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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Sided
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Arabic, English - Hearing Impaired, Romanian, Bulgarian
  Extras
  • 8 Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Audio commentary - by director William Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty
  • Featurette - 52m, 'The Fear of God'
  • Photo gallery
  • 6 TV spot
  • Digitally remastered
  • 3 Interviews
  • Storyboards

The Exorcist : Special Edition

Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 117 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Back in 1973, there was quite a fuss made about a 'curse' associated with The Exorcist, with a mysterious fire and several deaths during the year-long shoot. Now, I'm not superstitious, but I did get a fever when I was supposed to review the disc!

I'd describe myself as a horror fan, but I'm quite discerning. Currently the only ones I rate as 'excellent' are Halloween, Night of the Living Dead (and the satirical sequel) and this film. Following the success of William Peter Blatty's novel, director William Friedkin (riding high on his hit The French Connection) was the only big name willing to take the project on. John Boorman knocked back the position when asked, claiming that the script depicted the systematic abuse of a child. Strangely, he had no such qualms portraying sodomy at gunpoint in Deliverance!

Abrasive at the best of times, Friedkin was a horror on set, firing guns to frighten actors, throwing temper tantrums at the crew, even slapping a priest and permanently injuring actress Ellen Burstyn to get the required look for a scene. As offensive as his methods were, he did success in making a genuinely chilling film.

Burstyn plays actress Chris MacNeil, who is troubled by the behaviour displayed by her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). After doing the rounds of eminent psychiatrists, Regan is more disturbed than ever, and Chris is forced to go 'outside the square' and call an exorcist. Problem is, the Catholic church haven't performed exorcism rituals for centuries, as church psychologist Damien Karras (Jason Miller) explains. However, the case seems to warrant further action and Karras asks the church for advice. Enter Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), the only priest in recent history to have conducted an exorcism, some 12 years ago.

Together Karras and Merrin attempt to drive the entity from Regan, while it plays mind games with Karras, at times speaking to him with the voice of his dead mother to work on his sense of guilt. I won't give away any more of the plot, but the ending is a masterpiece, shockingly abrupt, yet very realistic and believable. I mean, surely it can't be easy to get the Devil out of a person if He doesn't want to leave!

  Video
Contract

The film was 'digitally restored' for the 25 anniversary (which usually means that the original negative has undergone no treatment. Hopefully Warner have had the forethought to make a high-definition transfer for future video formats). Generally, I'd class the picture as very good, especially considering the age. Incidentally, director Friedkin had refused to release this film in widescreen before the 25th anniversary release.

Sometimes the images are remarkable with beautiful colour, such as the gorgeous blood-red sky in Iraq near the start of the film, but other scenes look a little washed out and lacking in contrast. Detail varies throughout the film, sometimes satisfyingly sharp (as in the aforementioned Iraq sequence), at other times less so, but never what I'd classify as 'poor'. I'd assume this is inherent to the source elements.

  Audio
Contract

Though the sound has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, the mix is not as wild and crazy as you might expect. Indeed, the audio is rather harsh and unforgiving, requiring cinema equalisation at reference level. That said, once equalised the audio never grates. The focus is generally on the centre channel, although the music fills the front soundstage nicely.

The sound mix may not be thrilling, but the sound design certainly is. The film won an Oscar for Best Sound in 1973, and it's not hard to see why. Engineers Robert Knudson and Christopher Newman obviously put in some long overtime to be sure audiences walked out of the theatre disturbed. From the ominous 'CRUNCK!' of the thing in the attic, to the demonic noises Regan utters while possessed, to the repellant sound her neck makes as her head rotates, all the sound effects are perfect.

  Extras
Contract

There's a lot to be sifted through, although not as much as the US release, sadly. The menu design is a little annoying, as it implies all the features are available no matter which side of the disc you're on. Clicking unavailable features simply brings up a screen asking you to flip the disc.

Anyhow, here's what you get:

  • Commentaries - one from director Friedkin, the other from screenwriter Blatty. Both give good insights into the film, but Friedkin's trademark arrogance still shines through occasionally.
  • Featurette 'The Fear of God' - A truncated BBC documentary, which is reason enough for me to get the Region 1 disc, but I'm sure many won't mind overmuch, and there's still a lot of good stuff here, namely the makings of the special effects and the infamous spiderwalk sequence!
  • Interview Gallery - Three interviews with Friedkin and Blatty where they reminisce on moments from the production.
  • Original Ending - for some reason, I always remember this as being the actual ending...
  • Sketches and Storyboards - all in glorious digital clarity, with none of the composite artifacts I used to put up with on special edition laserdisc still frames.
  • 6 TV Spots and 3 Trailers - the TV spots are far more varied than usual, and the Flash Image theatrical trailer is extremely innovative. Well worth watching. Although the packaging claims there are 8 trailers, one is from The Exorcist II, and the other four are from other Warner films!

  Overall  
Contract

One of the first big smashes of the 70s, which together with The Godfather, Jaws and Star Wars was responsible for luring studios into chasing the big bucks rather than quality, The Exorcist is nonetheless an extremely successful work of art (and certainly the most enduring film Friedkin has made to date). The fact that it still retains the power to disturb after so long is a tribute to its effectiveness.

If you can do without the extra 20 minutes of so in the documentary, the Region 4 disc is a must-buy, otherwise the US disc (with it's potentially lower picture quality) is the way to go. In any case, if you're at all interested in classy, stylish horror, you should be getting this film. Need I say 'recommended'?


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      And I quote...
    ""
    - Paul Dossett
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    • Video Cables:
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