I have a special place in my heart for made-for-tv horror films (something about the time constraint and budget conscription tends to bring out the creativity & atmosphere) and, in all honestly, no one did them better than the British. And while excellent works like THE STONE TAPE (1972), GHOSTWATCH (1992) and the Beeb’s varied M.R. James adaptations get all the praise, I’d like to draw attention to an excellent installment of a short-lived, now mostly lost (only 2 – of 7 – other episodes are extant) series DEAD OF NIGHT (1972). “The Exorcism” features two young couples – Rachel (Anna Cropper) & Edmund (Edward Petherbridge) and Margaret (Sylvia Kay) & Dan (Clive Swift), all upwardly mobile types – meeting for a holiday feast in the former’s new acquisition, a “quaint” country cottage. Unfortunately, real supernatural history impinges on the festivities and the couples find themselves trapped inside the building as Rachel begins to channel a horrifying story…
“this is horror at its most emotional and brutal, whose message – now more than ever – needs to be heard”
We are told early in the proceedings (as Edmund mentions his working-class father’s dismay at his yuppie son’s capitalist drives) that “Politics are forbidden at Christmas,” but our protagonists cannot escape the brutal, historical truths that weigh on their chosen side of history in this class-conscious ghost tale, as party games (literally playing at death) give way entrapment (echoing Luis Buñuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL – 1962) and then to real, lived, human horror and anguish straight out of Thomas Hardy. With no soundtrack, aside from a haunting clavichord theme by Herbert Chappell, and a limited setting, this is essentially a filmed stage-play (written and directed by Don Taylor) but no less effective for it.
Expertly acted (especially by Cropper, whose agonized and agonizing monologue climaxes the story’s emotional catharsis – “where there was no conscience, there was no hope…and nothing to be done!”), this is horror at its most emotional and brutal, whose message – now more than ever – needs to be heard. The arch-rationalist journalist Dan states at one point “this is becoming a very moral tale.” He’s right, but even he makes the mistake of presumption when, intrigued by the supernatural events, he later notes: “Don’t be frightened…I told you, we’re privileged…,” utterly failing to grasp the double meaning. While horror, especially nowadays, is willing to engage gender and race questions, class (outside of the work of George Romero) is rarely explored, and I’d urge those who are intrigued to check out this singular episode of a forgotten television series.