Back in the day, exorcisms used to be all the rage. Any instance of mental illness was ruled to be Demonic Possession. You know what that means: head spinning, projectile vomit, and speaking in tongues. Pretty soon you have no choice but to haul in an exorcist to cast the demon out of the person in question and send it back to Hell.
These affairs are likely to be very dramatic. The exorcist will call upon a deity's name (usually Jesus, but sometimes the Holy Ghost, the Father, or another deity altogether if the religion is not of this world). There will be splashing of holy water, physical and emotional battles of will, fervent chanting in Latin and perhaps some cool special effects. Expect the walls to bleed, the subject of possession to wail and shake in ways no human could imagine, and a demon to emerge either in physical or shadow form. Or so Hollywood would have you believe.
Nowadays, the Catholic church is loath to declare "possession" and perform exorcisms. Real life cases have proved that many cases of Demonic Possession are actually a result of severe psychological disorders (usually Epilepsy or Schizophrenia). Indeed, there are several symptoms which must be met for the church to consider that an exorcism is needed, such as being aware of events that the possessed individual should not have any way of knowing, and being burned by religious imagery. This trope still gets play in Religious Horror and other such genres, but is more likely to be subverted in more serious works.
Another point: Fictional portrayals of exorcism will sometimes involve "bell, book and candle." In real life, the Catholic casting-out ritual of bell, book, and candle is a form of excommunication, something quite different. The particular ritual involved is no longer practiced, regardless.
Finally, note that non-Catholic demons and exorcisms may look completely different, ranging from much gentler to much more violent. To this day in many cultures, mostly those where animist religions predominate, demonic possession is still considered a legitimate medical complaint. You will find that a few Christian denominations will consider an exorcism for the most ridiculous things.
- Blaine Abel of Revival has a side gig performing these. He genuinely believes in demonic possession and has (poorly) researched the subject. However his successful cases were themselves faking it and backed down when he called them out privately.
- The Exorcist is probably the Trope Codifier.
- Although the Catholic Church's reluctance to perform exorcisms was explicitly mentioned.
Chris: How do you go about getting an exorcism?
Karras: I beg your pardon? Well, the first thing — I'd have to get into a time machine and get back to the 16th century... Well, it just doesn't happen any more, Mrs. MacNeill... since we learned about mental illness, paranoia, schizophrenia... Since the day I joined the Jesuits, I've never met one priest who has performed an exorcism. Not one.
- A good quarter of the book was dedicated to details of Fr. Karras' scholarly research and interviews with "Regan" to convince first himself, and then the Bishop, that this was the genuine article.
- The doctors also say it might help. They conclude that as Regan genuinely thinks that she is possessed by a demon, an exorcism might convince her that the demon has been driven out.
- Although the Catholic Church's reluctance to perform exorcisms was explicitly mentioned.
- In The Order, Alex Bernier performed an exorcism on Mara before the movie begins.
- The movie Practical Magic has a rare example of witches performing an exorcism on one of the main characters, to rid her of the ghost of her ex-boyfriend.
- Constantine. The title character's attempt to exorcise Mammon from Angela Dodson. It doesn't work.
- He performs a successful exorcism on a girl early in the film, trapping the demon in a big mirror and then dropping the mirror off a building before the demon can break out.
- Works like Poltergeist or The Amityville Horror (1979) apply this trope to entire buildings.
- The Rite plays this straight, albeit in a more subdued manner than usual, and lampshades it by having the exorcist joke about profectile vomit head spinning.
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose plays the exorcism rite as very much Hollywood Exorcism despite being loosely based on the real-life death of Anneliese Michel after a failed exorcism.
- In This Is the End, Jay Baruchel attempts an exorcism on a demonically possessed Jonah Hill. The others criticize him for copying The Exorcist, but (to everyone's immense surprise) it actually starts to work.
- In the The Devil Within Her an Enfant Terrible is possessed by the spirit of a Depraved Dwarf and later exorcised by a nun. In the end, the child is free and the dwarf dies.
- The Bell Witch Haunting has a priest called in near the end of the film, who seems to take the exorcism seriously, but is reading off of cue cards. It does not end well.
- Gandalf the White casts Saruman out of King Theoden of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in a manner very reminiscent of an exorcism. Gandalf primarily uses his power as one of the Maiar to do the deed instead of calling upon any higher power though.
Gandalf: I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound.
- I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle has an attempted exorcism of a demon-possessed motorbike that, after spectacular supernatural phenomena of both dark and light varieties, ends up failing.
- Usually averted in Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels. Sure, there are ghosts and demons, and exorcists ply their trade, but the exorcisms aren't anything like what you usually see in Hollywood: the main character uses a tin whistle to send ghosts away, whilst others use card tricks, lighters, or poems. There are as many methods of exorcism as there are exorcists.
- Shadwell tries to perform an exorcism on Aziraphale in Good Omens, and believes it worked since, coincidentally, the angel stepped into a summoning circle just as Shadwell finished his incantation.
Aziraphale: Oh, fuck.
- Break of Dark by Robert Westall plays this straight in Blackham's Wimpy. Dadda Townsend, the bomber group's resident Irishman with some time at seminary, tries to convince the German ghost in S-Sugar to leave with the Bible, rosary beads, Latin and some just plain understanding and reasoning. It doesn't work.
- The Changeover: Laura removed the villain, Carmody Braque, in a way that could be comparable to an exorcism.
- In Andrei Belyanin's The Shaimer of Shaitan, the titular demon possesses a guard named Aslan-Bey in order to use him to kill the protagonist Lev. Lev and Nasreddin manage to disarm and tie up the possessed guard, and Nasreddin attempts to exorcise him using a Muslim prayer he read about once, while Lev threatens Shaitan with a big stick, whacking the guard a few times with it. Finally, in order to humiliate the enemy of humankind, Nasreddin covers Aslan-Bey's nose and mouth, leaving the demon only one exit point. It works.
- In A Head Full Of Ghosts a teen girl behaves strangely and her dad decides she needs an exorcism. The twist: He sells the rights to a TV crew.
- Back in 2000 BBC did a show called Everyman and one of the episodes was about real exorcism done by real priests."Everyman- Exorcism "
- Subverted in an episode of Psych. The subject of the possession plays it up, and a real Catholic exorcist is called out. But she's faking, using what she knows of possession from movies (and stealing the priest's medication to bring on some symptoms) to convince everyone she's possessed, all to cover up a murder.
- Law & Order has also subverted this a few times with the exorcism-gone-wrong, leading to somebody's death. Usually the victim is suffering from some form of psychosis.
- One episode deconstructed this trope. The exorcist did a very Hollywood-style exorcism, tying a girl to the bed, and that led to her death. A priest pointed out that there are procedures before doing a real one, most notably to eliminate the possibility of just more mundane causes like the above mentioned psychosis, nor would he have been so reckless about the safety of the girl.
- In True Blood, Miss Jeanette performs an exorcism on Tara's mom to cure her alcoholism. In all fairness though, Miss Jeanette turns out to be a fraud. And yet, Tara's own exorcism results in her accidentally summoning Maryann.
- The Angel episode "I've Got You Under My Skin" shows Wesley attempting and Angel succeeding in performing an exorcism on a possessing demon. There's talk about an exorcist priest which the two had sought before, but the priest in question had been killed by the same type of demon they wanted to exorcise. In any case, turns out the child was even worse than the demon.
- A techno-fantasy version in the Torchwood episode "Sleeper" (supposedly forcing an alien secondary personality to manifest, but played just like Hollywood Exorcism).
- Demon-heavy show Supernatural keeps things simple. To exorcise a demon, recite the proper incantation in Latin. Getting the demon to sit still long enough to do it is one thing though, and remembering the words is another...
- This trope is parodied in "Bring Em Back Alive". Lucifer drops in on a very familiar Demonic Possession scene and expels the minor demon with a gesture. The demon in question was apparently just messing with the priests for shits and giggles. The priests really aren't happy to discover that Lucifer just helped them out.
- The Scooby Gang performed an exorcism with bell, book and candle in one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though on a ghost rather than a demon. Cordelia was reluctant to participate, as "I've seen that movie. Even the priest died."
- Nice twist on this in the Babylon 5 Direct-to-Video spin-off The Lost Tales. A character on the station was spectacularly demon-possessed, but we didn't see the exorcism as the preacher had him shipped back to Earth for it. The concept was that demons are trapped on Earth by some mystical barrier, and that this demon was deliberately trying to get exorcised from its victim on a space station so that it could then wander the universe freely.
- A nun tries this on Jaye in Wonderfalls.
- A very creepy Criminal Minds episode called "Demonology" centered around a priest who had been performing lethal exorcisms. Though it was left ambiguous as to whether he was using poisoned Holy Water (the teams working theory) or if the victims were all actually possessed by "taking you with me" demons.
- A medium attempts to exorcise Sally in Being Human (US). It very nearly works, but Sally manages to stop the ritual by briefly possessing the medium.
- Salem: Mercy's father gives her one, though it doesn't have the usual "The Power of Christ compels you!" bit. Notably it includes making a cut on her stomach, and then a snake slithers out. Turns out that was how the witches were controlling her, it actually worked.
- Penny Dreadful has two attempts in the episode Possession, as Vanessa's control over her Demonic Possession finally erodes. The first, conducted by a priest, completely fails, whereas the second attempt by Ethan succeeds.
- An episode of CSI involved a teenage girl that had apparently been possessed and The Alleged Expert of a priest that had tried to exorcise her being one of the suspects (the team even sees the recording of said exorcism attempt and spends a good minute or so believing that they are seeing some kind of Snuff Film until things are made clear). It turns out that the girl is a psychotic killer that was planning to (and eventually does) kill her family (which drives the priest to kill her in a Vigilante Execution), but the episode milks for all its worth the theory of whether the girl was really possessed by a murderous demon, simply went crazy, or was that monstrous and the whole "possessed" thing was just some attempt to get away with her murder via an Insanity Defense.
- Averted in The Magnus Archives episodes "Confession" and "Desecrated Host" which are narrated by a Catholic priest and exorcist. Exorcism and the problems that prompt it are presented as being much less dramatic and horrific than the Hollywood version. Most of the time.
- In Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting, the cast perform an exorcism on a spirit inhabiting Linda's flat. They try the bell, book and candle method, but since they can't find the required items, cab driver Worra improvises with a musical air freshener (bell), the manual for his Nissan (book), and a glowing car cigarette lighter (candle).
- In Magna Veritas, Walther is the archangel of exorcists. Originally the vicar of a little church, he somehow managed to exorcise demon prince Andromalius himself, which earned him an instant promotion (skipping all angel ranks) but left him schizophrenic from the mental battle. Angels working for him can banish a demon and get the original soul back in the body, in a state depending of where it was.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Most cases of exorcism are treated by a quick lasbolt to the head before the daemon can fully emerge (psykers are particularly prone to Demonic Possession, shooting them straightaway is actually a Mercy Kill). The Exorcists chapter of Space Marines takes it a step further: as part of their initiation, every Marine is intentionally possessed by a daemon for a short time before being exorcised. While incredibly risky, this has the advantage of rendering them far more resilient to the taint of Chaos and even affords them a measure of protection when fighting Warp-spawned entities.
- The Ordo Malleus section of the Inquisition is charged with investigating suspected Chaos activity and putting a stop to it before it gets out of hand. Best case scenario is that no more than a dozen people end up getting killed, while the worst case scenario may well involve an Exterminatus — an order to have an entire planet destroyed to prevent further spread of Chaos contamination.
- The final battle of Sweet Home involves the survivors trying to exorcise the vengeful spirit of Mamiya. This involves using important items and Praying at the right moments.
- In Chinese Paladin, at one point you are required to help a relative overcome some demons. To that end you are tasked with finding an exorcist, who promptly performs the ritual with all the bells and whistles, while chanting a chinese rhyme. Hilariously the moment he finishes, his wards and seals burst into flame as the real Demon shows up. Apparently the words he used to bring demons out were right, but all of his wards were fake. Ironically, at the end turns out the demon he aggravated was the benevolent one, so even if he was real he would have done nothing anyways.
- The free game Faith involves a priest returning to the site of a failed exorcism that had claimed the lives of his colleagues (and the victim's parents) to try to finish the job. As this is a Retraux video game, his technique consists entirely of aiming a cross in the general direction of what he's trying to exorcise. Somehow, his cross is also able to scrounge up relevant documents as well.
- In Sinfest, Satan and Baby Blue stage an inverted one, to try to bring Fuchsia back to evil.
- Knights of Buena Vista is a Campaign Comic covering Frozen. When Elsa's powers are revealed, an NPC shouts that she must be possessed by Satan. Then another NPC wants to get some holy water and a two by four.
- In The League of S.T.E.A.M.'s webisode "Dinner with the Devil", Sir Conrad performs one. It goes awry.
- In episode 4 of Spooked, the team perform an exorcism, complete with Bible recitals, candles, a circle of salt and a member of the group dressing up in priestly garbs.
- Pokemon Pals: Parodied when Ash and Brock hire a "pokepriest" to exorcise a Ghastly out of Misty.
- The Protectors of the Plot Continuum perform exorcisms to cast out the specters of badfic authors from whatever fic the mission takes place in with the help of bell, book, and candle, though in this case, the book is a copy of whatever canon the fic takes place in that bears its author/creator's signature. The bells also serve as convenient blunt force weapons in a pinch.
- One such ritual takes place in an episode centering on Demonic Possession in Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel), where Michael Taylor, a British man, is subjected to three priests armed with crucifixes, who manage to remove all but three demons from him. This comes back to bite all of the parties involved later on...
- Parodied in The Crumpets episode "Hairifying". The twins (who pretend to be medics) claim that the frightened Ohoh is "possessed" and Li'l-One seeks an exorciser for him. The twins fool Ohoh into getting his "night terrors" cured by having him consume a green tablet which leads to him emitting green foam and bubbles from his mouth. Triceps arrives and shakes Ohoh and presses her arm in his mouth to attempt ejecting the "demon" she suspects to be inside him before getting vomited by him. Eventually, Li'l One summons their neighbor Ms. McBrisk, who wears a black garb and holds sticks of fire, and candles are seen as she begins an exorcism. As Ohoh lays on a bed, she ties all of his limbs before giving him a potion to cure him. The potion's unintentional side effect is a green odor from Ohoh that turns females into zombies.