The Exorcist is a 2014 British BBC radio 4 drama based upon William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel (previously adapted as a film by the author and William Friedkin in 1973) about the possession of a young girl, Regan, by a demon. The two-part radio version was produced and directed by Gaynor Macfarlane and adapted by Robert Forrest. Alexandra Mathie plays the demon, Robert Glenister plays Karras and Ian McDiarmid is Merrin.
Macfarlane told The Guardian: “In the book there is some doubt about whether Regan’s head turns around or not. Our version may not have these filmic tricks, but it has a gradual, creeping, perhaps more toxic horror. You feel tainted by hearing it. Robert Forrest, who adapted the story for us, was fascinated by the psychological story and he has put Father Karras, the priest figure, at the centre of the story. It takes him to the point of a possible breakdown. It does feel like a departure for Radio 4, but it is a classic of the horror genre. On the BBC iPlayer it will carry a warning, because we think it is frightening. In the film the demon is very foul-mouthed, but we have changed that so it is not just a ranting presence, but something really frightening, witty and knowing instead. It gets right inside Karras’s head.”
The Exorcist was broadcast on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February at 11pm.
Does The Exorcist work as a radio play? Not entirely. Starting, confusingly, midway into the book, this version seems determined to distance itself from the film, emphasising a calm, sweet-voiced ‘demon’ and the psychological aspects of the story – while Friedkin might claim, somewhat unconvincingly, that his film is ambiguous regarding the possession aspect of the story, here it is entirely possible that this might be psychological rather than supernatural. That’s potentially interesting, however the play lacks substance – despite being the central character, Karras is without depth, the exorcism scenes are a mix of shouting and bland conversation and there is little sense of the horror found in both the novel and the film. It’s an interesting try, yet really needs stronger character development and more creeping horror (the opportunities for unsettling sounds are mostly wasted) to be successful.
David Flint, Horrorpedia