You might say that The Exorcist franchise has had a devil of a time trying to replicate the success of William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic. That film, based on the bestselling novel by William Peter Blatty, remains cemented at the top of most “Scariest Movies of All Time” lists and is also one of the most profitable scary movies ever made, with over $200 million in the bank and counting. But starting with the misbegotten 1977 sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, the various attempts to continue the series on the big screen have met with spectacular failure. So The Exorcist is now turning to television in a drama that begins on Sept. 23 on Fox.
It’s important to know that the show isn’t a remake of Friedkin’s film; creator and showrunner Jeremy Slater made the decision to pick up the story 40 years after Pazuzu was exorcised from Regan MacNeil’s body. “We wanted to tell a brand-new story with new characters, and without writing the original movie out of history,” Slater tells Yahoo TV. Those new characters include the four members of the Rance family: Angela (Geena Davis) and Henry (Alan Ruck) and their two daughters, Katherine (Brianne Howey) and Casey (Hannah Kasulka), as well as a pair of priests, Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) and Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), who aid the clan with their serious case of demonic possession. Here are four ways that the new series hopes to break The Exorcist curse.
It’s Being Made by a Horror Fan, for Horror Fans
An established horror screenwriter with credits that include The Lazarus Effect and the upcoming Death Note, Slater says that he was “terrified” when his agents first contacted him about bringing The Exorcist to television. “At the time, they were planning on turning the original story into a miniseries,” he remembers. “I said no, but after thinking about it, I told them the only way I would be involved is if we made it a continuation, rather than a remake.” Luckily for him, Fox agreed, and Slater set about creating a story that would inhabit the same universe as Blatty’s novel without directly repeating its plot. “We have the rights to the book, so we couldn’t remake the film even if we wanted to. Blatty has given us his blessing and has been briefed on our big plans for the season.” Friedkin, on the other hand, has remained silent about the series, but Slater hopes to honor him by simply making a good show. “I basically took the job to prevent someone else from doing it,” he says, laughing. “If anyone was going to ruin The Exorcist, it was going to be me!”
It’s Looking to the ’70s for Inspiration
Although the new Exorcist is set in the present day, Slater says that he’s modeling its tone and mood after the era in which the original film hit theaters. “The goal was to shy away from what you see in a lot of modern horror, which involves a lot of quick cuts, splatter, and rapid camera movement. I wanted to evoke the spirit of movies like Don’t Look Now, which is much more reliant on atmosphere and this sense that evil has invaded the world.” Should the series return for a sophomore year, Slater hopes to get some of the iconic ’70s horror directors, including John Carpenter and Joe Dante, to helm episodes. “It always becomes a question of who is available and how much money is there to go around, but that would be my pie-in-the-sky dream.”
It’s Going to Be Judicious in Its Scares
Everyone remembers being horrified by Linda Blair’s spider walk and all that projectile vomiting. But what’s often forgotten about Friedkin’s Exorcist is the way those big scary moments are carefully doled out amid intense, emotional drama involving a priest’s crisis of faith and a mother attempting to help her daughter. Slater is similarly looking to hook the audience with the story first and treat the scary moments as a bonus. “If we tried to pack an episode with wall-to-wall scares, it won’t feel like The Exorcist,” he points out. “That’s a very elegant, understated movie. You have to be strategic about when you’re going to scare the hell out of your audience. The rest of the time, you have to trust the actors and the writing.” Besides that, the demands of a television production schedule make promising nonstop scares an impossible proposition. “Every time you have a complicated horror sequence, you can count on that eating away one whole day of production. So if you try to do too much, your scares are going to suffer.”
It’s Going to Have Some Closure
Slater promises that the demon haunting the Rance family will be dealt with — one way or the other — by the end of the season’s 10 episodes. But this also isn’t an American Horror Story situation where the show reinvents itself each season. “We’re not going to be discarding all the characters and starting fresh. Those who survive Season 1 may be back in Season 2. Because this isn’t necessarily the story of one possessed family — there’s a larger conspiracy at work. Evil is progressing toward something; it has grander designs and ambition.”
The Exorcist premieres Friday, Sept. 23, at 9 p.m. on Fox. Watch clips and full episodes of The Exorcist for free on Yahoo View.