We go back to the BBC’s golden age of TV spookiness here, with Don Taylor‘s The Exorcism (1972), which itself was the first episode of seven in Dead of Night, a supernatural series made when the macabre was still taken seriously, and the actors involved played it absolutely straight. Ah, happy days – sadly, only three of the original series survive in the BBC’s archives, but at least this is one of them and, along with Peter Sasdy‘s The Stone Tape (1972) (which was originally intended to form part of the same series, but was eventually broadcast as a one-off Christmas Day special in 1972) is among the very best horror ever made for the glass teat.
Edmund (Edward Petherbridge) and Rachel (Anna Cropper) have invited Dan (Clive Swift) and Margaret (Sylvia Kay) to their eminently desirable new country home for Christmas dinner – proud of his new abode, which he had done up from the very old and run-down country dwelling that it was originally, Edmund tells Dan that he got the place for ‘at least fifty quid, but not much more’ (rar-rar-rar), before Clive opines that anyway, he wants to be ‘a rich socialist’. It’s all rather irritatingly smug, and the tone continues when the four sit down for dinner. But then…the lights go out, the phone goes dead, Edmund is convinced that his wine has turned to blood, and all four suffer violent illness when they taste the turkey. Things are about to get mighty strange, mighty quickly…
Taylor, who also wrote this, originally worked primarily for radio, and it shows here, but in a very good way. The scares, when they come (and believe me, they do), are far more aural than visual – you really have the sense of being as trapped as the four unfortunates are, and their supernatural captors have a more-than reasonable point to make. True, the social commentary dimension of the scares is laid on somewhat heavily, but the skill of the writing, suggestiveness of the atmosphere and genuine sense of impending doom that the story creates are near-matchless.
A truly scary step back in time, and many thanks to the rather fine website British Horror Television for their excellent background on The Exorcism.