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The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Written by Steve Pattee

Blu-ray released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

The Exorcist 40th Anniversary Edition Poster

Directed by William Friedkin
Written by William Peter Blatty
1973, Region A, 122/132 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 8th, 2013

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 Karras
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil

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Since it made its indelible mark on the horror genre since its release in 1973, The Exorcist has terrified at least two generations of audiences with its perfect blend of drama, suspense, and of course, demonic possession. What can you say about a film that has been terrorizing moviegoers for four decades? A title that inevitably makes every top 10 list for scariest movies, and generally in the top five. There's not much I can add to what has already been said in the countless reviews, books, and discussions that have had it as a centerpiece for the past 40 years. Two things are for certain, though: it not just holds up, it gets better with repeat viewings. There's a reason why it's considered a classic.

If you've lived in a cave since 1973 and have neither seen The Exorcist or, even worse, don't know what it's about, the plot is simple: Girl gets possessed by a demon, priests perform an exorcism. But, like most great films, it's the execution of this story that makes it a classic. From go, the filmmakers did things right, starting with the script. Far too often, when Hollywood gets hold of the rights to a great book, they muck it up by tossing the author aside and bringing in screenwriters whose only goal is to get the highlights of the material to the big screen. Many times the translation is lost from page to screen because the person who knows this material best is not involved in the process. But that's not the case here. Not only did The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty pen the screenplay, but he and director William Friedkin worked closely together to make sure the story made a smooth transition to the moving picture.

The cast is phenomenal (which should really come as no surprise as three of the 10 Oscar nominations for The Exorcist were for acting alone). What still never fails to impress me whenever I view this film is how terrific Linda Blair is as the possessed child Regan. Not only was she about 13 at the time, but it was one of her first major roles. Considering how the entire film more or less rests on her shoulders, she carries that weight with ease. She's believable no matter what the scene calls for, be it as a happy-go-lucky child gushing over the horse she saw or a terrifying monster forcefully masturbating with a crucifix all the while chanting, "Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!", you really do think you are watching two different people.

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Blair's performance is made all the more impressive considering she's sharing her scenes with the likes of Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Lee Cobb. Each of these fine veteran actors bring their own talent to the table and there's never a dull moment in the film's 122-minute running time (or 132 minutes if you are watching the extended cut). Ellen Burstyn nails it as Chris MacNeil, Regan's stressed mother who is at the end of her rope in trying to find a cure for her child's ailments (which include random pissing on the carpet during social gatherings and the impressive ability to turn her head completely around without snapping the neck). Jason Miller is sincere as Father Damien Karras, the priest MacNeil begs for help. This man of the cloth is clearly weighted down with personal issues, and you can feel the turmoil he's going through with each and every scene he's in. Lee Cobb is likeable as Detective Kinderman, who brings a much needed light humor to a story otherwise wrought with tension and fear. And what do you say about Max von Sydow? While he is possibly one of the most recognizable characters outside of Regan from The Exorcist, I for one always tend to forget that even though the film opens with a segment of his character Father Merrin in Iraq on an archeological dig, he's gone for the majority of the movie only to show up for the film's climax. Yeah, he's that good.

Dick Smith's effects for The Exorcist have clearly stood the test of time. While Regan's transformation from spunky little girl to evil incarnate is still mighty impressive and effective, one should not disregard the amazing makeup job applied to von Sydow. Remember, he was only in his early 40s when cast as Father Merrin, the elderly priest. Hell, when I saw him in the opening scenes, my first thought was, "Does this man even age?" Immediately after, I realized the idiocy of that thought, and I was doubly impressed at the seamlessness of the makeup.

My first memory of seeing The Exorcist is one of watching it on VHS back when I was a kid. My mom, a big horror fan herself, rented it one night raving about how scary it was. While the infamous head spinning scared the bejesus out of me, I was not impressed. There was entirely too much talky talk. I didn't see it again until over a decade later when "The Version You've Never Seen" was released theatrically and it was only then that I completely understood The Exorcist's place in the genre. The film is far, far more than simply good versus evil. It masterfully addresses religion, faith, human nature, the length a parent will go for his or her child, and more, all the while managing to keep you up at night in terror. The Exorcist has stood the test of time for a reason.

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Video and Audio:

The Extended Director's Cut and Original Theatrical Cut look equally fantastic. From the opening scenes in Iraq, you know you are in for a treat. The detail on Father Merrin's hands and face is phenomenal and that carries over through the rest of the film. Grain is kept intact, flesh tones natural and blacks wonderfully dark. This could have been shot yesterday.

The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks found on both versions are just as impressive. Dialog is crisp, there is a nice use of the surrounds when needed and the iconic score never overpowers.

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Special Features:

Disc One: Extended Director's Cut

  • Commentary by Director William Friedkin
  • Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist
  • The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now
  • Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots

Disc Two: Original Theatrical Version

  • Commentary by William Friedkin
  • Commentary by William Peter Blatty with Sound Effects Tests
  • Sketches & Storyboards
  • Interview Gallery with William Friedkin & William Peter Blatty
  • The Original Cut
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • The Final Reckoning
  • Additional Footage: Original Ending
  • The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots

Disc Three: Bonus Disc

  • Beyond Comparison: William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist
  • Talk of the Devil

Captain Howdy has terrorized at least two generations of both fans of horror and film in general alike. To celebrate this latest milestone, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has re-released The Exorcist as a 40th Anniversary collectors set. While much of the features have been ported over from the 2010 digibook edition, Warner has added a new bonus disc for this release.

While both Friedkin commentaries are worth the listen, the one found on the Original Theatrical Version just edges out the other. He discusses a lot of topics throughout, from the typical praise of cast performances to interesting tidbits of some of the background characters, and everything in between. His commentary on the Extended Director's Cut certainly has its strengths, but there also times when he gives a blow-by-blow on what's happening on screen.

Between Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist (30 minutes) and The Fear of God (77 minutes), you are going to get everything you've wanted to know about the movie and more. There are various interviews with the cast and filmmakers discussing their roles and some behind-the-scenes tidbits, as well as a nice look into the film's production from page to screen.

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Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist (10 minutes) is a self-explanatory piece covering the changes made between the original and extended cuts.

While brief, The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now (9 minutes) is an engaging featurette, especially if you live in the DC area.

Beyond Comparison: William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (28 minutes) is the first of two featurettes new to this set. It follows Blatty as he reflects on writing the novel, including visiting the house he lived in during that time as well as the author reading parts from The Exorcist.

The second new piece is Talk of the Devil (20 minutes), which is an interview with Father Eugene Gallagher, the man more-or-less responsible for bringing the idea to Blatty for his book. It's a fascinating look at not just how the novel came about, but also one priest's opinion on how the church feels about demonic possession. Gallagher is extremely likeable and the interview breezes by. (Although, shockingly enough, the interviewer glances at his watch at one point while Gallagher is talking. It's rather awkward.)

Another new offering is a 40-page book that contains excerpts from the director's novel The Friedkin Connection. It's an enjoyable read that takes no time at all and only whets the appetite for Friedkin's full-length work.

Rounding it out are a slew of teasers and trailers, even more interviews, and a still gallery.

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Overall: 5 Star Rating

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About The Author
Steve Pattee
Author: Steve Pattee
Administrator, US Editor
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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