Philip Glenister climbs into a dog collar to scare the spooks.
Robert Kirkman’s Outcast aims to do for exorcisms what The Walking Dead did for zombies. Joseph McCabe brings holy water to the show’s set…
It’s a balmy autumn afternoon in sleepy Chester, South Carolina. Like so many small Southern towns these days, half the businesses have shut down and those that remain attract few costumers. Down Chester’s main street come two figures – a middle-aged minister and a younger, wideeyed man. They knock on the door of a local pet store, inside of which lies a dead parakeet in a cage… and a shopkeeper who may or may not be possessed by a demon.
What an excellent day for an exorcism.
For horror fans, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is more than just a bestselling comic and a global television phenomenon. It’s what made the world fall in love with zombies. But can Kirkman’s Outcast do the same for tales of demonic possession? It’s a more specific subgenre, and one many would argue hasn’t been given its due on screen since Linda Blair’s head spun like a top in William Friedkin’s 1973 shocker The Exorcist.
“That movie,” laughs
Outcast producer-director Howard Deutch when he speaks with SFX on the show’s set. “I needed to take a valium after I saw it. I was young and I was like, ‘I’m never gonna be able to go to sleep!’ Even though her head spun around and she spat pea soup and all that shit, I believed it because of how they earned it. The whole idea, the whole freshness of it. The faith, and good and evil, the characters – Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow – all of it, it worked. It clearly worked.”
“And by the way,” he adds, “when the studio saw the movie, they weren’t gonna release it. So it shows you what people know.”
These days they know better. As is evident in the decision to produce a series based on Kirkman’s 2014 comic book about a young man, Kyle Barnes (played by Gone Girl’s Patrick Fugit), with the power to cast out the devil in others, but who struggles with the demons that have plagued him and his family since he was a small boy. In his search for peace, he partners with a wannabe religious healer, the Reverend Anderson (Life On Mars’ Philip Glenister), and the two embark on a mission to put Kyle’s powers to good use. In so doing, both men call into question their long-held individual beliefs.
“Anderson,” explains Deutch, “is selling himself a bill of goods. He’s left his family and his own son, given everything up in his life to do God’s work. He discovers, on this journey of his, that he’s a fraud, that it’s not working. That crisis of faith may be symbolic or representative of how other people feel and it may not. But that’s a real issue for a lot of people. I don’t think we’re selling it one way or the other. He’s just a guy who’s experiencing that.”
As for Kyle Barnes, “Patrick’s character never believed for a second. He’s constantly a reminder, because he has the power, that it isn’t about faith. Anderson becomes dependent on Patrick, and resents that. Because he thinks he’s the one who’s doing this, and he discovers he’s not. He’s delusional. He refuses to accept that his faith has let him down. A lot of people are like that. So it’s a really rich area to explore.”
Of Fugit, Deutch says, “It’s very difficult to find an actor who’s pure. There’s acting and then there’s channelling and owning a character. He channels this character. He doesn’t have to act it, he can be it. Because in his back pocket he has this sense of goodness. If you’re gonna cast a guy who’s gotta fight evil just by the essence of him, you couldn’t find a more perfect candidate.”
Kyle’s powers first emerged when his life was threatened by his own mother, herself apparently driven by a demon. After rendering her catatonic, he was placed in a foster home. Now a grown man, he finds history repeating itself when his wife, and the mother of his child, attacked him.
“He has no sense of self-worth,” says Deutch of Kyle. “No sense of purpose and no feeling of
It’s scary as hell, but this show is about relating to these characters
value. How would you feel if your own mother tried to kill you? He doesn’t even want to leave his house. He doesn’t want to get dressed. The only person that makes him feel like he’s worthy of anything is Anderson. Anderson is like a father figure to him and makes him feel that maybe he has a chance to be somebody. Not nobody.
“On the other hand, Anderson feels like he’s a rock star. He’s a pillar of the community. He’s got his church groupies, those old ladies who follow him everywhere. He’s dependent on Kyle to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. So this dance they do is an interesting kind of relationship. It’s what I think is the best part of the show. It’s very compelling, and it’s reminiscent of The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully. It’s nitro and glycerin. It’s fireworks. That’s what I love about it. It’s not about special effects, it’s not about the supernatural. That’s a part of it.”
Deutch sees in Kirkman a man as genuine as the characters he creates:
“Oscar Wilde used to say, ‘You might as well be yourself, because everybody else is taken.’ It’s hard to just be yourself. But that’s what Robert Kirkman reminds me of – a guy who knows who he is. He’s from Kentucky, of pioneer stock, a midwestern guy. It does not in any way interest him to be famous at all. He’s a nerd. He’s a guy who writes these characters in his comics and that’s what he’s thrilled by.”
READY TO TREMBLE
In the case of Outcast, what appears to thrill Kirkman is the chance to explore the roots of faith, and the dichotomy between those who believe and those who don’t. All the while scaring audiences senseless.
“It doesn’t feel derivative,” Deutch assures us. “I know it’s not The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and all that crap. But I don’t care whether it’s horror or comedy or a musical, it’s about the writing, the story, and the characters. Then it can be a horror, a comedy, a romance. But the trunk of the tree for me is the story and the characters. Then the branches are the divisions and categories.” A veteran of ’80s teen favourites like Pretty
In Pink and Some Kind Of Wonderful, Deutch has inadvertently become something of a horror TV specialist in recent years, having directed numerous episodes of True Blood and American Horror Story.
“I used to do American Horror Story, which is shocking. I did them and I’m proud of them. It’s a great show, but their goal is to shock you... This show is not about shocking you. They’re gonna sell it like a horror show, and it’s horrific – it’s scary as hell. But this show is about relating to these characters.
“And then,” Deutch warns us, “you’ll get shocked.”
Outcast airs on Fox from 7 June.
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