Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Haunted Boy - The Secret Diary of The Exorcist

First of all let me say that this DVD was quite a bitch to find – none of the retailers I checked had it, nor could they even order it for me. I don’t do the online ordering thing, so when a gentleman by the name of Andrew Black contacted me after having read my Exorcist Investigation blog, he very kindly offered me the loan of his print of the movie. A very BIG thanks goes out to Andrew.

Where do I start? I had some initial dread about this movie because I was afraid that it – like so many others I’ve seen before – was going to treat the exorcism “diary” as fact and not as the misrepresentation that it has been shown to be. As it turns out, I was right – they are using the same diary written by Father Raymond J. Bishop. I was, therefore, prepared to be utterly discouraged. On that point, I was wrong.

The Booth Brothers (Christopher and Philip, who look like Aerosmith roadies) have made some interesting paranormal documentaries before and certainly this one is no different in that it is well-done and intriguing. This is due, no doubt, to their considerable skill as editors, producers and directors.

Christopher and Philip do nothing really to dispel the legend that the diary was found in a locked room in a former asylum to tell/sell this story. In order to believe this story, one first has to believe that the diary is genuine. The first half of the diary is reconstructed by things the boy’s mother and grandmother were telling Father Bishop. Proof? The good Father had to get the info second-hand from someone since there is no indication that he made a trip to Cottage City, Maryland where Edwin, Odell and Ronnie Hunkeler lived, to personally observe any of the alleged phenomena.

I’m reminded of the “discovery” of Hitler’s Diary in some haystack and, later, the finding of Jack The Ripper’s Diary as well. Neither of those turned out to be anything, but it’s interesting to see what people will swallow. Perhaps we ARE a nation of Linda Lovelaces after all.

Let’s look at some facts here:

· Part of Ronald Hunkeler’s 1949 exorcism took place at 8435 Roanoke in Bel-Nor, which is a house in a St. Louis County, Missouri, suburb. The residence belonged at the time to his paternal uncle, Leonard Hunkeler and his family, so Ronnie never LIVED there (as is intimated in the film). The northwest bedroom is said to have been the place where it happened and I’ve come across nothing in my research to contradict that small detail.
· Ronnie became too disruptive in the household and had to be moved before any “casting out” could be completed.
· As such, the Church’s position was that Ronnie was still “possessed” when the final move to the Alexian Brothers Psych Ward took place.
· That being what it is, logic would tell you that no “entity” could have been cast out at 8435 Roanoke.
· Keep in mind that Catholic exorcisms are designed to return a demonic entity from whence it came. I don’t think any entity the boy was reported to have had would’ve taken up residence at 8435 Roanoke after leaving Ronnie’s body. After all, in the unlikely event that we could believe ANYTHING Ronnie had said, the boy related (again, from the psych ward, mind you) that he saw St. Michael cast “the Devil” into the fiery pit. Fanciful flight of imagination there from the Ron-ster. Or perhaps he was just guided to say that by clergy as an act of contrition.

So we have the film-makers and their crew, along with a “psychic” and a ghost hunter, standing in THAT bedroom at 8435 Roanoke trying to conjure up the “demon” that they seem to be convinced has been sub-letting the room. Big mistake for two reasons:

1. There wasn’t one to begin with.
2. If you go looking for “trouble”, you are likely to find it. Even if it’s all in your head.

Two relatives of Ronnie’s are interviewed in short segments on the DVD. They are not identified by name and their faces are “tiled” out. Can’t verify who the younger lady they talk to is (her voice is NOT electronically altered), but I am guessing that the elder lady Christopher is talking to is Leonard Hunkeler’s daughter, Janis (whose voice IS altered).

Janis is approximately 4 or 5 years older than Ronnie, which would put her at 80 years of age or so now. If the initial diary is correct about her, she was the one who notified the clergy at St. Louis University that there was a problem with Ronnie. As such, she was probably the person most responsible for the exorcism in the first place. That’s likely a good thing, because the little puke needed some sort of ass-kicking to help him straighten up. (Note: read my Exorcist Kid blog to learn what Ronnie had to say, via his attorney, about the “possession” in 1998. You will find other tidbits of info there that you probably didn’t know before, including the fact that Ronnie’s old man never bought into the whole “possession” theory.)

In the film we also get to see where Ronnie temporarily stayed at the old St. Vincent’s Asylum in St. Louis, which has since been converted into senior living apartments. Judy Perry, Ex-Manager of the apartment complex, revealed that the fifth floor of the building, where Ronnie’s room is said to have been, is unused and has been empty for many years. She also indicated that there have been complaints from the tenants of strange occurrences there.

Later, Ms. Perry tells the story of a nun, who worked there when it was still an asylum, had told her that they had to take care to keep Ronnie’s nails trimmed because he tended to scratch himself – on the chest. Sound familiar? This lends credibility to the contention that the little brat was doing this to himself.

At one point, mention is made of – now get this – the “haunted furniture” (from the Alexian Brothers’ exorcism room) that was removed prior to the hospital being demolished. A mover named Brad Givens talks about how heavy the bed was and if I’m understanding correctly, he’s saying it could only be lifted and moved by four strong guys. I’m gathering that he’s not believing the bed could move on its own.

The “haunted furniture” was moved to a classified military compound. We do get to see the alleged exterior of this facility. I wonder if the furniture is in with the autopsied alien corpses, UFO debris and Bruce Lee’s cryogenically frozen body?

When I was doing my initial research for my Exorcist blog, I did run across the name of the current owner of the former Leonard Hunkeler residence at 8435 Roanoke. I chose not to use it in the piece, but am changing my mind here because Nick Everly goes on camera in “The Haunted Boy” to explain (as I’d originally theorized) that he bought the house BECAUSE of what happened there and not in SPITE of it. As such, it is hard to work up much sympathy for him when he relates the story of being called by police while at work telling him that they had to chase some guy in a devil outfit off Nick’s front lawn. Gee, who’da ever thought THAT would happen?

Ok, then we get to hear examples of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), recorded in Ronnie’s exorcism room at the house on Roanoke. One of the “voices” is picked up as saying “F—k Me”. Great, now we’ve got a pottymouth entity running (floating?) around. Must have been a sailor in its previous incarnation. Or a former Ozzy Osbourne family member.

An interesting experiment would be to set up EVP equipment at McDonald’s, after hours, and see how many “spirit” voices are recorded asking for “some fries with that”. Or in any abandoned asylum to see if perhaps a long-disembodied voice will say something like “stop eating the phonebooks!”. I don’t trust any recording that can be altered in post-production.

There are three featurettes - “The Haunted Delivery”, “Digging Deeper” and “Behind the Screams”.

In “The Haunted Delivery”, we have the film crew at 8435 Roanoke, accepting the delivery of a whole stack of Domino’s Pizzas. Christopher appears to want to have a little spooky fun with the Pizza Deliveryman and asks him if he’s ever seen the movie “The Exorcist”. The Deliveryman indicates that he has and then Christopher explains that the exorcism took place in this very house asks him if he wants to see the room. The Deliveryman has to overcome some initial trepidation but finally goes upstairs into the room. It’s sort of treated with humor even though the Deliveryman appears just a bit nervous. I’m guessing that this all happens before they do the equipment set-up and filming in the room.

“Digging Deeper” is an exploration of the basement area of St. Vincent’s. It’s in ruins, but the most surreal footage in this segment shows that someone drew a “smiley face” on one of the walls in or near the shock treatment area.

“Behinds The Screams” seems to shows the crew back in Ronnie’s room using something identified as a “Paranormal Puck”. This “Puck” has a computer screen which they are using to make “contact”. An unseen “user” identifies itself as “God” and then “types” in LOL. In the main feature, the “entity” has identified itself as “Angelknot” and also as “Effendi”.

Extras also include an off-camera voice saying that Father Cleary had reversed his position and was now indicating that he thinks the boy was acting up because of being molested. Interestingly, there is mention that his Aunt (Tillie) was molesting him – this has been a theory for years. However, it is more likely that it was his maternal grandmother. At least this was what Ronnie was telling boyhood friends at the time.

One specific thing that really annoyed me about this DVD is that the title seems to have been partially ripped off from Investigative Journalist Mark Opsasnick’s ground-breaking article, “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City”, which smashed all the previously-believed myths about the story behind “The Exorcist”. It was highly influential on me and was one of two pieces I’d read which started me on my own odyssey to see what I could find for myself. Mr. Opsasnick is not given any credit or recognition in “The Haunted Boy” DVD, although it is obvious that his writings on the case helped to inspire this documentary.

There is, however, an acknowledgement made to Chad Garrison, whose Riverfront Times article “Hell of A House” was the other big influence on me and, apparently, on the Booth Brothers as well. They talk with Chad for a minute or so. Chad told me in a reply to my initial e-mail inquiry that he and the photographer walked through the big house at night and did not feel any vibes at all, even though they had “tried”.

Despite a few things I see wrong in the movie, I still highly recommend it. I found it to be well worth the time to watch. Although I wish someone out there would completely “bust” the diary and do the real, REAL story, the Booth Brothers do manage to make a fascinating and entertaining film despite the shaky, unbelievable base upon which it is built.