ByRob Taylor, writer at
Rob Taylor

Since it's release in 1973, The Exorcist has seared itself into public consciousness as one of the most frightening films in the horror genre.

From vomiting moviegoers to rumors of a real curse upon those who made the film, even the phenomenon surrounding it is almost as storied as the movie itself.

Until recently, The Exorcist also served as a cautionary tale for Hollywood: Not all popular films should be turned into a franchise.

For all the success and publicity the original received, the two sequels were poor in comparison.

John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic was panned by fans and critics alike. (Audiences reportedly laughed throughout the film during early screenings.) Despite being cast with a list of legendary actors that included Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Louise Fletcher & Ned Beatty it failed to ignite the fear of the original film.

The Exorcist III, which was retooled from William Peter Blatty's book Legion and directed by the author himself rather than William Friedkin, didn't fare any better.

The franchise seemed to be one few wanted to touch after the final movie bombed, but eventually two prequels were made that didn't make mush of a splash and weathered disastrous behind the scenes issues. The Exorcist truly did seem to be a cursed property, doomed to remain in the shadows.

When news that the Exorcist was being retooled for TV was announced, it was met with muted optimism. However, when the series debuted in September it met with critical and fan praise.

The franchise appears to have found it's audience once again and strong word of mouth is continuing to build.

But the haunting hasn't stopped at the small screen.

The Birmingham Rep Theater in Birmingham, England recently launched their production of The Exorcist just in time for Halloween and I saw it last week.

The Birmingham Rep is known for being the oldest "one building" company in the country, running for over a century and is one of the most prestigious outside of London. Oscar winners such as Paul Schofield, Judi Dench & Julie Christie have all been part of the company, while Sir Laurence Oliver got his big break there in 1926.

Because of company's long-standing reputation, there was no reason to believe the production wouldn't deliver, and it did.

The show itself was nothing short of spectacular, even if some performances fell short at times. Jenny Seagrove, best known to moviegoers for Local Hero played Chris McNeil with Coyote Ugly's Adam Garcia as Damian Karras. Veteran TV actor Peter Bowles played the titular Father Merrin and Mama Mia's Clare Louise Connolly rounded out the cast as a very creepy Regan.

The specially-built set, allows the McNeil house to come alive with impressive demonic effects. All the trademarks are there: pea soup projectile vomit, an incredibly disturbing version of the crucifix scene and even the head turn -- which is a flawless effect to see live on stage.

However, what really sets this production apart from other adaptations is that we now get to hear the terrifying, offensive and downright evil conversations Regan has with Captain Howdy from both sides. The director of the original film only showed Regan responding, but now we hear him teaching her to harm herself, to masturbate and to kill. Making this even more memorable is the fact that the voice is provided an uncredited Sir Ian McKellen!

In lesser hands it could seem like stunt casting, but it actually works in this production as Regan’s mother is an A-list actress in this version of the story and the demon could be using a voice the girl knows to corrupt her.

Connolly performs as his voice comes out of her, but rather than a bad Bieber or Britney style lip sync, it's a creepy effect.

There is also a lot of humor -- particularly with the character of Burke Dennings --in the production which works well for this interpretation of the horror classic.

Nevertheless, I was a bit disappointed the set couldn't quite accommodate Damian or Burke's deaths at the iconic steps, but the replacements work equally well.

Everyone winced as Regan snapped Burke's neck and they got an impressive amount of blood onto the stage for Karras' final moments too.

The short run of the stage production has been met with positive reviews from both fans and critics. While I felt there were some flaws in the production, they weren't so big they couldn't be ironed out with a few tweaks.

Overall though, I'd say it was my favorite Exorcist experience outside the original movie. It's something I never thought would work as a play, but it does and I really hope more people get to see this production if it has the opportunity to travel. McKellen's performance alone is worth buying a ticket, even if he isn't there in person.

Now if only they could get Patrick Stewart to play Merrin in the future, that would bring the production to a whole new level.


Would YOU watch The Exorcist On Stage?


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