The Exorcist is regarded as one of the best horror films of all time but, as these things do, lost a bit of cache over the years through multiple sequels and changing tastes within the horror genre. So how will FOX's upcoming TV series be different from the films — and how can it sustain itself for multiple seasons?
"There's been 40 years of inferior copies to dilute the source material," creator and executive producer Jeremy Slater said at the Television Critics Association Summer Tour on Monday. We've all seen the CGI, the contortion bending over backwards, the "images used too often they lost power to shock. It's a blessing and curse because it forces you to write better, to find new ways to creep people out."
This time, evil has grander ambitions than just one 8-year-old girl. A few episodes in (and even as early as the pilot) producers said, we'll see breadcrumbs towards a larger picture and mythology, with Slater citing shows like Battlestar Galactica or Lost as an influence.
Fox's reboot focuses on two priests — complete polar opposites — who come together to save a family from a demonic possession. Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) is in many ways the new progressive and compassionate face of the Catholic Church. He runs a small parish in the Chicago suburbs that the Rance family attends.
Meanwhile, the Rances are in quiet turmoil: Dad Henry (Alan Ruck) is slowly losing his mind; eldest daughter Katherine (Brianne Howey) refuses to leave her room; Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is hearing strange noises from inside the walls; and mom Angela (Geena Davis) is plagued by recurring nightmares. Convinced there's a demonic presence in the house, Angela begs Father Tomas for help, setting the young priest on a course to collide with Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), another priest locked in a life-and-death struggle with evil.
"We really are making a 43 minute film every week," executive producer Jeremy Slater said. "We are judicious about when we use our scares. If you make a great hour of television with a gripping story and characters...the audience knows the scare is coming, [they will] be patient. The pressure is to tell the best story, not the most gratuitous."
There's also a significant Latin American influence, owing to the presence of Father Tomas played by Alfonso Herrera, who's from Mexico City. Slater said it was important for them to show what Catholicism really looks like in 2016. "I'm happy to portray a Mexican who is not just a guy with a sombrero," Herrera said. "I feel happy."
Of course, the series will have nods to the original — you'll hear those well-known bells tolling, for sure — but this is a brand new show with new characters, producers said. "People won't turn in week after week just for shock," said Slater. "It has to be characters you haven't seen before or we can fall in love with — you need twists and turns. At the end of the day it's always about a family in trouble and a priest brought in to help them."
The Exorcist is directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). It debuts Sept. 23 on Fox.