Ginger Nuts of Horror
The original William Friedkin film has ripped the aorta of the shrivelled heart of horror. It has been copied countless times on-screen and in print, as well as enduring multiple parodies of the now legendary spider-walk, head rotation and of course the pea-soup-projectile-vomiting. It is as much part of the fabric of horror as Frankenstein’s Monster, and as easily recognisable.
Perhaps it’s the ease of recognition which has been the inspiration behind the creation of a TV show taking the general premise of the film. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of laziness in entertainment these days with countless remakes of once beloved films and TV shows. With The Exorcist we’re not treading any new boards here, after all, with the endless demonic possession movies churned out by just about every studio these days there’s not really that much wiggle-room left in the trope. However, a movie and a series are very different beasts, with the former being by necessity faster paced and incident-heavy. William Friedkin’s 1973 game-changer The Exorcist had what I would consider to be near perfect pace, there were scenes which could be considered slow and dull, but they are a necessity to lull one into a false sense of security before being blindsided. How can this possibly be introduced into a TV series without it either milking the clichés or boring the pants from the viewer for a whole season? Well, it seems as if those at the FOX network have found a way.
The first episode of The Exorcist covers the basics as it really begins with a traumatic flashback introducing us to the rogue priest Father Marcus Brennan (Ben Daniels). Brennan instantly underscores the tone of the show as it is quite obvious that he has seen more ugly than he ever wanted to, and as such chooses to ignore his superiors who have power but scant experience with facing off to demons.
The series doesn’t shy away from putting the evil right out there, without wishing to spoil things for those who haven’t seen it there is an incident in the first episode with a young boy which is a real head-turner. Brennan isn’t alone in dealing with the demons, as in a parallel with the original film he’s teamed up with the somewhat out-of-his-depth Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) playing the ‘Father Karras’ role to Daniels’ ‘Merrin’. Right from the start Ortega is a well-rounded and believable character, an essential given the power of Daniels’ performance. Ortega has been requested to help an assumed case of possession of one of the daughters of the well-to-do Rance family. The mother, Angela (A dominating performance by Geena Davis), is convinced that her once accomplished former ballerina daughter Kat (Brianne Howey) is possessed, but there’s so much more to this, as indeed there is to her less volatile sister Casey (Hannah Kasulka). To round off the family there’s Angela’s husband Henry (The impeccable Alan Ruck), a former successful civil engineer who has been in an accident which left him seriously mentally impaired. I like Alan Ruck; I think he’s an ideal choice to bring a more delicate aspect to a series which begins with a focus very much on the horrific.
In a deviation from the original film the series doesn’t have a single storyline of expert and novice priests battling ancient evil to save a 12 year old. It’s not made entirely clear who the ‘big evil’ of the series is, but the phantom-like ‘Salesman’ (Robert Emmet Lunney) does a fine job of adding the necessary creeps to the events.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen the first four episodes of the first season’s eight, and although off to a great start it continued to get better. There’s a lot of external storyline here, the interference from the Church not being the least of it, however all of the sub-plots are well rounded. It’s actually quite a feat to bring together something which I’d hazard a guess that the general horror-loving public would rather didn’t exist. Let’s face it, The Exorcist film is sacrosanct, it should be a case of leaving it well alone. I’m in the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ camp, especially as there’s a tendency these days to take classics and add a lot of ‘crash bang wallop’ to them for a dumbed down audience. There’s none of that here, The Exorcist hits every nail squarely on the head and is thoroughly engrossing. It’s becoming addictive in a ‘Dexter’ type way and I am absolutely looking forward to every new episode. I expect the finale to be something exceptional as Father Keane is without doubts one of the toughest bad-asses to ever don a dog-collar.
If I were a demon I’d avoid him.