The Exorcist – William Friedkin’s religious horror juggernaut that wrote the book on exorcism horror, with no other genre specific film coming close to achieving the critical accolades this spectacularly horrifying film did back in 1973. Yes, a film without the technological advances of today is still making most horror films look like child’s play, both in the effects department, and concerning true, pants-wetting horror. Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty created a timeless classic that has been terrifying audiences for years, as I still couldn’t help but leave a light on while re-watching this magnificent special edition Blu-Ray re-release.
Where can you even begin with his masterpiece, though? If you want to pin down the true source of horror, we have to analyze Linda Blair’s groundbreaking childhood performance. While so much had to do with settings, atmosphere, framing, and all the technical jargon, without Linda’s convincingly disturbing performance, Friedkin’s painstaking direction would have been wasted. It was Blair who sat through makeup sessions to become possessed by the Devil, it was Blair who contorted her body and mouthed curse words, and it was Blair who we truly, deeply, adamantly feared. Little Linda establishes her possession by first acting bratty, as we can notice subtle changes in her personality, but it’s still Blair hidden under all the pocks, scars, discoloration, and transformative cosmetics who becomes El Diablo – earning her a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Friedkin himself was nominated for Best Director, and if you were brave enough to make it through The Exorcist without covering your eyes or running away, such an honor seems obvious. Some of the most iconic scenes in horror were choreographed by Friedkin, be it Linda’s twisting head or her spider-walk down the stairs, resurfacing time and time again on Halloween inspired genre lists detailing cinema’s more ghastly moments. While the special effects teams are equally responsible for bringing these hair-raising sequences to life, Friedkin’s demonic vision crafted a near-perfect experience that scares just as well as it impresses. Today’s horror films have lost that prestigious strive, content with being just another rehashed, reused, braindead shocker that goes for cheap kills and even cheaper scares, but The Exorcist reminds us of a time when horror films were actually, for lack of a better phrase, good movies as well.
Of course, we’re talking about a horror film that has been discussed over and over again for the last 40 years, was nominated for ten Oscars, won two of them, and has been dubbed one of the greatest horror films of all time over, and over, and over again. Nothing I add will be revolutionary or mindblowing – The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films ever. Hands down. If forty years doesn’t change that, I doubt another forty will.
So the question is, does this special anniversary release properly commemorate such a tremendous milestone? Of course, we get both the threatrical cut and the director’s cut, but do all the extra goodies make this collector’s edition worth the splurge?
Judging first only with my eyes and ears, this version remains the most impressive visually and audibly, presenting the crispest picture quality for the film yet. Remembering this film was released in 1973, the colors pop vibrantly off the screen, and some of the grainy bits are removed, dusting off the cobwebs and delivering a rejuvenated screening experience. I couldn’t believe I was watching the same film I’d seen countless times on basic cable, used to the shaky picture quality and crackly audio. Oh yeah, the audio! Again, I couldn’t believe how clear the dialogue was coming from my television, as most of the aged conversion and gravely voicing had been eliminated. Looking only at the noticable bump in delivery quality, The Exorcist has never looked so beautiful.
- Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist – 40 years after his novel was published, The Exorcist author, screenwriter and producer returns to where it all began. First stop is a cabin/guest house in the hills of Encino, California, where Blatty wrote the novel. The author visits the place for The First Time in 40 years and shares not only memories of writing the book, but also discusses how it inspired him. We then meet Blatty in two key and iconic locations; Georgetown University where the film was shot, and at the now-famous Exorcist steps. Throughout, Blatty reads from his novel, including an excerpt from a chilling newly published passage.
- Talk of the Devil – While at Georgetown University, William Peter Blatty heard about a true case of possession from Father Eugene Gallagher. At the time the film came out, the priest talked at length about exorcism, the true story and about Blatty; this footage is now available for The First Time in many years. It is as revealing as it is shocking.
- An exerpt from The Friedkin Connection, William Friedkin’s memior
- Two Commentaries by William Friedkin
- Commentary by William Peter Blatty
- Introduction by William Friedkin
- 1998 BBC Documentary “The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist”
- Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist Set footage produced and photographed by Owen Roizman, camera and makeup tests, and interviews with director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair, author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty and Owen Roizman.
- The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now — Featuring a tour of the iconic locations where the film was shot.
- Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist – with director William Friedkin and author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty discussing the different versions of the film and featuring outtakes from the film.
- Original Ending
While the stand-alone memoir looks neat, and the two new featurettes show some very interesting footage, there’s not much else here that hardcore fans don’t already own on a past special edition release. Sporting a sleek new case, an extra book, and two reflective looks back at The Exorcist‘s history, this 40th anniversary edition has a ton of content – most of which has been seen already. With that said, if you don’t own The Exorcist yet, the 40th Anniversary Edition is a must buy just based on the transfer alone. You’ll have the best picture, best audio, plus a slew of additional features – and one of the best horror films ever created. If you’re either the biggest fan ever or without The Exorcist, this is a special edition you don’t want to pass up.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Few films challenge The Exorcist for horror greatest, and this 40th anniversary edition gives fans the brilliant home release it deserves, loaded with features that bring us into the world of William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty.