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THE LAST EXORCISM

About the Production
Whether practiced by Catholic priests, evangelical ministers or Episcopal charismatics, the ancient rite of exorcism is alive and well in the new millennium, with many academics and practitioners stating in recent years that its practice is actually on the rise. The results of a 2005 Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe in possession by the devil. Last year, the Archdiocese of Chicago appointed its first full-time exorcist in its 160-year history; and in New York, a group of four priests have officially investigated about forty cases of suspected possession every year since 1995. Father James LeBar, the former exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York, recently claimed that one in every ten Catholics in the United States has either witnessed or been part of an exorcism. "Ten years ago I had no cases,” he reported, "and now I have three hundred.”

The growing trend has reached the highest levels of the Vatican. Amid the Catholic Church's concerns about growing worldwide interest in Satanism and the occult, Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years, announced an initiative supported by Pope Benedict XVI to "fight the Devil head-on” by training hundreds of priests as exorcists. Many now attend the Vatican-backed Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, a conservative Catholic University on the outskirts of Rome, which offers a specialized curriculum on exorcism for priests. 

In the evangelical arena, popular pastors like Bob "The Real Exorcist” Larson in South Carolina and Tom Brown in El Paso, Texas consult on or perform hundreds of exorcisms every year. Michael Cuneo, a professor of sociology at Fordham University, reports, "By conservative estimates, there are at least five or six hundred evangelical exorcism ministries in operation today, and quite possibly two or three times this many.”

In the last two months alone, media outlets have reported on the death of a 4-year-old Russian boy caused by a brutal exorcism rite and on the disturbing rise of child exorcisms by evangelists across Africa. 

Are these exorcisms real? Is demonic possession a reality, or is it simply a symptom of overwrought religious fanaticism or mental illness? Lionsgate's release of THE LAST EXORCISM examines these questions from a skeptic's point of view with the story of Reverend Cotton Marcus. Raised a true believer in the evangelical faith, Reverend Marcus has spent over twenty-five years conducting exorcisms he's known were fake. Wanting to come clean, he lets a documentary film crew in on the tricks of his trade while he performs one last exorcism on Nell, a Louisiana farm girl…only to find himself face to face for the first time with evil incarnate.

"Throughout the film the question is: Is it supernatural or is it human evil? Is Nell schizophrenic or is she possessed?” says director Daniel Stamm. "That to me is the interesting question. The film is about faith, the role faith plays in your life and what that does to you – how it can help you, and how it can destroy you.”

"The film is about how you perceive good and evil,” adds Patrick Fabian, who stars as Reverend Cotton. "It's about what your convictions are and if they'll come through for you when you need them most.” 

THE LAST EXORCISM began with producer Eric Newman's interest in making a film about demonic possession that hewed closely to reality. He approached writers Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko, whose previous feature, MAIL ORDER WIFE, used an effective faux-documentary style that was the perfect stylistic match for Newman's story idea. As they developed the script, Gurland and Botko were inspired by a famous 1970s documentary entitled MARJOE. Explains Gurland, "MARJOE is about a preacher who allows a documentary to be made about him, and he takes you behind the curtain and let's you see how the whole thing is a fraud. He doesn't believe in it and he's trying to get out of it. We thought that would be a good beginning for the story.”

While THE LAST EXORCISM's primary aim is to terrify audiences, Gurland and Botko remained committed to creating a dramatically compelling story. "We wanted the movie to work even if it was just a straight documentary, even before we got into the supernatural stuff,” says Gurland. "We thought it would be a good documentary to show behind the curtain of a guy who's doing phony exorcisms – and if it were just that movie and there were no supernatural elements then it would still be a good movie. So we tried to approach it like that: what would be a good documentary and then how could we twist out of that.”

According to the writers, THE LAST EXORCISM's documentary style also afforded them more creative freedom. "Truth is stranger than fiction,” Botko explains. "We get away with a lot of things that we can't when it's a regular narrative, which has its three-act structure and cues that everyone has come to expect. In a documentary you can do stuff that in a regular movie people would say was too weird or too strange.” 

Producer Eli Roth, who is also an actor and director (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, HOSTEL), immediately agreed to partner with Eric Newman upon reading the finished script. "It was one of the scariest, most original scripts I've ever read,” he reports. "I literally could not put it down and had chills all the way through. I loved the idea that it was a film about debunking exorcisms, showing that it's all fake, and slowly realizing there are forces far greater than your comprehension and that you shouldn't mess with them. It kept me guessing all the way through.”

In search of an appropriate director, Newman and Roth were drawn to the burgeoning talents of director Daniel Stamm, whose previous film, A NECESSARY DEATH, was an award-winning, documentary-styled narrative picture. "Daniel's film was really incredible in terms of its reality and the performances,” says Newman. "It's a different kind of a movie – much more of a psychological exercise. But it demonstrated that he could work in this style as well as anyone.”

While Stamm's aptitude in the realm of psychological terror was apparent, the horror genre was new ground for the director. "A lot of the horror scenes were new to me,” Stamm says, "so that was kind of challenging from a technical point of view. The most exciting scenes to shoot were the character-based ones, where you can have the actor just go and you don't know what the outcome is going to be. You get something different every time you do it.”

Stamm believes that the awareness of the camera within the world of the film, a hallmark of documentary filmmaking, is a critical component to the success of the film's realism. He says, "The cameraman actually exists in the film as a character, and represents the audience, which I really love because it forces the audience into an intimacy with what's going on that sometimes may be uncomfortable. And I think for a horror movie that's brilliant, when you get the audience closer than they would ever want to be.” He adds, "In a normal narrative film you probably wouldn't go to that extreme close-up as we're doing in the documentary style. So we're in people's faces much more than they're used to, which I think really helps with the intensity.”

In preparation for the shoot, actors Patrick Fabian ("Veronica Mars,” "Big Love”) and Ashley Bell ("United States of Tara”) studied footage of actual exorcisms in order to avoid resorting to pop culture clichés of what an exorcism looks like. Says Stamm, "We didn't want to try to imitate movies like THE EXORCIST. We wanted to give the fans of the genre something new and fresh, a new spin on things, rather than to repeat old clichés.”

"We wanted our exorcism to feel raw, real and fresh, like you are truly in the room with someone who could be possessed,” adds

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