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There are few horror films with the power of THE EXORCIST ($35) and even fewer that remain as disturbing nearly forty years later. When THE EXORCIST was originally released, there were reports of audience members passing out during screenings. This isn’t likely to happen anymore since audiences have become numbed by the graphic content of modern horror films. Even though audiences may have changed, THE EXORCIST hasn’t lost its ability to shock and frighten. THE EXORCIST still scares us because it is one of the most realistic depictions of evil that has ever been presented on a motion picture screen. Stylistically, director William Friedkin treats THE EXORCIST as though it were a documentary, taking an exceedingly naturalistic approach to the material, which keeps it grounded in reality. Much of the film's power comes from the fact that supernatural occurrences are presented in a matter of fact manner. The little flourishes most directors apply to horror films are absent from THE EXORCIST, making this film as realistic and unnerving as possible.

For those of you who may have never experienced this horror masterpiece, THE EXORCIST tells a fictionalized story of demonic possession that writer William Peter Blatty based on an actual exorcism that occurred in 1949. In writing his novel and screenplay, Blatty reshaped the actual events, however THE EXORCIST remains the most realistic and genuinely frightening depiction of true evil that has ever appeared on a motion picture screen. THE EXORCIST tells the story of a pre-teen girl named Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), who begins to exhibit strange behavior that the doctors initially attribute to an undefined neurological disorder, and then to some form of mental illness. Unfortunately, the doctors are unable to determine the exact cause of Regan’s malady, even after a battery of invasive tests. Perplexed, the doctors suggest to Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) that she should investigate having a ritual exorcism perform on Regan, since the doctors feel that it may be the only thing capable of curing the girl of the psychological demons that plague her.

Desperate to save her daughter, Chris contacts Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), who, in addition to being a catholic priest, is also a psychologist. As a man of science, as well as being a man of God, Father Karras is naturally skeptical about a genuine case of demonic possession. However, after examining all the evidence, including Regan, Father Karras become convinced that an exorcism is necessary to save the girl. Since Karras has never performed an exorcism, church superiors send the experienced Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) to lead the exorcism. The film climaxes with exorcism ritual performed by the elderly Father Merrin, who has had past experience with the demon inhabiting Regan.

In addition to the naturalist approach adopted by director Friedkin, the other key factor that separates THE EXORCIST from most films of the horror genre is the caliber of performers associated with this project. Each of the actors in THE EXORCIST is outstanding in their own right, but together they create the kind of screen magic that happens oh so rarely. Ellen Burstyn delivers a wrenching performance as a mother who desperately loves her daughter, but is helpless to stop the forces that are stealing her away. The impact that Jason Miller has on THE EXORCIST is astounding. I doubt there is any other actor who could have been as effective in the key role of a priest who loses his faith… until he is confronted by true evil.

Internationally acclaimed actor Max von Sydow is probably best remembered by American audiences for the role of the elderly priest forced to confront his own personal demon (both literally and figuratively). There is a power that emanates from von Sydow's performance that is a complete antithesis to the character's frail physical nature. Lee J. Cobb brings a sense of humor to the role of police Lt. William Kinderman. Cobb's performance is the only ray of sunshine present during the darkest hours of the film. Finally, there is Linda Blair in the role of the possessed girl. As a child performer, Blair delivers a performance that is truly extraordinary. There are those who feel that credit for the performance should go to Mercedes McCambridge because she supplied the voice of the demon that was later dubbed over Linda Blair's dialogue. Yes, Mercedes McCambridge does deserve high praise for her work, but it was Linda Blair up on the screen that both frightened audiences and elicited their sympathy. Blair deserves recognition because everything in THE EXORCIST is built around this one key character and performance. I also have to extend praise to a non-actor, Reverend William O'Malley. Perhaps as a real priest, O'Malley wasn't taxing himself to portray Father Dyer. However, there are moments in the film where O'Malley delivers as well as any true thespian. The solid cast of THE EXORCIST also includes Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Rudolf Schündler, Reverend Thomas Bermingham, Vasiliki Maliaros and Titos Vandis.

In 2000, director William Friedkin revisited THE EXORCIST, creating THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN, which adds back footage that he had removed prior to the film’s original theatrical release. Per Friedkin, this was something of a concession to writer William Peter Blatty, whose preference was for an earlier, pre-release cut of the film that incorporated this excised footage. Now dubbed the Extended Director’s Cut, THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN is eleven minutes longer than the original theatrical cut and includes a number of very good scenes that flesh out the characters even further, as well as adding important details to the escalating horror. Additionally, the Extended Director’s Cut also incorporates the legendary "spider walk" sequence, which was completed and made to appear more convincing through the use of CGI. The Original Theatrical Version of THE EXORCIST is definitely tighter and more effective, but I also like the character moments found in the Extended Director’s Cut and can understand why Blatty, as a writer, would prefer their inclusion in the completed film.

Warner Home Video has made both the Original Theatrical Version and the Extended Director’s Cut of THE EXORCIST available on Blu-ray Disc in 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentations that have been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Per a written message from director William Friedkin, the Blu-ray release of THE EXORCIST was color timed by him and cinematographer Owen Roizman and stands as the very best print of the film. Both 1080p presentations are very similar in appearance, and serve as an overall outstanding rendering of this nearly forty year old film. For the most part, the image appears quite sharp and displays excellent definition, with the strongest images appearing in close-up. Certainly, there are some issues with softness, but this is attributable to the original production- i.e. lenses, film stocks, opticals and alike. Fine detail and texturing may not be at modern levels, but is still rather impressive and gives one something to marvel at in places. The image is also nicely dimensional and maintains a highly filmic appearance. The Iraqi sequence that opens the film has always struck me as particularly beautiful and is even more so in high definition. Color reproduction is another impressive portion of the overall video presentation. Hues appear natural, but have robust saturation. Flesh tones appear accurate, but the higher resolution of Blu-ray sometimes reveals the makeup man’s craft. Blacks are fairly inky, while the whites are crisp and clean. Contrast is generally smooth and natural. Shadow detail is usually good, but there are moments where the detail purposely wall off into the abyss. The elements from which THE EXORCIST has been transferred appear remarkably clean, but do not show signs of being digitally molested. Grain is apparent in the image in varying degrees, but this maintains the excellent film-like quality of the presentation.

THE EXORCIST is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 6.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Back in 2000, the film’s Academy Award winning sound was reworked to bring it up to the modern standard, and the resulting reinvigorated sound mix appears to serve as the basis for the Blu-ray release. THE EXORCIST has been aggressively remixed in a highly directional fashion, which places a lot of activity in throughout the soundstage, with a noticeable bump in the rear activity. Channel separations are also effectively implemented across the front. New sound effects have been incorporated into the mix and these enhancements prove very effective. Additional directionality has been implemented on older sonic elements, with these changes working well to bring the track close to the level of today’s sound mixes. Thanks to the lossless encode, musical fidelity has been enhanced, although not to modern levels. Sound effects sometimes sound thin or canned, but that is the nature of nearly forty-year-old foley. The bass channel is surprisingly effective and authoritative. Dialogue reproduction is very crisp and uniform, even though a lot of dubbing was required to add the voice of the demon to the film’s original soundtrack. French, Spanish, German and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are available on the Extended Director’s Cut, in addition to Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese and Russian language tracks. French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian Dolby Digital monaural tracks are also included on the Original Theatrical Version. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Swedish and Turkish on the Extended Director’s Cut. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish on the Original Theatrical Version.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, many of which have been ported over from the earlier DVD releases. Starting things off are three running Audio Commentaries; director William Friedkin offers his interesting and insightful comments on the Extended Director’s Cut, while the Original Theatrical Version offers two separate tracks. First, director William Friedkin talks about the production in great detail as the film unspools. Second, author William Peter Blatty supplies his recollections about writing the novel. Blatty’s talk only lasts for a portion of the film’s running time, so sound tests of Mercedes McCambridge creating the voice of the demon are also provided on the track. For this release, is a trio of newly produced programs is provided: Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist (thirty minutes), The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then And Now (nine minutes) and Faces Of Evil: The Different Versions Of The Exorcist (ten minutes). Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots close out the Extended Director’s Cut disc.

The Original Theatrical Version also offers a Director's Introduction, in addition to the two commentaries listed above. The most significant supplement included on the Original Theatrical Version disc is the seventy-five minute BBC documentary entitled THE FEAR OF GOD. THE FEAR OF GOD, which chronicles the making of THE EXORCIST. This 1998 television documentary featured then new interviews with both the cast and crew. As before, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and recommend it to any fan of the movie. Filmmaker Interviews, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, Storyboards, Production Sketches and the original upbeat ending of the film that author William Peter Blatty favors close out the Original Theatrical Version disc. THE EXORCIST features book styled packaging that contains forty-two pages of photos and production notes.

THE EXORCIST remains one of the most important horror movies of all time and this motion picture belongs in the library of every movie fan. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent and shows just how good a nearly forty-year-old movie can look and sound. Very highly recommended.


The Exorcist (Extended Director's Cut & Original Theatrical Edition) [Blu-ray]


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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