What is it about horror that draws us in? What darkness lurks within us that makes us giddy at the mere promise of being scared?
Growing up, I was a pretty normal kid. I loved Fraggle Rock, was the proud owner of a Rainbow Brite doll, and liked to sneak around when my parents weren’t watching. I had nothing to do with the fact that our A-frame rental was next door to a cemetery, and I certainly wasn’t the one who cut a hole in the chain link fence that separated our yard from the land of the dead. Like I said—I was a normal kid; and like all kids, I was a curious creature. That’s why I started crawling through the hole in the fence to the other side…telling myself ghost stories about what could possibly follow me home.
I was five when I brought my mom a bouquet of silk flowers I’d collected off of dead people’s graves. Judging by the look on her face, you’d think she had spawned a monster; and judging by my current occupation, perhaps she had. I was seven or eight when I started watching horror movies in earnest.
Back then, they’d play them on basic cable, in the middle of the day, during summer vacation. It was awesome. I watched stuff like Troll and Dolls, Firestarter and It. The adults didn’t seem to care. I guess if you’re dumb enough to scare yourself silly, you’re expected to be brave enough to deal with the consequences. I did scare myself. A lot. I wouldn’t sleep for days, swearing I could hear scratching coming from inside the walls of my room; incessant knocking coming from the other side of my closet door. But I’d get over it and go right back to the TV, searching for more spooky stuff. I do the same song and dance to this day.
My name is Ania Ahlborn, and I’m a horror addict.
That sort of whimsical childhood draw to the genre changed, however, when I watched The Exorcist for the first time. I was eight or so, and my story of how that movie scarred me isn’t all that unique. There are multitudes of people who watched that film once and will never watch it again. I was one of those people for a long time, convinced that my own soul was ripe for the picking, which speaks to the power of William Friedkin’s 1973 classic.
I’m a horror author, a weaver of awful imagery, a duchess of despair. If anyone should be watching that movie on a loop, it should probably be me. And like Beetlejuice said, it should keep getting funnier every time I see it. And yet, I nearly had a panic attack when, sitting in a dark theater, the preview for the remastered Exorcist (2000) flashed onto the screen. I just about ran out of there, popcorn spilled, soda abandoned, tail between my legs.
You know something affected you pretty severely when you can’t, for years afterward, get it out of your head. Regan MacNeil haunted me for two decades before I finally put fingers to keyboard and pounded out my first book. My first horror novel, Seed, is inspired by The Exorcist, one hundred fifty percent. It’s my fears made tangible, my terror put into words.
Imagine, then, the moment I discovered that a major network was rebooting The Exorcist for prime time television. Skepticism. Fear. Silent hope for it to crash and burn. Secret elation that, while it can’t possibly hold a candle to the original, I somehow get to relive watching that soul-twisting movie again “for the first time”, this time as a somewhat braver adult.
My one optimistic thought: network television has become bold. With wildly popular shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, TV show creators have learned a valuable lesson: viewers like their heartstrings to be raked over the coals. And viewers like to be scared.
Keeping that in mind, I didn’t set my hopes too high.
I settled in to watch the pilot, and I was pleasantly surprised. FOX’s The Exorcist reboot has a lot of potential, partly because it’s got Geena Davis and Alan Ruck (Bueller? Bueller?) at its helm. Its skewed-angle cinematography and moody blue palette give the show an enchantingly ominous air. That, and its makers have taken notes: horror fans are tired of boring, unimaginative remakes. And so, rather than rehashing the original story, the new Exorcist is less of a remake and more of an extension to the already famous (and morbidly beloved) cannon we know so well.
There are nods to the original: where the movie had Father Merrin doing an archeological dig in Iraq, the TV show has Father Marcus Keane hanging out in Mexico City; and when Father Thomas Ortega Googles “exorcism,” a photo of the infamous Exorcist steps from the 1973 masterpiece appears in his browser.
Of course, there are also moments that are lacking, like the fact that Father Thomas Ortega has to Google “exorcism” at all (I mean, what?), but I’m willing to be a little forgiving. Rather than a two-hour movie, this show gives us six episodes of spooky fun. And where the series stumbles, it makes up for with its vibrant cast and complex characters.
Geena Davis plays Angela Rance to Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil—both successful business women, both on the cusp of losing their minds when their children are found to be in peril. Alan Ruck, who plays Henry Rance, is afflicted by an unexplained malady that might be early onset dementia, or it might have far darker roots. (Guess which one I’m hoping for.) The cast of characters and their nuanced complexities make me happy, because they’re reminiscent of the type of characterizations you’d experience not on the screen, but in a good book. This fact alone leads me to encourage folks who love horror to check out this show.
But, of course, if you’d rather cozy up with a cup of tea and a good book this Halloween, I know a pretty good horror author. Someone once called her “demented” in all sincerity, but that’s all a matter of opinion, right? After all, it’s not like I was out wandering cemeteries and raiding graves as a child.
Get Ania’s latest novel, Brother, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.
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