Sweet Satan! It’s Exorcism EXTRAVAGANZA! (UPDATE: Snoozefest)

UPDATE (editor) (2-Nov 2015): How did the broadcast go? Ratings are not in yet for cable but they WERE facing a World Series game and America’s Next Top Model. Both shows seemed to be more exciting according to reviews from Variety and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Hopefully, they won’t try such blatant sensationalism nonsense again.

Originally published Oct 29, 2015

Way back in July, Destination America, the new hub of paranormal programming, announced a “blockbuster” TV special to air October 30, 2015. They will be conducting a LIVE exorcism. Of a house. Ooooh, scary! “Psychic medium” Chip Coffey and the cast of Ghost Asylum, will “investigate” the “house” that “inspired” The Exorcist novel and film in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. That’s a capstone to a week of endless stories in the media about ghosts and “Halloween-type” silly stuff. No evidence required. It’s all just “entertainment”, right?

Whew! That’s a lot of ironic/questionable words there…

Russ Dobler of NYC Skeptics visited NY Comic Con and spoke to the people behind this really big sheewww….


A group of brave priests famously liberated a teenage boy’s soul of vile demons in St. Louis, Mo., in 1949. Sort of. Maybe. According to cultural historian Mark Opsasnick, the symptoms that inspired the book and film The Exorcist were thought by psychiatrists to be produced by the boy’s mental illness. In his 1993 book Possessed, Thomas B. Allen claimed that not even Father Walter Halloran, one of the principal exorcists of the account, was sure the events were of supernatural origin.

On October 30 at 9:00 pm, 66 years later, Discovery cable channel Destination America will air a program called Exorcism: LIVE! The primetime special features a team that will attempt to cleanse that same St. Louis house of the evil spirits still residing there. Maybe. I guess. From what the participants of this Friday’s show had to say at New York Comic Con on October 9, it’s hard to understand what makes them think there’s anything there at all.

At an Exorcism: LIVE! press conference, executive producer Jodi Tovay and “psychic medium” Chip Coffey seemed unable or unwilling to talk about what’s currently happening at the site of the original ritual. “I don’t want to speak for them,” said Tovay of the house’s current owners (who will not be involved in the program), when asked if they had been noticing anything unusual. Coffey spoke of the “weird” feelings of neighbors, and when asked directly if the homeowners had experienced issues, could only answer, “From what we’re led to believe.”

Former Ghost Adventures star Nick Groff wasn’t any more helpful. “I’ve investigated the location before” he said, “so I know, kind of, the negative things that are still lingering there.” He described the feeling of a “lingering dark entity” when he walked up the stairs of the home, one that caused him and even his distant family members to have nightmares afterward. While not claiming any of this happened to him, Groff also mentioned that other unpleasant consequences can be incurred from such an encounter.

“You start noticing things changing around you,” Groff said. “You might get a ticket randomly, your dog might pass away; just, like, bad things, you know?”

But isn’t it natural to be freaked out by walking through the house from The Exorcist? Enough to get a weird feeling and maybe even have nightmares about it? What about confirmation bias? Bad things happen to people all the time, but you start noticing them more when you’re actively looking for them.

“I know what I experienced and I know what I went through,” Groff said.

Is that it? No moving furniture or flickering lights? Not even a bump in the night?

“We also captured, on a spirit box, the words ‘Diablo’ and ‘devil,’ that came through,” Groff said. A spirit box is a device similar to a tape recorder that neurologist Steven Novella once said “seems to be deliberately designed to generate false positive results.” It basically shifts through radio frequencies quickly, providing lots of broken bits of language for a “ghost” to arrange into a meaningful message. But really it just takes advantage of our ability to perceive patterns that don’t actually exist – a phenomenon called pareidolia – as in the phony Satanic Led Zeppelin lyrics.

Despite using the term, it seemed Groff was actually referring to a simple digital audio recorder, which doesn’t really deepen the mystery any. Groff claimed that no one touched the device, while acknowledging that sound can travel far and yet not mentioning the settling of an old house, and wondered how the recorder could pick up “an intelligent voice that directly responds to your question.”

“How do you explain that?” he said.

The same way, really. When listening for an answer to a question, according to psychologist James Alcock, you’re primed to hear the words you expect. If you ask someone what’s for dinner, you’re a lot more likely to hear “steak” from a random response than you are “freight.” The mind is good at shaping stimuli into what it wants to perceive, and once it’s heard, you can’t really ever hear it as anything else again.

Exorcism: LIVE! live at New York Comic Con. Photo: Russ Dobler

Exorcism: LIVE! live at New York Comic Con. Photo: Russ Dobler

So a creepy feeling and a couple sounds that couldn’t even be heard at the time they happened – is that all it takes for Destination America to commission a two-hour exorcism special?

“Some stuff is just so out of this world you can’t explain [it] – you know, personal experiences,” Groff said. “Sometimes, that’s all I need, honestly.”

You can catch Coffey, Groff and the “Tennessee Wraith Chasers” of Destination America’s Ghost Asylum in Exorcism:  LIVE! At 9:00 pm this Friday, October 30, if you’re interested. Or hate-watch it if you’re not, as Tovay suggested. Or just help your kids with their costumes. Whatever’s the best use of your time, all things considered.

Check out the full press conference from New York Comic Con below, complete with Groff’s thoughts on dark energy and dark matter. Maybe “quantum” is going out of style.


Catholic Bishop says made-for-tv event at infamous Bel Nor home is reckless and potentially dangerous

Source: Archdiocese objects to TV exorcism in St. Louis


Exorcism and entertainment: How the distortion of a Catholic rite became a cottage industry

Source: Deliver Us From Evil: The Business of Exorcism – Pacific Standard


An upcoming live ‘exorcism’ will surely scare up ratings.

Source: Halloween Scares Up Televised Live ‘Exorcism’ : Discovery News


So many people have contacted the Archdiocese of Manila about exorcisms that it has begun recruiting new priests.

Source: Wanted: More exorcists to meet demands in Philippines


Russ Dobler is a geophysicist, journalist and member of the New York City Skeptics. He writes about the intersection of science, skepticism and pop culture for the website Adventures in Poor Taste! and the pulp press. You can follow him on Twitter @russdobler46.

  14 comments for “Sweet Satan! It’s Exorcism EXTRAVAGANZA! (UPDATE: Snoozefest)

  1. Jeff
    October 29, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    It is obvious that Discovery Communications wants to keep the Discovery Education and Destination America portions of the business apart and unaffiliated. If you want this garbage to go away, put the heat on weak link.

  2. Gary B
    October 30, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    I don’t suppose anyone asked Mr. Coffey how many times he’s won the lottery? This seems like the first question that should be asked of all psychic mediums. All you have to do is win one and you don’t have do any more annoying cold readings.

  3. Tony
    October 30, 2015 at 1:23 PM

    “I’ve investigated the location before” he said, “so I know, kind of, the negative things that are still lingering there.” Kind of? Well, do you or don’t you, Mister Groff? Honestly, I wish folks would stop saying “kind of,” especially if they want to be taken seriously (which in his case is asking a lot).

    Somewhat apropos of that, the other day I heard a film critic on the radio say, “Janet Leigh kind of gets stabbed to death in a shower.” Yeesh.

  4. October 30, 2015 at 3:23 PM

    Interesting that the priest involved is NOT a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Well, it’s not surprising. Even the Catholic church would not stoop to be this sensational and cheap. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/a-live-exorcism-will-be-performed-on-tv-friday-heres-what-to-expect/2015/10/29/e49b8d3a-7dad-11e5-b575-d8dcfedb4ea1_story.html

  5. October 30, 2015 at 7:30 PM

    He also runs a website called paranormalclergy.com. He’s basically made this sort of thing into a second career.


  6. October 30, 2015 at 7:32 PM

    If he can feel creeped out by a house, how did I, the skeptic, not give him the heebie-jeebies? I was kind of nervous, too, so he’s not even a good cold-reader.

  7. Asha
    October 30, 2015 at 8:24 PM

    I hate to admit that I’ve watched enough of Destination America’s programming to point out that they use the same exact show format/loose script for three of their top shows. Mountain Monsters, Alaska Monsters and Ghost Asylum.
    Team of blue collar fellows hunt boogeyman du jour in the dark, attempt to catch it in the foolproof trap of the week, are always outwitted, but never feel discouraged for having failed week in and week out. They even have the same group line-up for each show, i.e., the group leader, the “expert”, the “scientist”, the comic relief, the grunts. Fortunately, one need not watch more than a few minutes of this drivel to realize that they’re all the same thing, just with different “good old boys” running around in the woods or abandoned buildings in the middle of the night. Why the middle of the night? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to see one’s quarry in the light of day?
    I wasn’t planning to watch this live crap, and after learning that Chip Coffey is involved, I’m going out of my way to make certain that I don’t watch it. That nasty, shrieking harpy of a conman makes me feel physically ill.

  8. October 31, 2015 at 3:08 PM

    “boogeyman du jour” Love that.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy
    November 1, 2015 at 9:09 PM

    Apparently MERMAIDS (with a topping of Military/Gubmint Conspiracy) is so day-before-yesterday.

    Now EXORCISM! and DEEEEEMONS! are what’s Trendy.

  10. One Eyed Jack
    November 2, 2015 at 2:15 PM

    Hopefully, they won’t try such blatant sensationalism nonsense again.

    You’re so cute when you say things like that, Sharon. Next you’ll be asking for honest politicians. 😉

  11. Sam
    November 2, 2015 at 2:17 PM

    Asha’s comment is the best, She has the whole paranormal investigating TV shows all summed very nicely.

  12. Jan Malcheski
    November 2, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Interestingly, or distressingly enough, the Variety review of the “episode” makes much of the program being very bad television. And ends with (in Doubtful News’ effort to resist dumbing down) the lame remark: “OK, so it was mostly harmless, pre-Halloween fluff. But gee, guys, couldn’t someone at least have knocked over a glass or something…..”

  13. Asha
    November 2, 2015 at 8:15 PM

    Thanks Sam. I’m not proud that I know anything about their program lineup, but I find that when I have trouble sleeping, tuning in the the mind-numbing “paranormal” drivel on Destination America often works better than any sleep aid, be it OTC or Rx. I set the sleep timer on the tv, (so that their weirdness doesn’t play all night) and usually within five minutes, I’m sound asleep once again, all courtesy of this travesty created by the late, great Discovery Networks. Like I said, I’m not proud, but it usually works really well. When it doesn’t work, it usually gives me a good laugh. I guess that’s an okay consolation. I’ve never laughed so hard at something that wasn’t intentionally funny as when I saw something called “Amish Haunting”, which told the legend of “Goat Baby”, a sort of infant version of Krampus with a hankering for the neighbor’s livestock. He was, of course, the product of sex before marriage, but aren’t all Goat Babies?😂

    Oh, and thank you, Sharon! I’m flattered that you liked “boogeyman du jour”. I guess sometimes one gets to be the 1000th chimp on a typewriter that churns out something clever, even if it’s not Shakespeare. Whenever I feel inadequate about anything I write, (I often do) I should remind myself that I’m not writing “paranormal” “reality” tv shows for Discovery Networks.😅

  14. busterggi (Bob Jase)
    November 3, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    Had there only been a cupula to spin around 360 degrees for the cameras…

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