Any production being consumed by mainstream media that even remotely revolves around demonic possession might as well face the fact: it is destined to be compared to The Exorcist. After 40 years, William Friedkin’s masterpiece remains the measuring stick for anything to do with demonic possession, exorcisms and the dramatic horror that surrounds it.
The FX Network’s horror series American Horror Story Asylum aired their second episode over Halloween, titled Tricks and Treats. One of the plot lines for the episode involved a possessed teenage boy, Jed, being brought to the asylum by his parents after his behaviour becomes uncontrollable. An exorcism is ordered and two Catholic priests arrive to perform the ritual. They are even accused of being witch doctors, reminiscent of Chris MacNeil when an exorcism is suggested to her. The exorcism takes place and the scenes are respectfully filled with references to The Exorcist.
From simple dialogue queues such as, “The demon is a liar,” or “Stick it up your ass!”, to demonic cackling, slamming doors and verbal trickery; the ongoing acknowledgement of The Exorcist is evident throughout. I decided to edit together a short video showing most of the comparisons. You can watch it below.
It might be easier for a TV show like this to handle demonic possession and draw homage without being brutally compared to The Exorcist because it can get in and out very quickly, cutting between other plot lines and wrapping things up in 40-something minutes (60 with commercials). A feature film, as evidenced by some recent possession debacles, has to hold attention on the subject for its duration and references to The Exorcist may appear more of a rip-off or second-rate attempt to cash-in (yes, even after all this time). Director Paul Schrader said it best, while working on the set of Exorcist: The Beginning:
There’s no hope of topping Friedkin’s Exorcist. That’s a film classic. It’s like trying to top Casablanca– you’re not going to top it.