‘HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL’
**This review is spoiler free**
Every so often a documentary comes along that really works. Now and again, a documentarian comes along and produces something so profoundly compelling that you find yourself instantaneously immersed and fully submerged into a world you’d never even known existed. Sometimes that world is utterly terrifying. Lucky for us, this is the world that’s brought to the forefront in Marty Stalker’s latest, HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to nab an early viewing of HOSTAGE during its premiere at the annual horror film festival, FrightFest. And, let me tell you, when HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL works its way into theaters (October 31st) it’ll be well worth the cost of admission, whether or not you consider yourself a fan of documentaries.
HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL is based on Malachi Martin’s book of the same name – published in 1976. However, while the book tells the story of Martin’s career as an exorcist, travelling far and wide across the United States in an attempt to exorcise the souls of the unfortunate demon possessed, the documentary, while touching on those topics, turns the camera on Martin himself – which at its core is far more compelling. Was Martin actually a believer of the word he preached? What actually happened on his final case? Was he simply a smoke-and-mirrors con man? How far does this whole thing go?
Those that are familiar with Martin probably already know of his work. He was fairly prolific during his heyday and made various television appearances discussing his work, working the talk show circuit. Those that aren’t, however, will more than likely be very aware of his most famous case, The Exorcism of Robbie Mannheim. However, most probably know “Robbie” as “Regan” and “Martin” as “Father Merrin.”
Allegedly, his final exorcism was that which went on to inspire THE EXORCIST and, according to Martin, the story depicted in the 1977 William Friedkin classic was a cake walk compared to what he actually experienced.
In HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL a light is shone on his final case, but not for long, as the man behind the miracles proves time and again to be a much more fascinating subject.
Throughout, there are various video clips of Martin speaking in regards to his work via archival footage (Martin unfortunately passed in 1999 due to a cerebral hemorrhage). In these clips, he tends to ramble on and on about the horrors he faced throughout his career. More often than not, one finds him playing games of circular logic, leading the audience into thinking they’ve heard something profound when really they’ve heard nothing at all. It is within this footage that one begins to question his validity. Was Malachi Martin, the world renowned exorcist, nothing more than a con man in a Priest costume? Furthermore, how “good” and “pure” was this man of the cloth, really?
While HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL frames its story around Martin’s final “battle,” the exorcism of a four-year-old girl, one finds it hard to focus on the religious details with so many questions unanswered about the man himself. For me, this was the documentary’s biggest downfall.
Despite the gritty details about the challenges and triumphs of this “last exorcism,” I found myself consistently doubling back to the various allegations against Martin’s character.
While HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL proves to be an interesting character study, it leaves more questions than it does answers, which very well may have been the point.
When all is said and done, one is left questioning not only the intentions and truth of Malachi Martin, but of religious leaders as a whole. I couldn’t help but wonder about priests and pastors I’d known as a kid as I bounced from church to church with my family; always on the lookout for spiritual salvation. How much truth was really being served from behind the pulpit? Were we all just being conned? How “good” was the person guiding us to forgiveness and eternal life?
Martin is a character one can’t help but feel drawn to. However, HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL brings to light the possibility that perhaps that was part of his game all along.
HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL is truly a wonderful film; well made from every angle. The fact that it left me scratching my head long after the credits is a testament to its success. The compelling storytelling and well-constructed case study of its central character makes HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL as entertaining as it is insightful and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me wanting more.
HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL hits theaters this coming Halloween, October 31st and from this humble skeptic receives 4 out of 5 Good Guys.
Follow and insult Ian Donegan on Twitter @ianjdonegan
‘HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL’