Hats off to all the TV viewers who, when they hear Andy Griffith say, "This is a confrontation between the devil and the human race!" in tomorrow night's NBC movie "The Demon Murder Case," will have the cheek to click immediately to another channel. Another outbreak of possession by old Cloven Hoofs himself--what could be more boring?
One problem with TV imitations of "The Exorcist," a 1973 movie that ought to be all imitated out by now, is that network censors, and rightly so, won't allow anything too gory or traumatic to be presented on the home screen. And so "Demon Murder Case," at 9 on Channel 4, has to stoop to this: Among the ghastlinesses committed by the possessed boy in question is, in one rather priceless scene, the dread giving of the demonic Bronx cheer to those tsk-tsk'ing the night away around his bed.
Imagine, two hours of possession and not a drop of pea soup spilled. Or spat. The filmmakers do offer a half-baked reprise of the old levitation trick, but it takes an unintended comic turn here, because the levitating kid not only hovers over his bed, but rather whimsically floats out the door. But this film comes a cropper by the dozen, starting with an idiotic screenplay by William Kelley that spends more than an hour on the possession of the little boy, then drops that to have the demon take a quick vacation in the body of a young man, who commits a murder and whose lawyer plans to plead demonic possession as a defense in court.
That might have made for movie-courtroom novelty at least, but the judge disallows any evidence or argument relating to possession, so the issue is not only not resolved, it isn't even dramatized. Two lone beacons of sanity and conviction in this silliness are provided by actors Kevin Bacon, who was sensational in "Diner" and who really does achieve a tormented, haunted look without any special effects (or much help from the script), and Laine Langland, a dazzling redhead as his undoubting girlfriend. When she grabs him as he is led out of court, kisses him and tells him she still loves him, it's genuinely passionate and sexy, as television rarely is.
Director Billy Hale conspired with his cinematographer to shoot the whole movie as quixotically and distractingly as possible. Long shots and low-angle shots are splashed in for no good reason, and whenever possible, the camera shoots through extraneous foreground latticework or gingerbread. In a scene set in a restaurant, it's almost impossible not to fixate on an out-of-focus woman, a mere extra, in the foreground; she talks with great animation and is probably saying something much more interesting than are the principal characters, all but hidden away in the background.
To make the possessed little boy (Charlie Fields) look horrible, Hale rapidly intercuts closeups of his face shot with a normal lens and with a wide-angle distorting lens. Any 5 year old who appears to be finding this trick scary, and not funny, is possessed by television and should be put promptly to bed.