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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/20/00
updated: 12/14/00

The Exorcist

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
The Exorcist
The Version You've Never Seen - 1973/2000 (2000) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A-/C

Specs and Features:

132 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Snapper case packaging, commentary track by director William Friedkin, text-based behind-the-scenes essays (Behind the Screams, Blatty & Friedkin: Vision and Differences and The Most Famous Scene Not in the Movie), 2 theatrical trailers, 4 TV spots, 2 radio spots, film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (48 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX and 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Special Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
The Exorcist
25th Anniversary Special Edition - 1973 (1998) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C/A-

Specs and Features:

122 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual-sided (movie on one side, supplements on the other), Snapper case packaging, commentary track with director William Friedkin, commentary track with writer/producer William Peter Blatty (includes sound effects tests), 1998 BBC documentary The Fear of God: The Making of the Exorcist (75 mins), original ending, additional interviews with Friedkin and Blatty, storyboards and production sketches, production notes, 8 theatrical trailers, 6 TV spots, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (47 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 1.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

The Exorcist

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Exorcist
1973 (1997) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C/D

Specs and Features:

122 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided (widescreen on one side, full frame on the other), Snapper case packaging, cast & crew bios, production notes, awards listing, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0) and French (DD 1.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"The power of Christ compels you!"

In this age of dime-a-dozen horror films that rely on cheap scares and gallon after gallon of fake blood, it's the classics that are the most effective. As a jaded member of Generation X, I have been exposed to images on the silver screen that fifty or sixty years ago would have a majority of the film-going public in complete chaos. Imagine your grandparents strolling into the local Cineplex circa 1950, plunking down their hard-earned buck and watching Johnny Depp get sucked into his bed (while watching "Miss Nude America" on TV), and quickly turn into a puree of blood and sinew. Of course, I'm referring to the scene in Nightmare on Elm Street where Mr. Depp decorates his room... literally.

Not that The Exorcist didn't provide plenty of shock when it was released theatrically in 1973 - the difference is that The Exorcist doesn't always provide shock with gruesome images (pea soup, anyone?) or cheap scares. This film delves into a subject that many people hold very sacred in their hearts and souls: religious faith. The evil in this movie is not some biologically impossible creature like Frankenstein's Monster, or some indestructible axe-wielding maniac like Jason. No... this is The Devil. The Devil is an entity that many of us were taught is real and is the cause of everything wicked and impure. Not only that, but it inhabits an innocent girl that could be our sister, cousin, or best friend. It's an idea that hits close to home.

Going a step further, in The Exorcist, the idea that the incarnation of pure evil can inhabit and corrupt an innocent little girl is only the vehicle for The Devil's true message - human beings are worthless, despicable creatures that God could never love. It's within this disturbing message that we find the crux of the story. The Devil has possessed this young girl to bring despair into the hearts of mortals - to cast doubts of faith. When you dig deeper into this film, the true textures of the story and its characters begin to reveal themselves.

On an archaeological dig in the deserts of Iraq, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) unearths an idol of a demon, which is possessed by a concentrated evil spirit, Pazzuzu. Now, that evil has been unleashed into the world. Father Merrin has faced this demon before and gets a premonition that he will have to face him again. On the other side of the world in Georgetown (Washington D.C.), 12-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is a happy-go-lucky girl living with her actress mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). One night, the evil unleashed in the Iraqi desert finds a home within Regan, transforming her from a normal girl into a vulgar demon. Meanwhile, Father Karras (Jason Miller) a psychiatrist who belongs to the local Catholic clergy, is questioning his faith - seriously considering leaving the Priesthood. Having taken Regan to numerous doctors, all of whom are baffled by her "disease," Chris is willing to try anything to get her daughter back. So she contacts Father Karras and requests an exorcism. After careful study of Regan, and after gaining permission from the Church, Karras decides that an exorcism might be Regan's only hope, but the Church elders believe he is not spiritually strong enough to do it alone. Father Merrin is brought in to lead the exorcism as he has had past experience performing this ritual. Together, both men must search deep within themselves and summon all of their faith and spirituality so they will be strong enough to defeat this demon and save the life of young Regan.

Strong performances are abundant in this film, but the abilities of Linda Blair are the real treat. This is a young actress that seemed to have very few inhibitions playing such a vile creature. On one end of the spectrum, Blair portrays an innocent, pony-tailed girl... and on the other end, plays the incarnation of pure evil. You can't get more polarized than that. The way in which Blair portrays The Devil is very precise, with great attention to the detail of facial expressions and the perfect amount of wicked taunting and manipulation of weak-spirited individuals. Even though veteran actress Mercedes McCambridge overdubbed her demonic voice, Blair was responsible for the vital role of physically showing the world what director William Friedkin, and writer William Peter Blatty, envisioned as The Devil. And that can't be easy... especially for a 13-year-old actress.

But as effective as the film was originally, director William Friedkin wasn't satisfied with it. So he's gone back into the editing room to create The Version You've Never Seen. 11 minutes of footage have been restored to the film to help explain the nuances of the plot. Also, the controversial extended ending is included, that features Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer becoming friends, which is supposed to reinforce the notion that Father Karras' memory lives on and that the powers of good triumphed over evil. For years, Friedkin preferred the quieter, original ending of Father Dyer gazing at the spot where his friend Father Karras died. The audience was left to decide for themselves if good won, or if evil was the true victor. But Blatty felt that the original ending of The Exorcist wasn't clear enough, and he always wanted to make sure the audience left the film knowing that good won the day. Personally, I prefer the original ending - films whose stories can be interpreted differently are, to me, a welcome change from the usual Hollywood cookie-cutter fare. Also included in the new edition is the often talked about "Spider Walk" sequence, in which Regan, entering the severe stages of possession, descends a staircase in a horribly contorted manner and spits up blood into the camera. I'm not sure if it really belongs in the film, because it seems out of place in the story. Fans of the film will also notice several new CGI effects blended into the movie. Split second demonic images appear on walls and doors, and Regan's visage brutishly transforms during her visit with the psychiatrist. The new CGI images on the walls don't work for me - these new images are just excess baggage and look halfheartedly produced. However, the brief demonic transformation of Regan's face was appropriately vicious, and did add an extra wallop to the scene. Overall, the new footage helps to further explain the story and provides a bit more character development, but I think spells things out too much. I still prefer the original cut of the film, which is more intellectually stimulating and relies on the audience to interpret what's unfolding on the screen.

The Exorcist has been available in no less than three DVD versions. The first is only mentioned here for sake of thoroughness. It was among Warner's first DVD releases and, as such, was wanting in both quality and supplements. It was interesting only for the fact that it contained both full frame and anamorphic widescreen versions of the film, but the prints were dirty and the video was full of edge enhancement and compression artifacting. In addition, the audio was only Dolby Digital 2.0. Thankfully, this version is no longer available. But let's talk in more detail about the two versions that are - the 25th Anniversary Special Edition, which was released in 1998, and the new Version You've Never Seen.

The image quality of 25th Anniversary Special Edition (presented in anamorphic widescreen) has its pluses and minuses, but some of the minuses are due to the simple age of the film. Image detail is perhaps the disc's strongest characteristic. The beginning sequence in Iraq contains many finely textured images that appear sharp and detailed, but there are slight amounts of noise and compression artifacting that can be annoying. Shadows and interior scenes tend to show off a noticeable amount of grain, and can sometimes appear a bit muddy. Colors are very good, for the most part, but aren't completely perfect. Print damage has been kept to a minimum, and the transfer shows very few anomalies in this regard. Given the age of the film, the presentation isn't too bad, but still it's not the best it could be. The anamorphic widescreen picture on The Version You've Never Seen is remarkably similar to the 25th Anniversary offering. Much of what was wrong with the previous edition carries over to the new disc, but the positive aspects of the image remain intact as well. The Version You've Never Seen excels just slightly - some of the grain found previously has been reduced, resulting in a slightly smoother image.

The quality of the Dolby Digital 5.1 remastered soundtrack featured on the 25th Anniversary Special Edition is okay, but isn't remarkable. Overall, the soundtrack has a very mono-oriented presence, that stays largely anchored in the center channel speaker. Surround channels are rarely used, but for light music and effects ambience. The dialog recording sounds dated, but it is still easily intelligible. The soundtrack takes on a strident and harsh quality at times, for example when someone screams or during Regan's loud outbursts. A major complaint centers on the soundtrack's tendency to shift between mono and multi-channel very abruptly (see Father Merrin's close call with the coach in chapter 3). Thankfully, the brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix on The Version You've Never Seen is quite an improved experience. The entire soundstage is used to envelope the listener, effectively pulling you into the drama. Music sounds notably smoother and is also more atmospheric. While the overall character of the new 5.1 EX track sounds a bit dated, it's still very impressive, particularly given the improved fidelity.

There are plenty of interesting supplements contained in the 25th Anniversary Special Edition. The most intriguing is the BBC-produced, 75-minute documentary, entitled The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist (this documentary has its own set of 23 chapter stops). This piece gives deep and worthwhile insight into the production and public reception of the film. It contains make-up tests, behind-the-scenes footage, production sketches, discussions of special effects execution and even discussions of the design and creation of Regan's demonic voice. Unfortunately, the commentary tracks by Friedkin and Blatty are rather bland - most of the information they offer is brought up in the documentary and the interview gallery anyway. But be sure to check out the creepy sound effects tests found at the end of Blatty's track. It contains Linda Blair's original performances of the demonic passages and McCambridge doing some alternate takes. What's creepy, is that the end of the track is just McCambridge producing random, disturbing guttural sounds. Also included are a gallery of storyboards and production sketches and numerous trailers, TV and radio spots.

The Version You've Never Seen contains a couple of extras, but nothing near as extensive as what's included in the 25th Anniversary Special Edition. A newly recorded commentary track by Friedkin basically has the director explaining what's going on scene-to-scene. This commentary is like the Descriptive Video Service narrative track on Artisan's original T2 disc. But Friedkin does manage to squeeze in some interesting facts and trivia throughout the new version's 132 minutes. Also included on this disc are several short text-based essays that briefly explore some of the film's history.

So which version should you buy? If you're a fan of this film, I recommend both. The 25th Anniversary Special Edition and The Version You've Never Seen complement each other very well. Having both handy will also allow you to compare and contrast - each version is satisfying for different reasons. Plus, the new 5.1 EX soundtrack on the latest disc absolutely rocks compared against anything you've heard before with this film.

True horror chisels into your brain, and plants seeds of fear that remain with you long after the movie ends. Horror on film is a function of psychology and intelligent manipulation of the senses by the filmmakers. When a movie is so ingeniously executed that it's able to jar your psyche for the long term - as The Exorcist can - you can be sure to have a sleepless night or two. The Exorcist has been called "The Scariest Movie of All Time". Watch these two discs and decide for yourself.

Greg Suarez
[email protected]

The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen

The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Special Edition

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