Back on Blu-Ray in a new 40th Anniversay release, THE EXORCIST reprieves the same BD discs as the 2010 Digibook release of William Friedkin's blockbuster 1973 film, as well as adds a bonus disc with two new retrospective featurettes.
I've seen the picture many times over the years on video, though theatrically only once -- in its 2000 "Version You've Never Seen" edition, which has since been re-christened the "Extended Director's Cut." Not knowing how a packed audience of mostly-college students would react to that somewhat controversial re-edit of the groundbreaking horror classic, I sat pretty much in stunned silence as kids used to gore but little genuine scares from today's genre flicks sat quietly, patiently and spellbound by a movie that remains as fresh and potent today as it did decades ago.
This tale of demonic possession, shot in a documentary style by Friedkin and filled with tremendous performances (including Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max Von Sydow, and Lee J.Cobb), is obviously best remembered for cute little Linda Blair becoming inhabited by a demon that enjoys spewing buckets of pea soup and spouting endless profanities, but the other elements of the film remain just as intriguing and mysterious for me: the opening sequence of Von Sydow in Iraq, the strange coincidences and unexplained appearance of the "demon," and the religious themes which resonate throughout the movie and encourage repeat viewing.
Fans have long debated the alterations made to the 2000 revision -- which adds a fantastic new stereo soundtrack and some 10 minutes of footage author/screenwriter/ producer Blatty never wanted excised to begin with- but for me, I found that it actually has more narrative shape and moves just a bit more coherently than Friedkin's original cut. True, the theatrical version of "The Exorcist" was (and still is) a classic, but some theological debate between priests Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller was cut against Blatty's wishes, as were scenes involving Linda Blair being examined by doctors that were referred to in the finished cut but never previously shown.
These sequences were deftly restored to the picture, along with the infamous "spider walk" sequence -- a great new shock-scare moment further enhanced by additional "subliminal image" shots (one of which is neatly added to the film's climax). However, it's not just effects that make the scene's addition noteworthy: coming at the height of Burstyn's increasing paranoia, the spider-walk works perfectly as a progression of horror following the discovery of filmmaker Burke Jennings' death.
The most satisfying addition for me, however, is the expanded finale with Cobb and priest William S. O' Malley that poignantly closes the film on a note that Friedkin's original ending was unable to do. The sound editing for the conclusion -- which intriguingly includes a note of the film's opening Iraq music -- is also effectively different in this version, reflecting the close of Blatty's original novel.
Whether or not you're a fan of this version of the film, there certainly seemed to be more point to the mostly-narrative enhancements found in the expanded "Exorcist" than in the purely-cosmetic changes George Lucas made to his "Star Wars" films. In some ways, this "Director's Cut" is the movie Blatty all the while, and if nothing else, makes for an interesting contrast to the final cut Friedkin originally turned in.
Warner's Blu-Ray edition of "The Exorcist" is simply sublime. The 40th Anniversary box contains the same two discs as the prior Digibook, and the still-exceptional VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer of the film - with both cuts on-hand - will not disappoint. The entire image has a clarity and crispness no prior video release of the picture offered, while retaining its original appearance (there's thankfully no `rethinking' of the color timing that plagued Friedkin's Blu-Ray of "The French Connection"). The nicely textured DTS Master Audio soundtrack is likewise superb on both versions.
Disc one of the double-disc BD set boasts the "Director's Cut" (2000 version) with Friedkin's commentary from that prior release, plus that version's trailers, along with three new featurettes highlighted by extensive, previously unseen FX footage and make-up tests. This half-hour segment will prove to be a revelation for fans, as it also sports interviews with Blatty, Friedkin, Linda Blair, Owen Roizman and others; a then/now comparison of the movie's locations; and a ten-minute profile of the different versions of the picture, wherein Friedkin says the 2000 version is now his favorite and the most "complete" of the different cuts.
Disc two includes the original theatrical version, along with the extras from the 1998 DVD, from Friedkin's on-camera introduction to his original commentary; Blatty's original commentary with sound effects tests; interviews with the duo from that release; original trailers (albeit only presented in standard-definition); Mark Kermode's BBC documentary; and the ending that had been deleted from the theatrical cut.
What's new to this release - in addition to a hardbound excerpt from William Friedkin's terrific new book "The Friedkin Connection" - is a bonus Blu-Ray offering two brief documentaries. Regrettably, the two new extras on the disc, while interesting, really aren't worth a repurchase for fans: the half-hour "Beyond Comprehension" finds Blatty returning to the Georgetown locales where the film was shot, reminiscing and relaying anecdotes that have been divulged elsewhere many times by this point. It's slickly handled, but nothing revelatory. Of more interest is "Talk of the Devil," a 17-minute featurette that features footage of Father Eugene Gallagher, the Georgetown priest who was involved in the original, reportedly true exorcism that inspired Blatty to write his book. It's an interesting piece but feels a bit abbreviated.
Along with an Ultraviolet copy, this package is likely to appeal to first-time buyers of "The Exorcist" on Blu-Ray, though fans who already own the (more attractively packaged) prior Digibook will likely find their current release to be just as satisfying.