People are wont to trot out the opinion that television is the new cinema. Usually, this means that the age of prestige TV means that richer characters, more interesting stories, and more complex performances can be found on the small screen than the big. It’s a switch-around from the days when the movie theater was thought of as high art and the thing sat in your home was referred to as “the idiot box.”
In the past couple of years, the truism has taken on a new meaning. This fall season alone has seen a half-dozen shows premiere which adapt existing movie franchises for television: the buddy cop genre remains alive and well thanks to Lethal Weapon on Fox, cult Australian crime and horror have been extended into Animal Kingdom and Wolf Creek spin-off shows, and Bruce Campbell strapped the chainsaw back on for Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz.
Admittedly, it’s been a mixed bag (Rush Hour on CBS got canceled after just one season), but the best movie-to-TV adaptation might, at last, be here. Continuing the story from William Friedkin’s classic chiller, The Exorcist television series has plenty of frights, intrigue, and nasty special effects to keep fans and newcomers alike locked to their VIDGO streams. Not convinced? Here are our eight reasons you must stream the show.
As with its film source, The Exorcist TV show has quite the cast. Lead Alfonso Herrera plays Father Tomas Ortega, a priest with so much on his plate that he barely has the time to address his weakening faith and less-than-priestly relationships from his past. The show is his big break with American audiences (who didn’t see the Netflix show Sense8, anyway), but Herrera is already a big deal in his native Mexico, where he’s a star of both stage and screen. Those well-honed acting chops reveal themselves in a nuanced, complicated character.
His opposite number is Ben Daniels, an Olivier Award-winning thespian who will soon be seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, who plays Father Marcus Keane. Something of an update to Max Von Sydow’s character in the original movie, he’s an experienced Exorcist who travels the world, slowly earning a reputation for his unconventional approach to the Catholic faith.
Rounding out the cast is Alan Ruck, who remains best remembered as best friend Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ruck’s character here is a lot less wired and neurotic; he plays house husband Henry Rance, an unfortunate sufferer of what appears to be early onset Alzheimer’s, who is taken to Ortega’s weekly sermons by his endlessly supportive wife Angela, who is played by perhaps the show’s biggest get: Geena Davis.
Yes, that Geena Davis! Like director Renny Harlin and co-star Matthew Modine, it appears that infamous box office dud Cuthroat Island all but ended her career as a leading lady in 1995. Thankfully, terms in Hollywood jail are lenient. LA is, after all, a place that loves a comeback story. In recent years Davis has been more involved as an activist than an actor, agitating for greater gender equality in the movie business and being instrumental in the foundation of a research institute dedicated solely to examining gender roles in media.
Seeing the star of Thelma and Louise, A League of Their Own and The Long Kiss Goodnight back on our screens in a more permanent way is a real treat. As a member of the main cast, Davis’s Angela Rance has been heavily featured in the episodes that have aired so far. Rightly so. Not only is she giving one of the most consistently great performances on The Exorcist, but her character is right in the middle of all the occult spookiness that’s going down.
Angela is seeking help from Father Ortega not only for her husband but for her young daughters as well. Whilst the priest’s faith is shaken, hers has never been stronger. And she believes very much that an unholy presence has taken root in her home. There are sounds in the walls. Her teenage kids are acting up, and not in the usual, hormone-fueled way. All of this may just be connected to something in her past, too. The way Davis plays it, you can’t get enough of this paranoid housewife.
Sequels make a lot of sense business-wise. Once you have a success, you want to repeat it, right? So you hope audiences are just as up for a second go around on a concept they clearly enjoyed the first time. Artistically, it’s rarely quite so enticing. A story has likely been told to completion. Returning to ground that has already been covered is more likely to be motivated by money than by a real desire to add to what’s already been said. Obviously, that’s the case with The Exorcist.
Let’s be honest. This show was made because both Friedkin’s film and William Peter Blatty’s novel, which it was based on, remain hugely popular (and hugely lucrative) properties that Fox holds the rights to. In which case it’s something akin to a miracle that The Exorcist series manages to be the rare exception to the rule, a TV series made because somebody had the license lying around, but which is turning out to be really, really good.
We’d even go so far as to say it’s a worthy successor to the film. Smartly choosing to ignore the somewhat dire movie sequels that followed in the wake of the original movie, the series instead continues the story with a similar tone and feel. It’s also building on the themes and scares that audiences already know and love, whilst giving something that’s uniquely modern in its frights.
Between American Horror Story and Scream Queens, Ryan Murphy has all but a monopoly on horror television. His shows are fun, campy, gory and self-referential…but are they ever really scary? Arguably, those series aren’t going for scares so much as they are shocks and talking points. Weird stuff for people to talk about at work the next day, fodder for Tumblr gifs and shout-outs to the cult movies they take their cues for. When was the last time a TV show gave you sleepless nights?
Along with the basic premise — i.e., a couple of priests try to avail a poor unfortunate girl of demonic possession — The Exorcist TV series also shares its big screen predecessor’s penchant for terror. The film was a delicate balance between all-out disgusting imagery and a low, simmering tension regarding the unholy forces the men of the cloth are battling against. The show has both of those things in spades.
Already it’s doing well at tapping into the ancient, lizard brain terror that comes with something thoroughly unholy plaguing innocent people. The slow corruption of the possessed girl and her surroundings is genuinely disturbing. As are the moments of straight-up nastiness as said unholy forces make themselves known in gross, gory fashion.
William Friedkin rightfully has a reputation as one of the most daring and inventive visual stylists in cinema history. The Exorcist television series isn’t quite as groundbreaking as the film, but it still looks better than your average Fox drama. That’s thanks to a rotating crew of directors, a lot of them small screen veterans, working from a template set down by the man who helmed the pilot: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Escapist’s Rupert Wyatt.
A lot more money is thrown at pilots, but there’s a high budget look to The Exorcist that has carried through the entire series thus far. Whilst there are excursions to South America and other more exotic locales, this is mostly a story told in suburban homes, on city streets and in the small rooms of family three-beds. It never has the feel of a cheap domestic drama, however. Wyatt kicked things off with a look that’s haunted by deep, dark shadows and a sickly pale color palette akin to Regan MacNeil’s own deathly pallor.
Whilst it never quite scales the heights of an HBO or AMC drama (which will sink a couple of million and get a prestige indie director into even the most rote installments), there’s a consistent cinematic look to The Exorcist series that keeps you from getting distracted from your phone. It’s hypnotic, atmospheric, and totally engrossing.
The Exorcist is explicitly a direct follow on from the film. In the very first episode, Father Ortega is looking through newspaper archives, reading the story of the priest killed in the process of freeing a young girl from the grips of demonic possession some four decades prior. The on-screen paper clipping even includes a photo of the now-infamous set of steps that Karras was thrown down during the climax of the original movie. They just about manage to wait until the end credits to bust out the Mike Oldfield, too.
Yes, The Exorcist tells a complete and satisfying story. There are lingering questions, though. Hence the sequels: not only were they sure-fire money-makers, there is a fascination on the aftermath. Surely Reagan didn’t continue to live a completely normal life after going through that ordeal? Same for the rest of her family, and all the other survivors who witnessed her inarguable possession. How did the rest of their lives pan out?
What about this world, where demonic possession is a proven phenomenon? This can’t have been the only example of it happening. Without trying to recast classic characters, The Exorcist TV series has done a fantastic job of continuing the story and starting to answer some of these lingering questions. To say any more would be to spoil some of the show’s best surprises. You’ll just have to catch up on VIDGO to find out about these amazing plot twists!
Listen: nobody is doubting that The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Some might even go so far as to say it’s one of the best movies. Period. Reports on release claim people were so terrified they were having heart attacks in the aisles of cinemas. Such was its legend that, decades later, the home video release purporting to have extra, unseen, especially terrifying material sold by the bucket load.
It was also a movie that was made in 1973 when the height of special effects sophistication was spinning around the head of a dummy that looked a little bit like Linda Blair. If you squinted. That and refrigerating the set so standing in possessed girl’s bedroom made mist come out of the actor’s mouths were the original movie’s two big tricks.
This, meanwhile, is a television series being made in 2016. Whilst it may not have the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, even the more rudimentary of visual effects look a heck of a lot better than what was available to the filmmakers of forty years ago. The Exorcist TV show has so far used the advance of computer effects to great, well, effect, heightening the body horror of victims contorting their limbs in unnatural ways and, with one strikingly symbolic moment in the pilot, having a raven fly into a window, its beak piercing the glass, almost like it’s trying to get to the priest inside…
Horror films have been at the center of many cause célèbres. Violent and/or repugnant imagery will both titillate and scandalized audiences in equal measure. These things usually pass. The Video Nasties are all but forgotten, except for cult audiences. Few people will still return to Cannibal Holocaust. Which makes The Exorcist stand out from the crowd, as it has lost little of its popularity or ability to chill, several decades after its release. That’s because there’s more going on than simply a story of good vs evil, crucifixes vs pea soup.
Regan MacNeil may be the poor little girl who’s become a temporary residence for a demon, and Max von Sydow’s Father Lankester Merrin may be the eponymous de-possessor, but it’s Jason Miller’s Damien Karras that is the real star of that first movie. The seventies saw a rise in skepticism and scientific belief, with chimed with the character’s loss of faith and abandonment of the cloth in favor of becoming a psychiatrist.
These are heady, potent themes that haven’t lost any relevance in the intervening years. In fact, they might be even more relevant today. The Exorcist in 2016 doubles down on the crises of faith, in a world where secularism and militant atheism are more prevalent than ever. Both protagonist Father Tomas Ortega and seasoned demon-fixer Father Marcus Keane seem less than convinced that God’s in his heaven and all’s right in the world.
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