While doing my research into possible topics to write about for this year’s series, I found that there were countless sitcoms (and other comedic series) that had aired Halloween themed episodes. This was not much of a surprise as I know that I had watched more than my share growing up, and judging from how many are covered during this year’s event, quite a few others did as well. Today’s Halloween Horrors topic is the first to cover one of these televised marriages of humor and horror.
After making his Halloween Horrors debut last year with a comedic look back at just how much he didn’t remember about 1981’s The Evil Dead, my oldest friend, Chris Whissen returns to the series this year with the first piece covering one of the sitcom Halloween-time special episodes. Or is he? You see, once again Chris has claimed a topic that isn’t quite what he remembered it to be. You know what? I’ll just let him explain.
Here’s Chris Whissen with his look at “The Devil Is in the Details… And the Upstairs Bedroom“, from the USA Network series, Psych (2006-2014).
For many readers of a site such as this, horror is not seasonal. It’s a year-round pleasure that everyone else happens to flock to for the month of October. To the rest of the world, horror and Halloween are practically synonymous, and the genre’s films — no matter when they were released — become Halloween movies.
This means, come October, horror movies are everywhere and it’s really kind of terrific. Especially for a casual horror fan like myself, it’s a chance to experience this thing I enjoy with other people and maybe discover something new. There are special screenings at theaters, marathons on TV channels, dedicated sections on streaming services, and, of course, the homage episode of your favorite TV series. There’s something special about a well done homage. They’re a chance to revisit something familiar, but from a different angle, or an entryway into a classic you never took the time to seek out.
Much like the movies they pay tribute to, these episodes don’t even have to actually air anywhere near Halloween, so I learned when trying to decide on my topic for this piece. Well, a few weeks after I picked my topic, I learned that it didn’t actually air in October. Fine, tonight. Tonight, as I finish up my research for this piece, I learned my chosen episode – despite appearing on many lists of “Best Halloween episodes” – aired in late August.
Yes, I’m still happy to consider season 4, episode 4 of Psych, “The Devil’s in the Details… and in the Upstairs Bedroom“, a Halloween episode. True, there’s nothing specifically Halloween about it. No costumes. No pumpkins. The movie it’s clearly referencing even came out the day after Christmas – several major holidays removed from October 31.
However, that movie released on December 26, 1973 would go on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards and become the first horror movie nominated for Best Picture. That movie has often dominated basic cable’s October schedule – especially AMC. That movie was, of course, The Exorcist.
With horror royalty like that as its source, it’s hard not to see why so many consider this episode of Psych a Halloween special. (Plus, I’ve got several hours of time spent under the premise that it’s a Halloween episode, so let’s go with it.)
Let’s get this out of the way, Psych‘s homage to The Exorcist is not as tied to the source material as some of their other classic episodes have been. There’s no “pea soup” or special uses of a crucifix. Unlike some other episodes, they didn’t bring anyone obvious back from the original film. Psych is a light-hearted cable comedy about faux-psychics, friendships, parents, and easily wrapped-up murders. The Exorcist is one of AFI’s top horror movies, an Oscar winner, and leaves a plethora of loose ends.
Yet, there is no denying the connection between the two. Most obvious is the exorcism – though in both the show and the film, this is a small portion late in the proceedings. Both priests performing the exorcisms have medical conditions and have experience performing a month long exorcism far away. Both of the “possessed” are young women. Those are the obvious similarities, and even the characters are happy to drive home the connection, at one point stating, “You’re going to die up there…. Come on, man! It’s a line from the movie.”
It’s in the pieces that are beyond the obvious that the show really pays tribute to the horror classic. Camera angels echoing those in The Exorcist are common – shots from low to the ground, framing the spot where someone will fall to their death in the upper corner, etc. Lighting is still in line with Psych‘s normal quality, yet, somehow – whether it’s from the actual lighting or the object in the room being chosen for how they’ll light – the feel of the dark, early 70’s film comes through. Staging throughout the episode follows the more subdued and static placement of the film, as opposed to the show’s normal frantic direction.
For me, though, there is one element that is so closely tied to The Exorcist that I can’t even be sure it’s not directly lifted from the original. The sparse music is unmistakable, at least if you watch both in a short period of time. It’s haunting and tension building – even in-between silly scenes.
Those subtler tributes – especially and notably the music – somehow bring the tension and feeling of impending horror from the original film into what is essentially a goofy comedy. It’s masterfully done and thoroughly enjoyable to see.
Which, when it comes down to it, is why I don’t mind that an August release, paying homage to a December release is seen as prime October material. Horror isn’t just for Halloween, but it’s the time when everyone comes along for the ride, and if episodes like this get more people enjoying these classics – or perhaps an obscure gem – that’s a good thing.
Chris Whissen is the exact age and pop culture disposition of the main characters in Psych, so is obviously a diehard fan. He has a light horror watching habit picked up from a high school friend and currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA. He has a small marketing agency and designs and develops stuff for web and print, while trying to raise a decent human being – both are works in progress. Living in Pittsburgh, he was more mentally prepared for the zombie apocalypse than he was for the year 2020.