The producers behind The Exorcist TV series have explained the show's lack of jump scares. Last year, after a run of movie sequels that largely paled in comparison to director William Friedkin's classic 1973 original, the fabled Exorcist horror franchise made its demonic way to TV. Many were skeptical about the idea of turning The Exorcist into a FOX series, but the final product ended up surprisingly good, quickly building up a loyal audience. While it's true that that audience isn't big enough to earn The Exorcist high ratings, FOX clearly sees potential for further growth, after having granted the series a belated season 2 renewal this past spring.
Instead of attempting the likely-to-be-foolish task of trying to re-adapt William Peter Blatty's novel that inspired the original film, The Exorcist TV series creator and showrunner Jeremy Slater opted to tell an original tale that sought to capture the tone and spirit of Friedkin's movie. The Exorcist season 1 told the story of the Rance family, and their battle with an evil supernatural force. Standing in their defense were the duo of Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), and Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels).
While an intriguing late-game plot twist established that The Exorcist season 1 indeed took place within the same universe as the films, season 2 will be taking a quasi-anthology approach, sending Ortega and Keane off to battle evil in a new location with a new supporting cast. During the San Diego Comic-Con panel for the series, Slater and newly-hired executive producer Sean Crouch discussed their approach to translating The Exorcist's brand of horror to TV, and in particular revealed why jump scares don't really work on the small-screen:
Sean Crouch: "We are going to do different types of horror. We're going to do haunted house horror, but I mean, it's all demon-related. We're going to do nature horror this season, [connecting it with] J-horror and Ringu and Dark Water a little bit, just to expand and evolve what type of horror we're able to do on this show."
Jeremy Slater: "We learned the hard way in season 1 there's stuff that just doesn't work on TV. Jump scares don't work because the audio levels are crushed and a jump scare is 90 percent auditory. We also learned that you can't put your scary stuff at the top of an act. If someone's coming back from a Ford commercial, they're not going to be scared in those first 30 seconds. You have to give it some time to build the atmosphere and dread and really hit them by the end of the act. Hopefully, that fear carries them through the next commercial break and then you build it again."
Many horror fans would likely argue that The Exorcist TV series not including jump scares is a positive, as in many ways the practice has become overused by the theatrical fright flicks Hollywood is churning out as of late. A more measured approach to terror is also arguably much more in line with the original Exorcist movie. To be fair though, Friedkin didn't have to worry about the commercials Slater mentions interrupting his story.
While the scenes of possessed Regan spitting pea soup and doing unspeakable things with a crucifix are well-known, there are just as many (if not more) scenes in the film that rely on creeping dread and slow-building tension - such as the scenes with Father Merrin in Iraq, the unsettling dreams had by Father Karras, or young Regan's tales of "Captain Howdy" that are unfortunately dismissed as childhood fantasy, until things have already progressed to the point where something is clearly horribly wrong. The Exorcist thrived on atmosphere, so it seems appropriate that its TV counterpart should ultimately do the same.
The Exorcist season 2 premieres September 29 on FOX.