In 1998, at the age of 12, I watched what I consider to be the finest horror film ever made. It was the William Friedkin directed ‘The Exorcist’. I was far too young and it freaked the ever loving shit out of me. To this day, having seen it upwards of twenty times, its pacing, use of visual and audio effects, and outstanding acting still blows me away. It is a film that will forever creep at the corners of my mind when it’s dark and I’m alone, and that fucking Pazuzu face is so deeply burned into my psyche that I may require actual therapy. So when I heard that there was to be a TV show, I was a little dubious. I assumed that it couldn’t possibly live up to my high expectations, and this was one occasion that I would have relished being proven wrong.
Now, my thoughts on the TV series ‘The Exorcist’ are not going to win me any friends. A mooch around the shows message boards suggests it was generally well received by viewers, and despite the announcement that it has been cancelled after its debut series, a fan campaign has been sending red feathers, symbolic of the shows demon, to the Fox network. This came as a great surprise to me, as though there are some good qualities, overall this is a very flawed series.
Meet the Rance family. Mother Angela (Geena Davis), sees a priest early in episode one, convinced that her eldest daughter is possessed as she has heard banging and noises in the walls. We don’t get the chilling build up, you just see Angela looking a bit spooked and pushing her ear to the wall. Henry (Alan Ruck), the father, has been recovering from a serious work injury, leading him to be either woolly brained and oblivious or sharply insightful and some kind of spiritual conduit depending on what the story needs to progress at that given time. Eldest daughter Kat (Brianne Howey,not possessed), is home after a car crash destroyed her dance career and killed her passenger, someone who is repeatedly referred to as the love of Kats life, despite the flashback clearly showing that neither girl had ever broached the subject of their attraction to each other. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I believe that people who are deeply in love, as is suggested, should at the very least be aware of each others sexuality, y’know, little things like that. Then there is youngest daughter Casey (Hannah Kasulka,possessed), she is pretty, sweet and caring, essentially any demons wet dream.
In South America we meet Father Marcus (Ben Daniels),a priest or more specifically an exorcist, who travels the world exorcising demons with varying success. Marcus was an orphan sold to the church when he presented with the talents an exorcist requires. A troubled man, he is haunted by his family history, unfulfilled sexual desire, and his personal failures, but manages to have a lot of charm, thanks to Ben Daniels natural charisma. After a bit of a rest at a home for mental priests, he is approached by Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera), an up and coming star of the church and Angela Rance’s holy confidant.
The priests visit the Rance’s, unaware at first that Casey is being wooed by an old dude in a cheap suit that nobody else can see. He is charming towards her at first, offering gifts and comfort, and giving Casey the strength to beat the shit out of a sexual predator on a subway train, ripping off his jaw in front of passengers whilst her Dad took a sudden and convenient nap-nap. The old dude, or Pazuzu (Robert Emmet Lunney), as we later find out, appears in a steady state of tattered decay as he tightens his grasp on Casey’s soul, which is actually a nice touch.
There are multiple exorcism scenes in the series, as you may expect, once you’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all. All the thrashing, demonic egotism and green vomit that we have all become accustomed to is here, all be it tamer for TV purposes, as is the possessed voice which is done so poorly. There’s not enough spite in it, not enough ‘otherness’, it’s simply a mans voice dubbed over a teenage girl, not exactly fitting for an ancient being and is at times rather comical. The makeup is good enough, more effective than I’ve seen in recent years, at a point when Casey’s body is badly ravaged her appearance reminded me of photos of the supposed real life possession case of Anneliese Michel when she was in her most emaciated state. Then they used CGI maggots and bloody ruined it.
The cliches are all present too, the self doubting priest, the sinner priest who gives in to temptation, the priest who falls for the tricksy demons tricksy tricks. Father Tomas, all of these priest cliches are Father Tomas, he really is a bit crap.
Now, there is a secondary plot running through the whole series, involving a visit from the Pope to the Rance’s hometown, a Satanic cult made up of corrupt Clergymen and public officials who plan to assassinate him, and the demons ability to integrate with humans, an irreversible act in which the host wilfully accepts the demon making it an evil union rather than a battle. If I’m honest I’m not too sure what the point of integrating is, other than perhaps the host body doesn’t rot like it does in possession, but that’s purely conjecture on my part. You see those that have integrated seem to be as easy to kill as a human, so other than a kickass third pupil I must have missed the bit where the perks were described. The assassination plot did very little to spark much interest in me, and felt more like padding as the show realised that the Rance family alone couldn’t fill a whole series, particularly because it skipped over the slow build and opted to go straight in for the kill. It also led to one of my least favourite scenes in which Father Marcus gives an action movie style quip before killing an integrated priest and saving the day.
Unfortunately we don’t get a ‘money shot’, Casey almost gets the 360 degree twist but in this incarnation of possession it seems as though it would kill the host. However there are many attempts to pay homage to the original 1973 film. There is a shot of a newspaper with the iconic stairs and Father Karras name printed on it, a singular use of Tubular Bells, a shadowy figure below a window mistily lit by a street lamp, and a rousing shout of ‘ The power of Christ compels you!’, all this would feel like a cool little treat for fans but this show goes too far and does something that I find unforgivable.
There is a big reveal about halfway through. Angela Rance is in fact the grown up Regan MacNeil. That’s a big deal right?! It’s no longer a stand alone piece, but now has canon to fall in line with. Something that it doesn’t do successfully in my opinion. My biggest issue is that after the Angela/Regan bombshell, Chris MacNeil, Angela’s mother, shows up at the house. The family had no idea that the famous actress was a relative as Angela had used fake photos of another woman whom she claimed to be her parent. The reason behind the mother-daughter estrangement is explained as follows: after the possession Chris pedalled her daughter around on talk shows, also publishing a book, forcing her to talk about the harrowing events endlessly for money.
I HATE THIS! It just does not fit with the fraught nerved and devastated Chris MacNeil of the original book and film. Chris adored Regan, and yes, she may have been busy at times being an actress but in no way did she seem neglectful, as it is implied here. Chris was nothing but relieved and grateful to have her little girl back and it doesn’t fit with her characters behaviour to suddenly whore out their awful experience for a few bucks. If they wanted to paint a picture of how they distanced, they simply could have referred to what Chris saw her daughter do in her possessed state making it difficult for her to see her in the same light, and Regan not understanding what she had done to deserve such growing coldness, withdrawing from the relationship over time. The series instead decided to shit on well written characters that I care about, that is not cool.
The acting is a little hit and miss throughout.The star in my opinion being Ben Daniels, who is incredibly engaging. However, I never really buy the Geena Davis possession scenes, they just fall flat. Alan Ruck has a hilarious reaction to having his arms nearly pulled off by the demon “Ooohh,oooooooh!”. Hannah Kasulka does well with what she is given, and Robert Emmet Lunney plays his role with a calm menace that will make you wish that he had more screen time.
If I were not such a huge fan of 1973 ‘The Exorcist’ then perhaps I could have enjoyed this series more, it still wouldn’t be great, but I was mildly entertained. Yet the fact remains that this attempt to continue the Regan MacNeil story makes it an infuriating watch, and leaves me wondering what the hell everybody else is seeing in it.
The Exorcist - Season 1