Stars: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter, Lyndie Greenwood, Nicholas Gonzalez, Jill Marie Jones, Amandla Stenberg, David Fonteno, Nydia McFadden, Clancy Brown
Writer: Melissa Blake, story by Mark Goffman & David McMillan, series created by Phillip Iscove & Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Len Wiseman
Director: Romeo Tirone
Network: Fox, Mondays @ 9 PM
Original Airdate: January 13, 2013

Jenny (guest star Lyndie Greenwood) is possessed on SLEEPY HOLLOW "Vessel" | © 2014 Brownie Harris/FOX

Jenny (guest star Lyndie Greenwood) is possessed on SLEEPY HOLLOW "Vessel" | © 2014 Brownie Harris/FOX

THE EXORCIST, which celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, has become a very tough film to reference respectfully. After all, what was utterly terrifying in its first release has been so thoroughly parodied (and elsewhere so poorly ripped off that it played as parody) that when another project seeks to use the tools that director William Friedkin so expertly crafted, there’s a big risk of just looking silly.

Well, leave it to SLEEPY HOLLOW to make demonic possession Regan MacNeil-style scary once again. In “The Vessel,” Captain Frank Irving’s (Orlando Jones) encounter in the park with a body-jumping demon that threatened Irving’s daughter Macey (Amandla Stenberg) pays off.Irving is having the ice cream vendor interrogated – but since the demon has jumped bodies, the poor guy has no idea what he’s being questioned about. The demon jumps into the body of a squad room cop, calls Irving and threatens to take Macey’s soul if Irving doesn’t deliver George Washington’s bible by sundown.

The bible is in Ichabod’s (Tim Mison) custody, but apart from the reference to witnesses – Ichabod and Abbie (Nicole Beharie) – they don’t know why the demon wants it. The duo find an old videotape of the late Sheriff Corbin (Clancy Brown) performing an exorcism on Abbie’s sister Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood) as a teenager, though the tape is incomplete and Jenny cannot now remember exactly what happen. She does reveal that the demon made her want to kill Abbie, so Jenny stayed away to protect her sister. Abbie is overwhelmed with emotion, realizing her sibling avoided her not out of dislike but out of love.

Irving gets his estranged wife Cynthia (Jill Marie Jones) to agree to go with Macey to an isolated cabin and even gets the family priest (David Fonteno) to come with them. Unfortunately, the demon jumps into Detective Luke Morales (Nicholas Gonzalez), who is one of the people guarding Macey. The demon in Luke’s body kills the other guard and, when Irving fails to produce the bible by sundown, then jumps into Macey.

Ichabod, Abbie and Jenny arrive. Armed with knowledge of the demon’s name, they manage to drive it out – along with some help from the strong-willed Macey. Cynthia is dazed, but starts to realize why it is her husband hasn’t been more open with her about what’s going on at the office.

“The Vessel” scores a lot of creepiness points by simply treating the demonic possession straight on as though it’s frightening. The script and actor Jones also sell this by giving us the emotional horror of seeing a loved one so transformed, something that is often bypassed on TV shows that have “monster” characters as the good guys This is by no means a knock on those shows, but it’s hard to be afraid of, say, a werewolf transformation when we know that’s our hero and he’s more or less in control. Macey’s transformation is traumatizing to Irving and to us; the malevolence is real rather than cartoonish and Irving’s anguish is palpable.

The back story as to Jenny’s reasons for avoiding Abbie is about equally sweet and unnerving. For humor, we get Ichabod’s consternation when Abbie tries to give him a sartorial makeover. The anachronism gags could be getting old by now, but the writers and Mison keep them funny.

“The Vessel” demonstrates why SLEEPY HOLLOW is one of the better genre shows on TV right now.

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