THE EXORCIST: 40TH ANNIVERSARY
MOVIE: ***** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5)
Ellen Burstyn as CHRIS MACNEIL
Max von Sydow as FATHER MERRIN
Lee J. Cobb as LT. WILLIAM KINDERMAN
Kitty Winn as SHARON SPENCER
Jack MacGowran as BURKE DENNINGS
Jason Miller as FATHER DAMIEAN KARRAS
Linda Blair as REGAN MACNEIL
Mercedes McCambridge as DEMON
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: William Friedkin
BY KEVIN CARR
Does anyone really need a film critic to tell them how incredibly awesome “The Exorcist” is? Isn’t there enough good karma (at least in the reviewing world) out there for this film?
If you haven’t seen “The Exorcist,” you should do so, even if you’re not a fan of horror films. It should be seen for it’s position in cinema history more than anything else. It’s a hugely significant film, one of the first blockbusters that hit two years before “Jaws” made it into the record books.
“The Exorcist” is a still a film that makes your skin crawl, which director William Friedkin points out in the commentary of the film, it did so not with demons and Satan but rather with the medical horrors Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) faced. Even today, it’s hard to watch, not because of pea soup flinging across the room or heads spinning around, but rather for the unflinching look at our archaic methods of medicine used to explain the unexplainable.
Now that Halloween is only a few weeks around the corner, it’s as good of a time as any to either revisit this classic or see it for the first time. A new 40th anniversary Blu-ray box edition of the film has been released. The release includes the same discs that were released three years ago, including a disc for the original theatrical version and one for the director’s cut that was originally released in 2000.
For those who have been living in a cave since the early 70s, “The Exorcist” is about a well-respected movie actress named Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose daughter Regan is showing signs of mental illness. After exhausting medical angles, Chris turns to a priest named Damian Karras (Jason Miller), pleading for him to perform an exorcism on Regan. Father Karras gets the exorcism approved and works with Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) to release the demon from possessing Regan’s soul.
Aside from it being the seminal exorcism film, the thing that makes “The Exorcist” work so well is its commitment to true stories (or its commitment to true reports, for those skeptical of real exorcisms). As batshit crazy as this film gets, it still feels like it could happen. The real insane elements don’t happen until well into the second half, and even then they seem to be contained in Regan’s bedroom.
Still, those infamous moments of spewing bile and contorting a body aren’t even the most disturbing elements of demonic possession. It’s scenes like the dreaded crucifix masturbation moment, a sequence so shocking that I recall watching it with friends in high school and having one of them (a devout born-again Christian) leaving the room.
“The Exorcist” isn’t just one of the best horror movies ever made. It’s one of the best movies ever made, a film that few subsequent movies could even hold a candle to.
The exciting part of this release is the inclusion of the two different versions of the film. For purists, there’s the original theatrical cut that includes two older features as well as two commentaries, one with Friedkin and the other with producer/screenwriter William Peter Blatty. Friedkin introduces the film, and the disc also has an interview gallery, the original ending and the 1998 feature-length documentary “The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist.”
The director’s cut includes new scenes – like the eerie crabwalk sequence – as well as a few visual effects tweaks to smooth out 1973 static cuts and throw in a few more subliminal images of the demon. Other features on this disc include another commentary by Friedkin, as well as a three-part documentary about the making of the film.
Also included in the set is a 40-page book adapted from Friedkin’s memoirs “The Friedkin Connection” (which is subsequently cross-promoted throughout the enclosed materials). This is different from production notes booklet from the 2010 release.
Finally, a third disc is available with two new featurettes. The 30-minute “Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist” profiles the writer today as he reminisces upon writing the original book. “Talk of the Devil” is a shorter interview segment featuring Father Eugene Gallagher, upon whose exorcisms Blatty based the story.
If you already own the 2010 Blu-ray release of “The Exorcist,” there’s not enough in this package to warrant another purchase. But if you haven’t spent the money yet, this is a great item to pick up for Halloween viewing and beyond.