WARNING: The following article contains images that some readers may find disturbing.
Horror fans may remember the film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" that came out in 2005. It depicted the tragic story of a young woman who was supposedly possessed by demons. As far as horror films go, it is definitely entertaining, providing some great scares and chills as we watch the young woman writhing and speaking in tongues. But what most people don't know is that the movie actually has a deep, dark secret...
Very few people are aware that the film is based on real events. And the scariest thing of all is that the true story is in some ways much more horrifying than anything a screenwriter could imagine.
The real Emily Rose was actually called Anna Elisabeth Michel or "Anneliese" for short. She was born in 1952 in Leiblfing, a small village in Bavaria, Germany. Her parents Josef and Anna were very strict Catholics and raised Anneliese to be devoutly religious.
Anneliese was a delicate child and often sick. As she got older she became a serious, quiet and friendly girl who went to church several times a week with her parents and three younger sisters.
At the age of 16, Anneliese was diagnosed with epilepsy. A short time later, when she caught pneumonia and then tuberculosis, she was sent to a sanatorium for six months. When she returned, she had to repeat a grade in school which led to her losing contact with her friends.
Her strict parents forbade her from seeing any boys and wouldn't even let girls her own age visit her. Anneliese was not allowed to dance or go out with other teenagers. The isolation soon took its toll and she began suffering from depression.
While studying intensively for her high school exams, she began to have auditory hallucinations. Anneliese thought she could hear knocking coming from the wall of her room and even claimed to hear voices from hell speaking to her.
When Anneliese moved to Würzburg later that year to go to university, she visited the campus clinic to seek help for her chronic depression. A physical examination revealed a brain lesion that was probably responsible for her epilepsy.
When she suddenly developed a strong aversion to religious objects, her parents and the other strictly religious adults around her began to suspect that Anneliese was possessed by evil spirits and not actually sick at all. They were so convinced that they actually managed to persuade Anneliese with this explanation.
In the summer of 1975, the decision was made to perform an exorcism on Anneliese. But when Father Ernst Alt began the recitations, the young woman tore apart his rosary beads. At that point Anneliese was so ill and weak that she had to leave university and return to live with her parents. When Father Alt suggested that she be brought to a clinic for treatment, both Anneliese and her parents refused.
Father Alt continued to deal with the situation as a possession and, together with Arnold Renz, performed 67 exorcisms on Anneliese by the end of June 1976.
During the exorcisms, Anneliese screamed and yelled, spoke in tongues, barked like a dog, refused to eat, and drank her own urine. The priests believed that she had been simultaneously possessed by Lucifer, Caine, Judas, Nero and Hitler.
In an attempt to "cleanse" herself, Anneliese stopped eating, kneeled for hours and banged her head on the floor. She was causing herself severe injury and would push herself to do hundreds of squats every day. At one point she even claimed to feel the sacred wounds of Jesus on her hands and feet. The family saw no other alternative but to tie her to her bed.
Finally, on July 1, 1976, Anneliese died a tragic death caused by undernourishment and exhaustion. At the time of her death she weighed only 68 pounds, had severe pneumonia, and her body was covered in cuts and bruises. She was only 24 years old.
Anneliese's parents and the clergy who had performed the exorcisms were charged with criminal negligence causing death. The court case known as the "Aschaffenburger Exorcism Trial" was reported around the world and became a historical event. During the case, the defendants continued to believe that it had been a demonic possession and that their religious beliefs justified their actions.
But the court did not agree. Although the judge refused to accept the claim of demonic possession, both of the clergy involved received only suspended sentences. Anneliese's parents were also dealt with lightly. Believing that the loss of their daughter was enough for them to bear, the judge did not order any further sentence.
After Anneliese's death, the Catholic church amended its policy regarding exorcisms. One of the new rules was that the ritual must be stopped immediately if the person who is allegedly possessed refuses medical treatment.
When "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" appeared in movie theaters in 2005, Anneliese's mother was asked to comment about the events that took place in 1976. She claimed that she had no regrets and that God had ordered her to drive out the demons which had possessed her daughter.
Unfortunately for Anneliese, help came too late. Hopefully her case has served as a lesson for future generations to seek proper medical attention when the symptoms of a psychological disorder start to appear.