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The Smoke of Satan on the Silver Screen: The Catholic Horror Film, Vatican II, and the Revival of Demonology

Issue: Vol 33 No. 1 (2020)

Journal: Journal for the Academic Study of Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies Biblical Studies

DOI: 10.1558/jasr.41664


The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) is seen by many conservative Roman Catholics as a decisive turning-point in a wider history of a diabolically-inspired conspiracy against the Church. One facet of this has been a heightened interest in such circles in preternatural phenomena particularly demonic possession-especially as such phenomena locate the Roman Catholic Church as a central player in wider cosmic and salvific events. This article explores the growing interest in possession over the past half-century and how pre-conciliar Roman Catholic imagery and themes-both visual and theological-including traditional Marian devotion and piety; preternatural phenomena surrounding manifestations of evil; the theology of vicarious and atoning suffering; the vocational insecurity of the Catholic priest and the existence of a Satanic conspiracy of evil, have been utilised in Catholic horror films from the late 1960s through to the present and how an understanding of the historical and theological resonance of these themes amongst traditionalist Roman Catholics can elucidate aspects of the appeal these films have had amongst Roman Catholics in the post-Vatican II era.

Author: Bernard Doherty

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