The Exorcist: 50th Anniversary Edition (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

When a young girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter

September 14, 2023 12 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

A little girl named Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) has been having some tough times of late, it seems her mental and physical health have been sliding in the recent past. But we’re not talking about a simple sore throat here, more like superhuman strength and intense projectile vomiting, which aren’t symptoms of the common cold, at least any strain we know of. After her mother tries all the medical options she can to cure the problems, she decides to go see a psychologist, who is also a man of the cloth, or a priest. This man is certain Regan has been possessed by an evil and demonic spirit, so unless she is freed soon, she could be killed in the process. So Regan’s final hope lies within two men of religion, one world weary, but experienced priest and another who has begun to doubt his faith. As a team, these two men must work together to free this young girl from the demon within her, which will not be an easy task, to say the least. Pea soup, anyone?

If you’re a fan of The Exorcist, then chances are you’ve heard about the debates between author William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin, who had different ideas when it came to the film’s final cut. Friedkin was pleased with the version that ran in theaters years ago, while Blatty wanted Friedkin’s original rough cut to be issued edition of The Exorcist. After some time of back and forth, Friedkin agreed to recut the film to resemble that original rough version and though it isn’t exact, this new version is a close match for that edition. This new cut runs about ten minutes longer and has a lot of added dialogue, which slows the pace somewhat, though you have to love that Spider Walk sequence, am I right? Even though I like a couple of the new sequences found in this version, I still prefer the original cut, as it seems spookier and that’s kind of the point here. It seems as though this new edition tries to explain too much, which pulls out some of the scariness and that isn’t good in a horror flick. I like this new version and I am pleased to have seen it, but I think fans will want to hold on to both editions in the end. Even if you like this extended cut better, keep that 25th Anniversary disc, as it has a ton of great supplements not found here. As many of you will be also, I’ll be adding both of these discs to my collection, so I recommend this new cut to fans of the film with no hesitations.

Since this edition was driven into existence by William Peter Blatty (also wrote The Exorcist III and a few films in the 1960s), I figured I would give him a few lines of ink here. As I am sure you know, Blatty penned the novel on which the film was based and he also wrote the film’s screenplay, which worked out well. In other words, you don’t have to worry about the novel being tossed aside in the process, since the same dude took the reins on both projects. His work in both formats is fantastic and really sets the stage for the film, which also delivers on the potential of Blatty’s writings. I’m sure there was some concern about whether or not the film could match the novel’s visual and atmospherical potential, but I think director William Friedkin (The French Connection, Rules of Engagement) and his crew come through with flying colors. The cast here is also top notch, with such performers as Max Von Sydow (The Seventh Seal, Needful Things), Jason Miller (Rudy, Toy Soldiers), Ellen Burstyn (The Last Picture Show, The Yards), Lee J. Cobb (Mackenna’s Gold, In Like Flint), and of course, Linda Blair (Chained Heat, Ruckus).

Video: How does it look?

When you’re dealing with one of the most critically-acclaimed horror films ever made, there are bound to be a lot of folks paying attention. With this inaugural 4K debut, Warner has gone back to the drawing board giving audiences what they wanted, but at the same time trying to maintain and preserve the director’s original vision. On the surface, the 1.85:1 HEVC 4K image is a noticeable improvement over the previous Blu-ray editions. This one sports more detail, a bit better contrast and everything else associated with a 50 year old catalog title would. Colors are, by and large, a bit improved as well though given this film’s history on the disc format, it’s a bit inconsistent. I’m usually not one to really complain about certain colors, though Friedken’s films have been susceptible to some “interesting” color issues over the years. I try not to get to “in the weeds” about stuff like this and just keep it high level. If you’re looking for the best all around visuals for this film – it’s here. It’s not perfect, but it’s here.

Audio: How does it sound?

In the “Oh, that’s nice” department, we’ve got a brand new Dolby Atmos mix that’s sure to please. Unlike many films of the age, the mix on The Exorcist doesn’t really sound engineered or fake. I was pretty impressed at how robust this really did sound and even as many times as I’ve seen the film, found myself craning my neck to hear some of the little nuances that kept emanating out of my surround speakers. Dialogue is key to this film, well any film I suppose, and the vocals are very strong and clear here. Max Von Sydow’s powerful voice is ever so present and again I find it hard to believe that this film is 50 years old. This new mix is by far the best the movie has to offer, embrace it.

Supplements: What are the extras?

If memory serves, The Exorcist was one of the first films on DVD way back in the late 90’s. No matter the format, this movie will likely be a part of it. Though we don’t have any new features, what’s included is more than enough in the supplemental department.

Disc 1 (4K)

  • Audio Commentary – William Friedkin’s track has been around for ages and, sadly, we lost the acclaimed filmmaker in early 2023. Still, his legacy lives on in this commentary track which essentially is an audio version of what all the other features on the disc capture. It’s well worth a listen, but also one we’ve been treated to for years.
  • Audio Commentary – William Peter Blatty with Special Sound Effects Tests
  • Introduction by William Friedkin – As the title states, we get an introduction by Friedken.
  • The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist – Given that this is the film’s 50th anniversary, this feature is half as old as the film itself. Likely any fan of the movie has already seen this, but it’s nice to have nonetheless.
  • Original Ending
  • William Peter Blatty Interviews
    • “The Original Cut”
    • “Stairway to Heaven”
    • “The Final Reckoning”
  • Sketches & Storyboards
  • TV Spots
    • “Beyond Comprehension”
    • “You Too Can See the Exorcist”
    • “Between Science & Superstition”
    • “The Movie You’ve Been Waiting For”
    • “Nobody Expected It”
    • “Life Had Been Good”
  • Trailers
    • “Nobody Expected It”
    • “Beyond Comprehension”
    • “Flash Image”

Disc 2 (4K – Extended Version)

  • Audio Commentary – Same track as above.
  • Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist – Author William Peter Blatty tours the cabin where he wrote most of the original novel. He also mentioned the “Exorcist Steps” will always be the “Hitchcock Steps” due to their use in Hitchcock’s film, The 39 Steps. He also reads excerpts from his novel while scenes play over it.
  • Talk of the Devil – Father  Ghallager and Mike Siegel are interviewed and Ghallager recounts Blatty in his classes at Georgetown. As the lone “new” supplement here, this is a hit and miss feature.
  • Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist – The all-inclusive documentary showcases some of the challenges of making this classic.
  • The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now – If you’re ever in D.C. and don’t want to see historical buildings, we get a few “key scenes” from the film from 1973 vs. now (though “now” is a relative term since this feature has been available for a while).
  • Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist – Just that. Some comparisons on the different versions of this classic.
  • Radio Spots
    • “The Devil Himself”
    • “Our Deepest Fears”
  • < strong>TV Spots
    • “Most Electrifying”
    • “Scariest Ever”
    • “Returns”
    • “Never Seen”
  • Trailers
    • “The Version You’ve Never Seen”
    • “Our Deepest Fears”

The Bottom Line

There’s not a lot that can be said about this movie that hasn’t been said time and again. Warner’s new transfer adds some more detail and fixes a few of the errors found on previous discs and the addition of a new Atmos track only sweetens the deal. We get two versions of the film, each with their own set of supplements. If it’s the “definitive” version you’re looking for, look no further.

Disc Scores