You may or may not know the name Father Malachi Martin. Martin is a Listowel-born priest who, after getting a secondary education in Dublin and studying philosophy for three years in UCD, become ordained as a Jesuit in 1954.

Oh, and he’s also America’s most notorious exorcist. Who says there are no career opportunities for Arts students? Martin’s story has provided the inspiration for ‘Hostage to the Devil’ (2016), a new feature length documentary now available to watch on Netflix. Film and TV editor David Deignan sits down with the Chris Patterson, the film’s producer to discuss Martin and the story behind the feature.

Q. Firstly, congratulations on the film. I have to admit that I, for one, had never heard of Father Martin until the release of the documentary – how did you first come across his story? And was it immediately a tale that you felt needed to be told?

A. In 2009 I met a priest in Dublin. During our chat we began to discuss exorcism and that’s when he said ‘you should make a movie about Malachi Martin’. Like most people I had never heard of him so I googled. The information was all there and I couldn’t believe no one had made a film about this man. Then I, alongside another producer called Paddy McCarney, began developing a live action feature film of Malachi’s life. The problem was that his life was like an onion – every time we peeled back one layer there was more. As the information grew and grew we decided that to get our heads clear on one storyline we would have to structure the information into a single, coherent story. So began the genesis of the ‘Hostage to the Devil’ you can watch now.
Q. The film hones in on Father Martin’s career in the States, although having read up on his background it seems like there would be plenty of material to mine from the rest of his lie. Was there a lot of deliberation among the creative team about when and where to root your film?

A. We had a lot of meetings early on to discuss exactly what parts of Malachi’s life we would concentrate on. It just takes one to google Malachi to find that there are a multitude of stories about him. Are they all true? That was really the big question for us and one that even now we are no closer to answering. Our director Martin Stalker made the decision that we would concentrate on his exorcism ministry. His father was a minister and had conducted some exorcisms in the past. This fascinated Marty but as time moved on Marty also became fascinated with Malachi the man and I think that is what comes through in the documentary. It’s a window into the life of a culture, a culture which most people reserve for Hollywood fiction.
Q. The documentary notably strays away from interaction with actual exorcism survivors – was it a conscious decision to avoid straying down that path?

A. Yeah, it was a conscious decision not to interview possession survivors. Most exorcisms are conducted in private and the survivors aren’t interested in making themselves open to public ridicule. One person we did talk to appeared on a television show about ten years ago where they put themselves out there and were promised anonymity. When it aired their face wasn’t concealed and they was recognised on the street. We decided very on that wasn’t going to happen on our documentary so it was decided to show the process and concentrate on the why not the who.
Q. The mysterious world of the paranormal is one which has captivated the masses for centuries, keeping a firm hold on the public psyche which has continued to manifest itself through art, all despite the fact that it defies rationality. Why do you think that this innate fascination with the supernatural, the unknown, shows no sign of letting up?

A. Over the last ten years the amount of paranormal TV shows have exploded. I guess the public will always be fascinated by the unknown, be it ghosts or UFOs. It’s also a manifestation of religion. If ghosts exist then in some form God must exist.  I think that the paranormal will always be a draw to people whether it be on Ghost Hunting TV shows or major Hollywood Films.  
Q. Finally, the key question at the heart of the film is ‘is there really a devil?’. Did the production process, and what you learnt throughout, have any impact on your own stance on this question?

A. I am not religious in any way. So this journey was an eye opener for me. While on the road we met many wonderful people whose faith was unquestionable. I guess that’s what fascinated me – the idea of faith. Faith can be a strong and powerful thing but it can blind you to what’s going on around you, as we see in the news everyday. What I took from my experience of making ‘Hostage to the Devil’ was that even if I disagreed with someone’s religion it is not my place to question their personal faith.


David Deignan  |  Film & TV Editor