,  deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother’s attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two Jesuit priests.

The adaptation has been a massive commercial success. The film experienced a troubled production; even in the beginning, several prestigious film directors including Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn turned it down. Incidents, such as the toddler son of one of the main actors being hit by a motorbike and hospitalized, attracted claims that the set was cursed. The complex special effects used as well as the nature of the film locations also presented severe challenges.

In 1973 the film had a budget of $12 million and up to 2017 had taken $441.3 million and is regarded as one of the best horror films in history. It is the top grossing horror film of all time and was the second most popular film of 1974,  The Sting being number one.

In 1974The Exorcist was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning two. One by William Peter Blatty for Writing Adapted Screenplay and by Robert Knudson and Chris Newman for Best Sound Mixing.

The same year the film was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won four: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director – William Friedkin, Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture – Linda Blair and Best Screenplay – William Peter Blatty.

Blatty had no involvement in the film sequel The Exorcist 11: The Heretic in 1977 which was a flop critically and commercially.

 

 

THE EXORCIST (The Book)

Introduction by the author William Peter Blatty:

‘The terror began unobtrusively. Noises in Regan’s room, an odd smell, misplaced furniture, an icy chill. Small annoyances for which Chris MacNeil, Regan’s actress mother, easily found explanations. The changes in eleven year old Regan were so gradual, too, that Chris did not recognise for some time how much her daughter’s behaviour had altered. Even when she did, the medical tests which shed no light on Regan’s symptoms, which grew more severe and frightening. It was almost as if a different personality had invaded the child. Desperate, Chris turned from the doctors to Father Damien Karras, a Jesuit priest who was trained as a psychiatrist and had a deep knowledge of such phenomena as satanism and possession. Was it possible that a demonic force was at large? If psychiatry could not help, might exorcism be the answer?’

This is the first edition hardback cover first published in 1971 by Harper and Row.

The book has sold more than 13 million copies.

WILLIAM PETER BLATTY

William Peter Blatty was born 7th January 1928 in New York.  Prior to the success of  The Exorcist, in the 60’s Blatty was a prolific script writer for stars such as Danny Kaye, Julie Andrews, Rock Hudson and director Blake Edwards but it was his 1971 novel that propelled him to the top of  The New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks and remained on the list for 57 consecutive weeks.

In 1978 he wrote the psychological drama The Ninth Configuration, first published in 1966 as Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane.

In 1983  he released Legion, a sequel to The Exorcist and was adapted in to the film The Exorcist 111. 

Blatty had been working on a novel called Dimiter (also released under the title The Redemption) since 1974, during the production of The Exorcist and it was published in 2010 through Forge Books.

His last novel, Crazy was released in November 2010 through Forge Books.

On 12th January 2017 William Peter Blatty died in hospital of multiple myeloma at the age of 89 years.

 

 

 

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The Preston Witch

A Witches Grave

In the ancient village of Woodplumpton on the outskirts of the city of Preston, Lancashire is an old grave with many dark tales attached to it. A large boulder, so out of place among the Victorian and Edwardian headstones, covers the grave of a witch, named as Meg Shelton.

Meg Shelton was buried in the graveyard of St. Anne’s Church in 1705, nearly one hundred years after the Lancashire Witch craze at Pendle. She is buried in a shaft headfirst to stop her digging free from the grave and for good measure the heavy granite boulder was placed on top of the hole.

According to legend Meg, also known as The Fylde Hag,  had dug herself out of her grave three times, until she was buried alive and put into this hole headfirst. This seemed to have worked as she has not been seen since. Even to this day, visitors still place flowers on Meg’s grave

St Anne’s Church

The parish of Woodplumpton was recorded in the Domesday Book, as part of the ‘Great Survey’ of England and Wales completed in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror, now the King. The church itself is dedicated to St Anne and is known to have existed before the year 1340, but there is evidence of a place of worship on or near the present site as early as the 11th century.

Records show the present church was built in 1639 and extended in 1900. Many sections of the original stonework date back to the 12th century and in the vestry can be seen part of a Norman tombstone.

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St John’s Church and Graveyard, Lytham

This is a photo of the graveyard of the Anglican church, St John the Divine on East Beach, Lytham. The view is taken from South Warton Street looking on to Lytham Green and  windmill with the Victorian lifeboat house just visible behind the tree.

The church was completed in 1849 and built of sandstone on land donated by the Clifton family of Lytham Hall. It is a Grade 11 listed building which means ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest’.

The church was designed by Edwin Hugh Shellard, an ecclesiastical architect from Manchester and is the opinion of the National Heritage List for England to be Shellard’s best work.

 

Graveyard Fascination


I have always had a fascination with graveyards. I don’t know when this macabre interest began, but it was a long time ago. I can remember watching the old Hammer horror films as a young lad, frightened to hell as the heroes crept amongst the tombstones searching for a particular grave to dig up or mausoleum to break into, but loving it at the same time! I used to collect Eerie and Creepy magazines (wish I still had them) and also had an impressive collection of Aura monster models on display in my bedroom.  One of the highlights of Christmas was getting a monster model kit off my mum and dad and have it ready for painting by the end of Boxing Day!

I had all the ones in the Google Image photo below, plus The Witch, The Guillotine and The Addams Family Haunted House. I’ve no idea what happened to them though!

 

 

Lancashire Witches

Lancashire’s own ‘Witchfinder’

Lancashire had its own ‘Witchfinder’ a few years before Matthew Hopkins rose to fame. Roger Nowell was sixty years old in 1612, the year the ‘Pendle Witches’ were hung at Lancaster Castle.  He was High Sheriff of Lancashire and a local magistrate.

He lived at Read Hall near Padiham, a large country estate.  As part of his official duties as a magistrate for the Pendle district, Roger Nowell examined (stripped naked and scrutinised the body of the accused for the ‘witches mark’ such as moles, scars, birthmarks, natural skin defects or blemishes) and interviewed most of the twelve suspected witches.

King James 1

Nowell was  a devout Protestant, puritanical and ambitious.  This was his opportunity to impress King James 1.  The King believed strongly in the existence of witchcraft, claiming to be an expert on the subject and passed an Act which imposed the death penalty ‘for making a covenant with an evil spirit, using a corpse for magic, hurting life or limb, procuring love or injuring cattle by means of charms’ which only drove Nowell’s zealous persecution of the accused to the gallows.

The Accused

There were twelve accused by Nowell of witchcraft: Anne Whittle (Old Chattox), Ann Redfern, Alice Nutter, Elizabeth Device (Squinting Lizzie), Alison Device, James Device, Katherine Hewitt, Jane Bullock, John Bullock, Isobel Robey, Alice Grey and Elizabeth Southerns (Mother Demdike).

The Trial

The trial took place in August 1612 and the Prosecutor was Roger Nowell.

The prisoners were not allowed to have a defence counsel to represent them, nor could they call any witnesses to speak on their behalf. At the end of the three day trial at Lancaster Assizes, a total of ten people were found guilty of causing death or harm by witchcraft and were sentenced to death.  All except Alice Grey and Elizabeth Southerns were publicly hanged at Gallows Hill on the moor above the town.

Alice Grey was found not guilty. Elizabeth Southerns (Mother Demdike) died in prison awaiting trial.

The trial was based on wild accusations,  hearsay, forced/coerced confessions and became the biggest and most notorious witch trial in British history.

Witchfinder General

Witchfinder General

 

Vincent Price in the 1968 Tigon production of Witchfinder General, playing the title character, Matthew Hopkins, who terrorises the countryside during the 17th century Civil War.
The real Matthew Hopkins (c.1620 – 12 August 1647) was an English witch-hunter whose career flourished during the English Civil War. He claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament. His witch-hunts mainly took place in East Anglia.
Hopkins’ witch-finding career began in March 1643 and lasted until his retirement in 1647. He and his associates were responsible for more people being hanged for witchcraft than in the previous 100 years and were solely responsible for the increase in witch trials during those years. He is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 women between the years 1644 and 1646. It has been estimated that all of the English witch trials between the early 15th and late 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions for witchcraft. Therefore, presuming the number executed as a result of “investigations” by Hopkins and his colleague John Stearne is at the lower end of the various estimates, their efforts accounted for about 60 per cent of the total; in the 14 months of their crusade Hopkins and Stearne sent to the gallows more people than all the other witch-hunters in England of the previous 160 years.

St Cuthbert’s Cross

A modern wayside cross fixed into an ancient base in a hedge bordering Lytham cricket field on Church Road commemorates the Saint of Lindisfarne whose body, in its wooden sarcophagus, was carried by monks in their flight from the Danes in the 9th century. The inscribed cross says: According to ancient tradition, the body of St. Cuthbert about the year 882 A.D. once rested here.  The cross was restored in 1912 by Lytham’s blind Vicar, Canon Henry Beauchamp Hawkins. A church dedicated to St. Cuthbert has stood near this spot since the 12th century. St. Cuthbert’s body was carried over the Ribble estuary to Churchtown, near Southport, progressed to Chester-le-Street and finally came to rest at Durham, where the Cathedral now covers his shrine. Years later the tomb was opened and we are told, “whiles they opened his coffin they start at a wonder, they look for bones and flesh, they expected a skeleton and saw an entire body with joints flexible, his flesh so succulent that there wanted only heat…nay, his very funeral weeds were so fresh as if putrefaction had not dared to take him by the coat”.

This is an extract from Lancashire Legends by Kathleen Eyre published by The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd 1972.