Vital Signs

Dealing With the Devil

Ralph Sarchie exudes an aura of intense strength when he walks into a room.  A fit, middle-aged man with heavily tattooed arms (pictures of his daughters and tough cop tattoos, like one that reads New York Untouchables) and a buzz cut, who speaks with a Queens accent straight out of Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, Sarchie has a rare and perilous profession.  He is a demonologist and exorcism assistant.

Last summer, a major Hollywood studio released a movie loosely based on Sarchie’s life and work.  Deliver Us From Evil stars Eric Bana, who previously played Hector in Troy (2004), as Sarchie, and Edgar Ramirez, who appeared as a CIA officer in Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty (2012), as a Jesuit exorcist.  The horror flick, a modest success at the box office, was based on Sarchie’s chilling memoir Beware the Night, which described some of his encounters with the demonic.

I met Ralph Sarchie for lunch at a kosher Central Asian restaurant in my neighborhood, exactly one year after reading his captivating, yet deeply unsettling book.  He came in with a big police-issue duffel bag and asked to be seated in the far corner of the restaurant, with a full view of the door.  In the bag and boxes that fill the trunk of his modest car are the tools of his trade: blessed candles, blessed oil, and a relic of the True Cross.  He always wears...

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