The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Edition

January 28, 2012 12 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

In 1972, a little movie called The Godfather opened to critical acclaim and won several awards including the Oscar for Best Picture. At that point, it was the highest grossing movie ever at the box office. That is, until a year later when a novel by writer William Peter Blatty was transformed into a movie by Oscar-winning director William Friedkin that shocked, surprised, and scared a lot of moviegoers to death (not literally of course). The story of the making of it was even more shocking than the movie itself. The final product resulted in 3 sequels and held the record for two years as the highest grossing movie of all time. That movie was The Exorcist.

Chris MacNeil is a single mother. She has a loving daughter (Linda Blair) with a love for Ouija boards and she has a wonderful acting career. However one night, she hears a strange noise coming from the attic. At first it appears to be a mouse crawling around the creaky wood. What she didn’t know was that the noise was the start of a mysterious entity inhabiting her daughter. As the days go on the entity grows stronger. The doctors see nothing and can’t determine the cause of this unusual behavior in her daughter. It grows bigger to reveal the existance of The Devil. As an investigator (Lee J. Cobb) checks in on a mysterious death, a priest (Jason Miller) that Chris noticed outside in the past checks to see if her claims are legitimate enough to bring in Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), a exorcist who could be Chris’ only chance at saving her daughter before it’s too late.

It’s been a little more than thirty years since this movie’s first release and it still remains one of the best thrillers. From the quiet buildup to the haunting theme (by Mike Oldfield) it’s a film with all it’s elements never lets go from the first minute to the last. Every part of the story is a reveation and the viewer is hooked enough to see what will happen next to all the characters.

William Friedkin gives a sense of fright as well as a visually striking eye. From the sandy outskirts of Iraq to the foggy night in Georgetown, many images from this film can be freeze framed to have it’s own meaning or multiple meanings like a fine piece of art. The film also is suspenseful and every little noise becomes louder with the quiet that preceded it.

The acting is top notch and deserving of it’s nominations. Ellen Burstyn gives a gut-wretching performance. Her Chris will stop at nothing to get her daughter back and from the calm actress in the beginning to the panic stricken mother in the middle, nobody does it better. As the young priest, Jason Miller brings the character of Father Karris with his own sense of absent guilt along with a sense of redemption that his part in helping Chris can restore the fate of his dead mother. Linda Blair’s Regan is a child that imagined being on a beautiful horse, but lives out a heartbreaking nightmare that almost takes her life. Lee J. Cobb gives the light from the darkness as Lieutenant Kinderman, a kindly older cop that yearns for a good movie and always a sucker for small talk. Lastly, Max Von Sydow brings enough solid support in the short screen time he has as Father Merrin who’s been through a lot and the audience is not quite sure just how much more he can take.

Whatever possessed me to watch The Exorcist, it provided enough elements for a satisfying experience, and the pleasure of viewing a worthy Oscar contender.

Video: How does it look?

After a previous incarnation in the early days of DVD, The Exorcist is given a better touch up for it’s anniversary six years ago with a remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The results are much better than expected. When watching this film for the first time on regular television it looked like the worst print on earth with much burn in on scenes and no sense of clarity. In short, it looked too gritty. With this remastered print, the colors are more vibrant, the clarity of the city and locations are more apparant, and the foggy shot of the Exorcist preceding the climax of the film is less flawed than in previous releases on DVD and on laserdisc. There is a presence of shadows and even though they may be a bit grainy at times, it doesn’t take away from the great touchups on this print. A very good print.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Exorcist won one of it’s two Oscars in the Sound category and this Dolby Digital 5.1 track makes better use of it than it’s previous releases. The booming sound of the attic is apparent through all channels as well as the crumbling moments of the climax of the film. The dialogue is sharp and the quiet scenes give a calm before the storm of noise comes back making the sound seem louder than it should normally be. With all that combined, it’s a very good mix of a creepy voice along with various noises that scare from one moment to the next. A very good track. This film also has English and French subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The 25th Anniversary edition of The Exorcist is the biggest of all it’s incarnations in terms of extras and it uses both sides of the disc leaving the majority of the extras on the opposite side of the feature.

On the feature side, the film starts with an introduction by director William Friedkin. It goes briefly what his intentions were with the film as well as the reaction of the film.

Also on this side are two commentary tracks. The first of which is with director Friedkin, who’s past commentaries for The Hunted and To Live and Die in L.A. were informative and very good. This is one of his earlier commentary tracks and the result is good, being reflective as well as describing things on the screen, He keeps the latter to a minimum as well as going into casting decisions as well as location choices.

The other is from writer William Peter Blatty. He chats from a writing point of view as well as fitting in a few anecdotes about filming and his inspirations for the story. It’s a great entertaining track with one little wrinkle. His track ends before the movie ends. For the remainder of the time, there are sound effects tests with Linda Blair and Mercedes McCambridge (the voice of the Demon). Although they were a great addition, they would’ve been much better on a seperate track as I had hoped there was more comments from Blatty.

On the reverse side, it continues with the spooky interactive menus and when choosing the special features section, there is a listing called The Fear of God. On this entrance there lies the bulk of extras in this edition.

To start, there is the seventy-five documentary of the same name made by the BBC around the time of the twenty-fifth anniversary. From the frightful image in the beginning this kept the film’s eerieness throught the entire proceedings. All players are interviewed and put together with stories and clips from all angles and makes for a great documentary providing the backstory of the Exorcist from page to screen. It’s also worth noting the last known on-camera interview with Jason Miller, who had passed away a few years later.

Next, there are three additional interviews with Friedkin and Blatty and they briefly went into the distribution of the film, the excised scene of the film between Karras and Merrin( which is played at the end of the segment), and the eventual re-release and both takes on their result of the film. It’s a treat to see the two chat away briefly and it’s a good addition.

Also, there is the alternate ending of the film that was re-edited into The Version You’ve Never Seen. It’s interesting but this viewer prefers the original and prefers it seperate from the finished film as it is seen here.

After there are production sketch and storyboard galleries that are worth a look.

The remains of the section has five TV spots and three theatrical trailers (the flash one is quite creepy) along
with the trailer of Exorcist II: The Heretic filled with pseudo-70s rock music that makes it more laughable a trailer then it did a feature film. One wonders whatever possessed the filmmakers to greenlight this debacle.

Also in Special Features, is the cast and crew bios and the story that inspired the Exorcist done in production notes form.

Finally, in the Reel Recommendations section there are pictures of other Warner releases as well as trailers for Fallen, Devil’s Advocate, Beetlejuice, and Interview With The Vampire.

In conclusion, The 25th Anniversary Edition of the Exorcist is the definitive version of the film on DVD all around with it’s fantastic extras and it’s great transfer fitting for any DVD collection.

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