• The Exorcist: Devilish Horror in Prime Time

    by  • September 9, 2016 • Fox, Paleyfest 2016 • 2 Comments


    Fox’s take on the classic horror film is terrifying…but with surprisingly little violence.

    Father Tomas Ortega is a young, harried parish priest uncertain about his vocation. Then Angela Rance comes to him for help. It isn’t her husband Henry, coping with short-term memory loss, or her cheerful younger daughter Casey, or even her older daughter Catherine, who has dropped out of college and returned home, becoming a recluse hiding in her room. It is, rather, the whispering in the walls, the strange things glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, and the sense of palpable dread gripping the house that leads Angela to believe the house is possessed by a demon, and asks Father Tomas for an exorcism. Initially, Tomas scoffs; as a modern, progressive individual, he believes demons are nonsense until he encounters eerie events at the house himself. Eventually, terrifying nightmares about exorcism lead him to seek help from another priest, Father Marcus, a genuine exorcist who faces demons both internal and external…  

    On first thought, the notion of basing a prime-time TV series on one of the most frightening R-rated horror movies ever made seems both ridiculous and gratuitously offensive; but Fox has actually succeeded in remaking the story in a manner suitable for broadcast TV. Fox’s version of The Exorcist is intelligent, dramatic, and (at least in its first episode) surprisingly free of violence and graphic gore.   

    In contrast to Fox’s Scream Queens (itself returning September 20th), in which sorority students being buried up to the neck and their heads run over by lawn mowers and having their faces burned off with hot cooking fat are presented with a “Look at me! Aren’t I clever!” vibe that thinks it’s humorous, but in fact is only sickening, The Exorcist takes its horror more seriously…if once  can use the word, considering the subject matter, almost reverently. The Exorcist largely eschews bloodshed (at least in the first episode), aiming much more at making the viewer uneasy and actually frightening them, rather than deluging them with blood, gross-out gore, and crude references to teenage sex. But judging by the pilot, The Exorcist will be less about blood, profanity, and sex, and more about flawed humans invoking divine help to battle the source of all evil.

    Make no mistake: the creepy, horrific atmosphere of The Exorcist is extremely intense, and the show is definitely not for children. But for adults who seek genuine chills with intelligent storytelling without being doused in buckets of blood, The Exorcist will hit the mark.

    The Exorcist premieres Friday, September 23 at 9:00 p.m. ET on Fox.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    2 Responses to The Exorcist: Devilish Horror in Prime Time

    1. Jonathan
      September 15, 2016 at 8:17 am

      Really don’t get why it’s surprising that it had little violence. The original film has very little blood in it as well. In fact most of the blood is at the end when the priest falls down the stairs. It got its R rating for language and subject matter. Jaws has more blood that the movie did.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        September 20, 2016 at 11:59 am

        Hi Jonathan,

        You are of course right about the 1973 movie containing little actual violence. But it’s surprising this TV series doesn’t, because it’s now 40-odd years later, in the wake of movies containing oceans of blood; the series is on Fox, which considers programs like “Scream Queens” and “The Following,” with their non-stop sexualized gore, appropriate for broadcast TV. It wasn’t unreasonable to assume Fox would tweak the original movie so that it contained more graphic content. They didn’t, which is what makes “The Exorcist” such a surprise.

        Thank you for your comment.

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