Warner Bros. | 1973 | 132 mins. | R
Now for the two-disc Blu-ray set…
The Exorcist is one of the few movies the genuinely scares me, no matter how many times I watch it. Needless to say, I’m among that group of people that believes that William Friedkin’s film is the scariest of all time. I’ll even go so as to admit that while I have watched the film in the dark, I much prefer to see it in the light of day. Of course, as someone who has watched countless films, I know this is the mark of a truly genre changing project; I’m sure most of us know at least one person who refuse to sit through The Exorcist to this day.
William Peter Blatty based the screenplay on his own best-selling novel, which in turn found inspiration from a newspaper article about a real-life exorcism. Under the direction of William Friedkin, the movie account of young Regan’s demonic possession is likely a lot scarier than the actual experience, as it should be in a work of mostly fiction. But it’s that element of “what if” that makes the movie all the more plausible, and thus, more alarming.
Regan, played by Linda Blair, begins the film as a seemingly normal kid. For unknown reasons she because possessed not only by subordinate demons but by the Devil himself. At first, she just acts strangely; then she starts uttering weird noises and making her bed shake. Before long she is disgorging green slime and rotating her head 180 degrees. Her mother (Ellen Burstyn), takes her to the best doctors in the area, but they are simply puzzled. At last resort, they suggest an exorcism. Understandably, the mother is discontented by the thought, but willing to do whatever it takes to save her daughter.
She calls a local Catholic priest at Georgetown University, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller); a psychologist who doesn’t believe in exorcisms. Karras, who is questioning his own faith, soon becomes convinced of the devil’s power when Regan spits green slime in his face, starts speaking in tongues, and materializes words on her stomach. To assist the good Father, the Church brings in Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), who apparently has lots of experience at exorcisms. Together the two priests exorcise the demon, but not without a terrible price.
The film is downright creepy from start to finish. Nearly every shot is dark and shrouded in mystery, ending with a terrifying final scene. The whole story is all the more terrifying because of the characters involved. Mom is just your average everyday mom, and the possessed one is a little girl. I mean, how are you supposed to really get your head around that?
What are the differences in the Extended Director’s Cut and the one that originally played in movie theaters? First, the filmmakers distribute the ten minutes-plus of added scenes a few minutes at a time here and there throughout the movie, and the scenes don’t really change much. They do, however, provide a bit more insight into the character of Father Karras, offer more on the “nervous disorder” diagnosis for Regan, and give the film a slightly different ending. Probably the most important addition is the famous “spider-walking” scene, a five-second segment that has Regan walking down a flight of stairs upside-down. The scene was in Blatty’s novel and in the initial screenplay, but director Friedkin had at first thought it came too early in the story and was just “too much,” thus, omitting it. You get to be the judge, since you get both versions of the movie (on separate discs).
While not quite reference quality, it goes without saying that the 1080p presentations of both versions of the film are distinctly better than any previous version, especially in the area of color rendition. Usually thought of as a rather washed-out film, this high-definition transfer provides a striking response to that notion. Reds are especiallyvibrant and well-saturated, and subtle color shadings of purple and blue in some scenes are now apparent. Grain is also handled perfectly here, offering The Exorcist a filmlike feel it’s never had in any previous release. There are a handful of instances of black crush and maybe a tiny bit of smear here and there, but for the most part, this is a great presentation.
We get a DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio sound mix on The Version You’ve Never Seen and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the theatrical version, and both get the job done. Both of these tracks are aggressive and serve the film very well. Bass is strong on both, as are the panning between all channels and dialogue separation. And both mixes are strikingly enveloping: We’re immersed in appropriate sound fields at every opportunity. Almost all of the surround effects intended to shock or scare seem to have been reserved for the left and right surrounds. Despite the pinched frequency response characteristic of elements from almost forty years ago, these are very dramatic and effective mixes.
The Blu-ray Digi-book provides a slew of special features:
First the theatrical version: Following a short introduction by William Friedkin before the film, we get a very good BBC 75-minute documentary entitled The Fear Of God: 25 Years Of The Exorcist. It contains new interviews with all the major people involved, including Director William Friedkin, Author William Peter Blatty and actors Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow, as well as further members of the cast and crew. We finally learn for sure that Mr. Friedkin is, pretty nasty at times, often subjecting his actors and crew to humiliation, physical torture and emotional torment to get the effect he wanted. Interestingly, the cast and crew still retain a fondness for him, while simultaneously calling him generally insane and citing much of his behavior inappropriate.
In addition, there are two separate screen-specific audio commentaries, one with Friedkin as well as another with Blatty that also features sound effects tests. Both are quite good, and between the documentary and the commentaries, there is nary a fact or story left untold. Blatty of course concentrates more on the genesis of the story, the characters and the spiritual dimensions. Friedkin is more focused on the production. Since both these tracks were recorded before The Version You’ve Never Seen was even created, you can still sense the palpable tension in the air during these tracks when some of the then-differences between Blatty and Friedkin’s visions are discussed.
Also here is the film’s original ending, a set of interviews with Friedkin and Blatty (9:00), a Sketches and Storyboards featurette (3:00), and some trailers and TV spots.
Then, The Extended Director’s Cut:
We get a brand-newscreen specific audio commentary with William Friedkin (oddly Mr. Blatty is not involved). This track is more of a play-by- play than anything else, with Friedkin many narrating the online action and never once really discussing in any depth the differences between the two cuts nor his feelings about them.
We then get some new material exclusive to this release: Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist (30:00), The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now (9:00), and Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist (10:00) are all interesting featurettes that showcase some redundant information, but they’re cool enough that fans will no doubt find them intriguing.
Some trailers, TV spots and radio spots are also included.
Finally, because this is a Blu-ray Book edition, we get a forty-page hardbound book of text and pictures, with the two Blu-ray discs housed in Digipak spindles on the inside front and back covers, plus “A Personal Message from William Friedkin.” Spoken languages for the films include English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and others; subtitles in Danish, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, and others; and captions for the hearing impaired in English, German, and Italian.
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