The Pope’s Exorcist’s Red Hot PR Campaign Is Something Else

How do you sell a film that makes a hero out of an exorcist? With hellishly hot pizza and sauce challenges, of course!

I’ve yet to see The Pope’s Exorcist but I have to hand it to the film’s PR people, at least here in the UK – they are doing their very best to polish what may or may not be a turd, but which is unquestionably not the sort of film that you would expect to have a lot of tie-ins and promotional events connected to it. Sure, the film had a big poster advertising campaign on its theatrical release and naturally managed to work up Catholic fanatics into giving it a fair amount of free publicity – but you might’ve reasonably expected that the streaming release of the film would go by without much more than a few additional reviews and news stories on the more clickbaity horror sites.

But no – The Pope’s Exorcist is being given the sort of imaginative and amusing tie-in promotions that make me feel a lot more sympathetic to the movie – and certainly suggests that whatever questionable messages the film might be flirting with, the press office is – perhaps – gleefully subverting them – or at least understanding that it’s the devilish aspects of the film that everyone is interested in rather than the salvation.

A few weeks ago, I was sent details of The Pope’s Exorcist ‘Hotter Than Hell Sauce Challenge’, a very odd version of a drinking game that encouraged viewers to buy a Hot Sauce Challenge Set from The Sauce Shop and then sample each in turn – ending with Ghost Pepper Ketchup, tied to specific moments in the film (these are themselves either weirdly specific or hilarious random: “Father Amorth brings out a pig” indeed). I assume that viewers should be trying these on tortilla chips or similar rather than simply necking from the bottle, but whatever floats your boat I guess – I’m not one to judge.

I was – obviously – well up for this but there were fewer promo bottles of the sauce available than there were screeners of the film, and in any case, it felt as though we might end up not giving either the film or the sauce due attention if we tried to cover a movie and six different hot sauces all at once. A note to anyone from The Sauce Shop who reads this – of course, we are up for reviewing your collection any time you like.

Following on from this – right now until June 25th – you can get the ‘Hell Yeah’ pizza, which is presented ‘in collaboration with’ the film and would seem to be an original creation from Pizza Punks that not only includes the aforementioned Ghost Pepper Ketchup but also has a fascinating topping selection of shredded mozzarella, sweetdrop peppers, caramelised tequila pineapple, chipotle pulled pork, chocolate flame and The Sauce Shop chipotle lime aioli. I’ll confess to having been blissfully unaware of Pizza Punks before this point, even though there is a good chance that I have walked past one of their outlets – but if there was a branch local to me (unfortunately, there isn’t), I’d be very tempted to give this a go. Perhaps Pizza Punks should resurrect (and maybe rename) this in their Nottingham branch during the Mayhem Film Festival – you’d have a ready-made audience, believe me.

The more pedantic of us might point out that these fiery delights are probably the very thing that the real-life The Pope’s Exorcist might disapprove of. After all, the film is based on the real-life Father Amorth, who caused no end of harm to mentally ill, religiously deranged, or simply non-conformist people in his lifetime, casting out imaginary demons and replacing free will with the unquestioning fear of God. Arguably, a more accurate representation of his work would be a meal or sauce stripped of any level of spice or flavour (or perhaps having a meal experience where, just before you can eat, some furious fruitcake scrapes all the toppings off your pizza and replaces them with cabbage leaves and turnip juice). This act of subversion – deliberate or otherwise – is something that we find irresistible. It does suggest that while the film itself perhaps flirts rather dangerously with the idea of making this man a heroic figure (again, I haven’t seen it yet so can only go from the reports of others), everyone involved in pushing it has realised that you can only really sell something like this as a horror movie.

I imagine that this pizza promotion might be the end of The Pope’s Exorcist‘s surprisingly imaginative campaign – though perhaps there is still time for a brewery tie-in, offering some sort of chilli-infused stout (you guys can have that idea for free as long as I get a sample) or an action figure. But I hope we see more unlikely public campaigns like this for lower-budget Hollywood releases  – the possibilities for something like Cocaine Bear alone are mind-boggling.


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