... aka: Exorcism by Don Taylor, The
Rachel (Anna Cropper) and Edmund (Edward Petherbridge, from the Ghost Story for Christmas entry THE ASH TREE) stumbled upon an "pleasantly isolated" country cottage reasonably convenient to London. The place had been derelict for years and, since the home doesn't appear to have an owner or even a descendant who may own it, the couple were able to purchase the plot of land it sits on and get the home in the process. Since then they've fixed the whole place up into a weekend home where they can come and get away from the big city for some peace and quiet. Another wealthy married couple; pompous Dan (Clive Swift) and his wife Margaret (Sylvia Kay), come to stay with them over Christmas, where they discuss socialism, Marxism, generational problems and how there's an undeserved resentment for the rich. The cottage has been updated with a new kitchen, new bathroom and central heating but has retained its old charm... and that's not the only old thing it has retained.
Rachel sits down at the piano and plays a song, but has no clue what she's playing or why she's playing it. It's written off as her subconscious temporarily taking over and raiding her memory bank, but the four will soon realize that's not the case at all. The power mysteriously goes out, battery operated clocks and watches die and the phone stops working. And then everyone starts suffering from signs of what they think is a mass hallucination. Over a lavish dinner, Edmund spits up wine claiming it tastes like blood and everyone comes down with a burning cramp from inside their stomach. Rachel sees the skeleton of a dead child on her bed. Outside the windows everything looks completely dark and nothing can be seen even when a flashlight is shined through. The front door won't budge and the glass on the windows won't break even when they are beat with a hammer. Some inexplicable force has tapped them inside, but why?
Plaster and drywall start falling off of the walls and ceiling, before-and-after pictures of the cottage that Edmund took soon turn into pictures of the home more than a hundred years earlier and poor Rachel starts freaking out, screaming and discussing things that happened there in the past. That's because she's speaking for the former occupant of the home; Sarah Jane Morby. A young woman living during impoverished times, Sarah Jane went through hell there and doesn't want her story to go untold. While the village squire and a select few in their village feasted, the rest of the village was starving and nothing could be done. Her husband was executed for protesting, while Sarah Jane retreated to her cottage, this cottage, where she and her two young children starved to death. There's really no difference between the upfront injustices of yesterday to the more polite, mannered injustices of today.
Despite being hampered with TV production values, this 50-minute-long BBC presentation proves, yet again, that thoughtful writing and good actors are all that is really necessary to make a compelling horror film. No bells and whistles. No flash. No special effects or gore. Just strong, old-fashioned storytelling brought to life by a talented, small cast. Filmed indoors in just a couple of different dimly-lit rooms, this impressively manages to intrigue and entertain whilst being genuinely creepy and having an important holiday-centric message to convey. This would be a superb choice for any parent wanting to introduce their children to the genre. The title had me going into this expecting your usual possession film and, while there is indeed a possession, it wasn't the kind I was expecting to see. There are no demonic spirits to cast out. The only evil is man's inhumanity to his fellow man.
Having watched 300 genre films this year alone, the finale of The Exorcism is actually one of the only things I've seen in the past 350-some days to actually send chills up my spine. And I'd be amiss if I didn't single out Anna Cropper in the cast. She has a brilliant 10-minute-long monologue scene with few cut-aways that's utterly compelling. It's one of those rare scenes that's so vividly-written and well-acted one can just sit back and do all of the visual work in their own mind. Actors with this talent seem almost completely absent from the genre these days, but at least their work is preserved for future generations to enjoy.
This originally aired as part of a short-lived series titled Dead of Night, which only produced seven TV movies. I don't believe any of these have been officially released to DVD or VHS, but if you can track down a copy, it would make a fine addition to any genre fan's holiday collection.