Event Report: The Exorcist TV Show Launch Party at the Hollywood Escape Hotel

The Exorcist, based on a bestselling novel, broke box office records and terrified audiences around the world when it came out in 1973. Now, more than four decades after the Academy Award-nominated film scared everyone half to death, “The Exorcist” returns as a TV series, premiering tonight.

They say they’re making it more of a “psychological thriller” by following two very different priests tackling one family’s case of demonic possession. Separately each faces an insurmountable task, but together they become the only hope against an evil force that has been mobilizing for centuries.

We caught up with Alan Ruck, one of the stars of the series, and got the satanic skinny on his role. “I play Henry Rance, and my wife is Angela, who is played by the lovely Geena Davis. We have two adult daughters, 19 and 21; and our household, unfortunately, is visited by the forces of evil.” Hate when that happens. “As the series goes on, you’ll find out Henry suffered from an accident, and now he is suffering from a post-traumatic brain injury. He’s got a lot of things going on – he falls asleep a lot, he has memory lapses, he has bursts of anger, and he has these things called absence seizures. He’s not completely himself.”

He elaborates, “In the pilot, the young priest, Father Tomas, asks Angela, ‘How’s Henry doing?’ And she says, ‘He has good days and he has bad days.’ So all these things are going on in this household. One of the daughters is involved in a terrible accident, another daughter is… well, there’s a lot of things going on. So poor Angela, she’s really got a lot to deal with. So she turns to the priest, Father Tomas, who is played by Alfonso Herrera, and he comes into contact with an exorcist, and that’s all I can say without spoiling it.”

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As mentioned above, the show premieres tonight (September 23rd) on FOX, so last night the network threw a big bash at the trendy new Hollywood Escape Hotel, which isn’t a hotel at all. You won’t spend the night there and you won’t have room service. But you will have a room… a very scary one, sealed tight until you can unlock its secrets and free yourself. Each room has a different theme – they range from a mafia bunker to a haunted nursery. Last night, of course, we were ushered into the “Exorcist Experience.”

In case you’re not familiar with the term, an “escape room” is a physical adventure game in which approximately a dozen players are locked in a chamber and have to use elements of the decor to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit. In the “Exorcist Experience,” the first thing one sees is a video hosted by Alan Ruck and Geena Davis, warning you that you’d better be very careful, or you just might find yourself locked in the room with Satan’s soldiers forever. Then you make your way to a church set complete with pews, a pulpit, and stained glass, all of which contain clues that compel you into other areas of the chamber… priests lead the way, and possessed little girls try to deter you from finding salvation.

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Once saved and escaped, you make your way back into the main part of the Escape Hotel, where there is a bar and bites, plus a kitschy photo booth with props and an elegant upstairs area. It’s upstairs where we chatted with Ruck about the show. Even though it’s billed as a psychological thriller, he feels it’s going to be scary enough to satisfy horror fans. “There are some big scares in it – just the fact that we’re dealing with demons and the devil and the supernatural. There are some shocking and horrific things – people are definitely going to get their scare on! But the show also operates as a psychological thriller because it focuses on ordinary people in extraordinarily brutal times.”

It’s set in modern times, but we don’t see them possessing cellphones. “Mostly the demons play by their own rules. They know things without needing wireless devices. They’re ahead of us that way.”

When asked how the show can do justice to such an iconic story, he says, “We have really fine writers, excellent directors, and we have a bunch of actors that are all bringing their A-game. I think the trick to it – and we’re trying to honor the spirit of the move; we’re not doing a remake – is to try and root it in reality as much as we can so that you or any other viewer would think, ‘I believe this could happen in my neighborhood… this could happen in my house.’ There are a few subtle and loving nods to the movie, so someone who’s seen the original a bunch of times or is an aficionado will catch those. It’s a different story, but we are operating in that universe where things like that can happen. We don’t have a Ouija board specifically, but there are definitely things like this in the series.”

Regardless of one’s religious background, The Exorcist stands as a monolith of fear. We asked Ruck to what he attributes the enduring fascination with the original movie. “In terms of cinematic effects, we’d never seen anything like that before, and they just seemed horribly real. And the actors were some of the best working in movies then and you never doubted anybody for a second, and so you felt like this was really happening. It was beautifully directed by William Friedkin. The director of our pilot and the concluding two episodes, Rupert Wyatt, said he felt Friedkin directed the film as an agnostic, and so as a filmmaker, he was making himself prove it could actually happen. So that’s the reason I think people, whether they are religious, spiritual, atheist, or not… it resonates because as human beings, the story of good vs. evil is the oldest story there is.”

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If you want to see the oldest story there is, but with a new twist, be sure and check out the 10-episode series on FOX TONIGHT!

“The Exorcist” Episode 1.01 – “Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee” (airs 9/23/16, 9-10pm)
EVIL RETURNS IN THE ALL-NEW SERIES PREMIERE OF “THE EXORCIST” – Something is wrong in the Rance household. Angela Rance (Davis) suspects demonic possession and enlists the help of two priests: the progressive, but naïve Father Tomas Ortega (Herrera) and the broken holy warrior, Father Marcus Keane (Daniels). Together, they will be drawn into a nightmare beyond imagining.

Additional cast members include Alan Ruck as Henry Rance, Brianne Howey as Katherine Rance, Hannah Kasulka as Casey Rance, and Kurt Egyiawan as Father Bennett.

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Staci Layne Wilson

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