The Exorcist: Episode 1

Had the installation of Asda’s Halloween aisle in early September not warned you of the holiday’s impending arrival, then tonight’s TV schedule certainly would have. The Exorcist is one of three new Halloween-themed programmes starting tonight. On ITV, there’s Him, a three-parter about divorce and telekinesis (a random pairing, but it works), and on E4, there’s Crazyhead, a comedy drama about a girl who can see demons. The Exorcist, based on the 1973 cult horror of the same name, is by far the best of the three.

Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) receives his mission from God in the form of a family dealing with demonic possession. Geena Davis plays Angela, the mother of the family, who manages to steal the show without having much influence over the presence in her home. She’s commanding, authoritative, yet somehow vulnerable; she reminds me of Jessica Lange’s characters in American Horror Story – always the powerful frontrunner of the show. Many years have passed since Thelma & Louise, but Davis looks exactly the same (I won’t comment on why that might be). To assist Father Tomas comes a more rogue, rugged priest – Father Marcus Brennan (Ben Daniels). His appearance might suggest that he has more faith in the bottle than the man upstairs, but who could blame him having seen what he’s seen. Brennan is a horror stereotype in the best kind of way, his inner torment makes him all the more lovable. The Exorcist culminates in a dramatic twist, a final blow that’s worthy of the original. And as the original score plays the episode out, an eerie sense of disquiet lingers. All I could do was smile.

So what makes a good TV adaptation? It seems the imagination of TV writers has run rather dry in recent years, so naturally, they turn to adapting the classics. Some work well, others don’t. Hannibal and Fargo, for instance, were outstanding. Bates Motel and Scream weren’t. Scream pointed out its own flaws in the very first episode – slasher films can’t be done on the small screen; they burn bright and fast, they don’t have longevity. Dragging out a film for hours of TV has a detrimental effect on the quality; a phenomenon observed in the second season of Fargo and the third of Hannibal. I think it’s also important for a remake to welcome the tropes and stereotypes of its original, The Exorcist did well here with its vomit-covered, eye-rolling demon. So cliché, I love it.

The Exorcist continues next Wednesday at 9pm on Syfy.