The Exorcist is quite a horror phenomenon. In 1971, it began as a best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty about a possessed little girl and the fight to expel the demon within her. Blatty was inspired to write the book after he researched the real life case of a boy who was allegedly possessed by a demon in 1949. A few years later in 1973, Blatty adapted his novel to become one of the most iconic horror movies in the world. Directed by William Friedkin, it is not only considered to be one of the most frightening films of all times, but it was the first horror film to be nominated for best film at the 1974 Academy Awards.
The accolades for The Exorcist navigated around more than its fair share of criticism and fear-mongering; with battles to create a version that the censors deemed acceptable to play in theatres and protests over the broken taboos and lines crossed in the film adaptation. There are images that will stay with both horror fans and those repelled by the grim subject matter forever: Regan’s head spin, her spider-walk down the stairs, the projectile vomiting and chilling levitations. All of these scenes have since been duplicated but have never matched the initial terror and shock they invoked. When word got out that there was a T.V. series in the works to air this Fall, I felt fairly certain that they couldn’t do the film’s ominous nature justice on the small screen, even though television has become a much better medium for storytelling in the past few years.
Take for example the now defunct Damien series. This show was also a modernization of the hit 1976 film The Omen written by David Seltzer and directed by Richard Donner. I was curious but cautious since this was a classic and one of my favourite horror films. After the first two episodes, I was hooked. The modern spin of an adult Damien Thorn coming to terms with his Satanic lineage, plus the participation of horror veteran Barbara Hershey and a great cast was an injection of new life for the story of Satan’s son walking the earth. Week after week, the plot became darker and darker, with some brilliantly frightening scenes and performances. I especially liked the character of Sister Greta Fraueva played by Robin Weigert who brought a fresh spin to Damien’s religious hunters. Just as we were left with an incredible season finale, the show was cancelled. I was hugely disappointed, and I still have hopes that one of the streaming services will pump some money into the series and revive it.
Having seen Damien, I was tentatively hopeful about The Exorcist series. In this incarnation, Angela Rance (Geena Davis) is a successful business woman in Chicago. She has two beautiful daughters with her husband Henry (Alan Ruck) who is recovering from a head injury. He has lucid moments, but is usually checked out and must be supervised. Angela and her family are regulars at father Tomas Ortega’s (Alfonso Herrera) parish, and is fond of the young priest. When she notices unusual activity in her home, she calls on him for help. Father Tomas has his own issues to deal with, but when he sees first hand evidence of a demonic presence in the Rance home, he must battle bureaucracy and his faith, enlisting the help of a reluctant retired exorcist Father Keane (Ben Daniels) to save the family from the supernatural threat.
I am now past the 5th episode and actually blown away with the writing, but it was touch and go for a brief moment. Up until this point, I enjoyed the characters with the introduction of a priest with wavering faith, and a family with unexplained occurrences plaguing them. The demonic manifestations were by the book too, but the writers took care with the details (since the devil is in them, of course!). Little things like smart phones capturing an intense event on the subway, honest reactions to exorcism, fun references to the original film, and great but subtle special effects. In the middle of the 5th episode, however, I was almost going to tap out because some possession tropes began to sneak in, making me skeptical. Thankfully, I was jarred out of that feeling quickly. Without spoiling, I advise you to stick it out until the end of episode 5 for some shocking events and revelations that will make you wish the next installment was downloading in your brain immediately.
The show is also cast well. Davis always commands the screen, and Herrera is fantastic as the young priest who may be losing his way. It’s a pleasant surprise to see him in something after his Sense8 role. It is also nice to see Alan Ruck as Angela’s struggling husband. This Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vet serves as a great vessel for limitless plot twists. Also keep your eye on Hanna Kasulka and Brianne Howey who play sisters Casey and Kat respectively. Their dynamic plus the tortured Casey is classic horror material.
The final verdict? This Halloween, get to your T.V. or computer and catch up with the show if you haven’t already started from day one. I’m really curious where they go from here and I hope they keep the twists coming. It’s a solid, modernized version of a classic horror movie that needs viewer support. Don’t let it become another great horror TV show that goes the way of premature cancellation.
The Exorcist airs Friday nights on the Fox network at 9:00 p.m. in the U.S. and C.T.V same day and time in Canada. Catch up on episodes here: