The Smoke of Satan on the Silver Screen

The Catholic Horror Film, Vatican II, and the Revival of Demonology


  • Bernard Doherty Charles Sturt University University of Notre Dame (Sydney)



Horror films, Roman Catholicism, Vatican II, exorcism, demonology


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 Biography

  • Bernard Doherty, Charles Sturt University University of Notre Dame (Sydney)

    Dr Bernard Doherty is currently Course Director in the School of Theology and a Research Fellow for the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University based at St Mark's National Theological Centre in Canberra. He is also an adjunct lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney and an Honorary Research Fellow at INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) based at King's College, London.


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How to Cite

Doherty, B. (2020). The Smoke of Satan on the Silver Screen: The Catholic Horror Film, Vatican II, and the Revival of Demonology. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 33(1), 66–96.