Saturday 4 March 2017

We Don't Go Back #37: The Exorcism (1972)

When you call a story The Exorcism, you raise the expectation of such a thing happening, but of course, the word "exorcism" has many more meanings than the first one that comes to mind. It refers to the laying to rest of a spirit, and while this single television episode from a series junked long ago, one of only three rescued from the bin, has a vengeful ghost in its ancient house, there will be no bells or books, and no candles lit by ritual.
Dan: I think we should be concentrating on how to be socialists... and rich.

Anna Cropper (the star of Robin Redbreast) plays Rachel, Edward Petherbridge is Edmund, Sylvia Kay plays Margaret and Dan is portrayed by Clive Swift.

Written and directed by Don Taylor, The Exorcism's primary emotional force is rage, and it disturbs because yes they're a bunch of smug sellouts, but they're not the worst of the worst. They're just normal people. Comfortable, complacent, smug, but normal.

I find myself stunned by the sheer number of people who say there isn't an exorcism in this story. Of course there's an exorcism. In fact, more than anything, this, the TV Play, is an exorcism.

It's an exorcism of guilt. Rachel and Edmund, Margaret and Dan, they're held prisoner by a victim of systemic injustice, a woman who lived here long ago. Who, along with her husband and children, was murdered by greed and indifference. Murdered, yes.

Rachel and Edmund are so very pleased with themselves. They've bought a cottage in the country and they've spent vast amounts turning it into a luxury out of town pad, and it's Christmas and they've invited Dan and Margaret, and they're all happily chattering away about how ghastly it would be to rough it and how fulfilling work is, and Edmund complains about his socialist father, who gave him hell for being a sellout, and Dan says he's perfectly justified in making a killing in marketing.

And then the wine tastes of blood, and the food is inedible. And the electric cuts out, and the phone. And the world outside turns black, and the outer doors won't open.

And that's when the exorcism begins.

Liberals have convinced us that there is such a thing as social justice: there is not.

There is only justice, because these inequalities are crimes, and if we do not stand up for justice for the oppressed, justice, true repayment for the wrongs committed against the underdog, redress of the balance and punishment of the oppressor, history will not look upon us with kindness. Because we'll be either criminals or accessories to the fact, and I don't know what the law is in the country where you live, but being an accessory to a criminal charge is a criminal act in its own right here in the UK.

History, in its most literal sense, doesn't look kindly on the four people in this house and there isn't any more escape for Rachel and Edmund, Margaret and Dan than there was for the ghost when history gets its hands on them. They're sellouts. There won't be any mercy. No clemency.

Does that scare you? Because it should. Because if like me you're the sort of person who spends money on an online outlet to buy a copy of some painstakingly restored archive television, certain conclusions can be made about your social class, your education, and what matters to you.

That's why The Exorcism is frightening. Because it asks, if you were in that room instead of any one of those four ghastly, self-satisfied people, would there be any mercy for you?

Be honest with yourself. You already know the answer, either way.1

1The Exorcism was broadcast on 5th November 1972 as the first episode of Dead of Night, a horror anthology that only ever had one season. Only three episodes survive.