Fox has ordered to series The Exorcist, a modern retake (not reboot) on the 1973 film, which was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty.
Already, horror fans seem to be clearly divided, and borderline up in arms, over the decision to launch what is widely considered the "scariest movie ever made" on the small screen.
I understand why. Exorcist II: The Heretic is considered by film pro's and audiences around the world to be a very poor product. Listing the reasons for why the film is so poorly received by, well, everyone would require an essay, so I'll save it for later.The Exorcist III is based on the novel Legion, written by William Peter Blatty as a semidirect, but highly spiritual successor, to his original novel. I frequently debate that Legion is a better novel than The Exorcist. While The Exorcist III is great when it follows the book. However, the deviations made by the studio to make it more Exorcist-esque make some parts of the film laughable. Finally, the Morgan Creek and Warner Brothers prequels, The Exorcist: The Beginning, and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist were both poorly reviewed and received by audiences.
Therefore, it's understandable why the audience is wary of a television adaptation. I am not one of those wary people, but I could be a bit biased considering I have the cover art of Blatty's original novel tattooed on my arm.
In order for the television adaptation to work, and work great, the creative team needs to do only a few things right.
1. Bow Down to Blatty
The reason why the original film worked so well is because it closely followed the essence of the source material. The series should not deviate from this in the name of horror, scares, or whatever other audience the marketing team is planning on drawing in as we speak. The novel was scary without trying to scare anyone. I suggest the writers, directors, actors, and especially the suit and ties read the book over, and over, and over again.
2. Realize It's a Detective Show
Though the original movie certainly gives a strong sense of the relationship between Father Karras and Lieutenant Kinderman, it did not amplify it the way the source material does. Though The Exorcist is frequently seen as a work of horror, Blatty's intent was to create a supernatural-thriller-spiritual-detective novel, with elements of kidnapping, the loss of innocence, and disbelief materialized through demonic possession. Lieutenant Kinderman believes Regan had something to do with a certain murder, and Father Karras is looking for his lost faith. Chris is searching for the way to get her daughter book, and the demon is looking for a way to suck Regan's soul dry.
All the characters are searching for something, and must follow a series of clues in order to reach their final conclusion. This will hopefully be the cornerstone of upcoming television adaptation.
3. Subtlety is Key
Here's how Blatty introduces possessed Regan:
Ã¢ÂÂRegan had the physical syndrome of possession. That much he knew. Of that he had no doubt. For in case after case, irrespective of geography or period of history, the symptoms of possession were substantially constant. Some Regan had not evidenced as yet: stigmata; the desire for repugnant foods; the insensitivity to pain; the frequent loud and irrepressible hiccuping. But the others she had manifest clearly: the involuntary motor excitement; foul breath; furred tongue; the wasting away of the frame; the distended stomach; the irritations of the skin and mucous membrane. And most significantly present were the basic symptoms of the hard core of cases which Oesterreich had characterized as genuine possession: the striking change in the voice and the features, plus the manifestation of a new personality.Ã¢ÂÂ
Here's how director William Friedkin interpreted Regan's transformation.
Dick Smith, the makeup artist for the film, turned actress Linda Blair into something that still gives me the occasional nightmare. However, this is not necessary for television show. In fact, it could take away from the underlying scare, or simply turn some people off.
Subtle changes in the possessed-those that blur the line between a person chronically ill and someone that is truly possessed, is much scarier than overt and explicit effects. That is what makes possession so scary: the ability of the demon to deceive, and blur the lines between illness and possession, which is blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Father Merrin, the senior exorcist, understands that the demon attempts to deceive everyone.
4. A Crisis of Faith
Why did Chris, Regan's mother, go to Father Karras for help? He was a psychiatrist and a priest. What made the movie and book all the more interesting about this decision? Father Karras had lost his faith.
Dealing with religion in popular television can be a tricky subject since everyone seems ready to get offended. However, you simply can't have a television show without tackling the crisis of faith issue that, either via irony or through fate, joins Father Karras together with the Macneil family.
Everything in The Exorcist is a crisis of belief. Karras has his faith. Chris has to believe in the supernatural. Merrin has to believe he's up for the job of casting out the demon. Kinderman has to question his own religious and moral beliefs in questioning Regan's involvement in a homicide. However, the crisis of faith, and its consequences should be conceptual underpinning for the TV show. It would be pretty boring if two priests walked into Regan's room blaring Metallica and ready to kick ass, wouldn't it?
5. Exorcism is War
Father Merrin eludes to the notion that exorcism is a war for the soul of the innocent. The best parts of the climatic exorcism were not the exorcism itself, but the emotional and physical exhaustion all the participants - including Chris - went through as Regan fought for her soul. You could see the doubt dripping from Father Karras's face. Chris was planning for the worst. Father Merrin's health was failing, but he had to be the glue for Karras and Chris. Regan's bedroom was the battlefield where evil and good fight on. But it's during those brief moments of rest that we finally get to see the true toll war takes on everyone involved.
Putting it All Together
I've mapped out quite a few scenarios so far, and I fail to see how this is a long-term play by 20th Century Fox. However, the world of possession and spirituality exceed any single case. If the creative team simply follow the book, and stay true to its supernatural mystery tonal center, we'd have a winner of a television series no matter what it's called.
My biggest fear is that the show will focus on scares. The television market is hyper competitive, and fans seem to want explicit and tangible bits of content that they can share and talk about through media. This is, of course, a fantastic way for the film to market itself. Something that is slow, brooding, and climbing may not make great television for the kind of audience that demands information in 140 characters and loves sixty second cooking videos.
But The Exorcist is timeless, and spawned a multi-million dollar industry of knockoffs. For horror fans, watching The Exorcist for the first time is a nostalgic moment, so it's likely that the television show will draw in a diverse demographic, especially since Geena Davis was chosen as the mother of the possessed.
Did I mention that Geena Davis was a great casting choice?
The show starts filming in Chicago soon. I'll be writing updates on the production frequently.
What do you want to see in a Exorcist television show? Reach out to me at @pelosiresearch and let me know.