The Exorcist is arguably one of the most terrifying films of all time. Very few horror films, particularly about possession or exorcism, have been able to penetrate the public’s psyche like this slow descent into hell. Part detective chronicle, part horror story, part religious allegory, when it came out in 1973 it had an unprecedented effect on the audience because at many theaters paramedics needed to be on hand for the moviegoers who were fainting and going into hysterics. Based on the 1971 bestselling novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, and directed by William Friedkin, the film is about two very different priests who are faced with exorcising a demonic entity from a teen girl. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max von Sydow, “The Exorcist” would go on to not only become Warner Brothers’ highest grossing film of all time, but it was the first horror film to be nominated for an Academy Award. There have been sequels and prequels, but none have been able to capture the precise cadence of evil that the original did.
The idea for a remake of The Exorcist has been bandied about for some time and thankfully never materialized.
However, a new television series on Fox has appeared and, against all odds, it’s good. The Exorcist television series is not just a cheap scare-fest but legitimately turns up the narrative tension each week. Starring Alfonso Herrera as chaste Father Tomas Ortega and Ben Daniels as tough, weathered Father Marcus Keane, the story follows these two polar-opposite priests as they try to save a teen girl and her family from demonic forces. Jeremy Slater’s creation is not only a sequel of sorts, but a wonderful homage to the benchmark horror film. Set in brooding Chicago, every episode is a nod to its source and each week the writing is strong, the performances nuanced and the directing moody and riveting. Geena Davis has the pivotal role of Angela Rance, mother of the possessed girl. Each week her character’s contained panic grows, and she’s compelling to watch. If there’s one weakness in the show, it’s the voice of the demon that’s trying to take control of Casey Rance (Hannah Kasulka). Instead of the from-the-depths-of-hell tone of Mercedes McCambridge’s demon in the movie, this one sounds like a creepy perv who’s taunting you while following you down a dark street. Unnerving, but secular, not supernatural.
Last week’s episode, “Chapter Five: Through My Most Grievous Fault,” finally tied in the show’s primary link to the film and ended with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger.
For horror “purists” who might still be having doubts about tuning in, give the show a chance. Nothing can touch the movie, but “The Exorcist” television series does a decent job of building a sense of dread and portraying the time-old battle between good and evil. There are only two more episodes left this season, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you still have time to binge watch before the season finale. The Exorcist airs Friday nights on Fox.