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The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen

review by Anthony D.


Rated R

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 132 minutes

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb and Mecerdes McCambridge

Screenplay by Willam Peter Blatty, from his novel

Directed by William Friedkin

Retail Price: $26.99

Features: Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Commentary

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese Subtitles, Chapter Search

In the winter of 1973, the hottest selling movie of the Christmas season was William Friedkin's stunning film version of William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel, "The Exorcist." This tale of demonic possession shocked complacent audiences with it's graphic language, visuals and disturbing theme. The film garnered several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, while dividing critics and audiences over its merits.

Flash forward several years, to 1998, to be precise, and "The Exorcist" is given a deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition on video tape and laser disc. This version contained extensive interviews with Blatty and Friedkin debating the merit's of the original cut of the film, the one NOT seen by audiences, as well as numerous deleted scenes including the infamous "spider-walk." Blatty felt that the film was incomplete and ambiguous; whereas Friedkin felt the film was a "thinking-man's" horror masterpiece. Finally, three years after the Anniversary Edition, Freidkin went back to "The Exorcist," pulled in eleven minutes of deleted scenes, pumped up the soundtrack and added several computer-generated inserts. This "Version You've Never Seen" was released to theaters nation-wide in September of 2000, once again dividing the audiences (now laughing at what once was meant to shock) and critics. A lackluster box office pushed Warner to release their second, and hopefully final, DVD incarnation of this classic horror tale only three months after its theatrical run.

For the uninitiated, the plot centers on the brutal demonic possession of the daughter of an actress (Linda Blair's Regan to Ellen Burstyn's Chris MacNeil), and the effects on the people closest to her. Involved in the major story line are a frail priest (Max von Sydow as Lankester Merrin), a priest whose faith has been tested too many times (Jason Miller as Father Damian Karras), a homicide detective with a fondness for old movies (Lee J. Cobb as Lt. Kinderman) as well as the Demon Pazuzu, voiced all too realistically by the brilliant character actress Mercedes McCambridge (whose efforts were not recognized until the film's first theatrical re-issue). "The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen" spins a suspenseful web akin to reading a good novel, and in its newest video presentation adheres more closely to William Peter Blatty's novel than ever; BUT whether or not this is a good thing, is up to the viewer to decide.



The anamorphic print (1.85:1) used by Warner for this DVD is definitely the best "The Exorcist" has ever looked; noticeably cleaned up from the 25th Anniversary Edition, the film still possesses a mild graininess, particularly in the opening scenes set in Iraq introducing us to Father Merrin (Chapters 1 through 3) as well as in dimly lit scenes. A drop in color is noticeable in all versions of "The Exorcist" in the notorious "nut-grabbing"sequence, and this version does not rectify that color loss (Chapter 21). These minor points aside, the print is fine. Colors are much more natural and film-like than previous video versions, and had Warner not pointed out the new footage on the Scene Index, one would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the 1973 and the year 2000 versions. Fleshtones (whether possession inflicted or human) are stable throughout, as are the balances between black and grey. The few outdoor daylight scenes look natural and present a stark contrast to the softly lit scenes in the bedroom of the possessed Regan.

Once again, "The Exorcist" has undergone a makeover, and the Dolby Digital Surround track may have its problems, but the merits outweigh those problems. Dialogue all too often appears to be ADR-produced, especially in the closing Chapter 47, and the "Heard of exorcism?" scene between Chris and Father Damian Karras (Chapter 26). At times, the effects track is pumped too high: when a telephone rings in Chapter 35, you'll be tempted to answer it. On the plus side, though, the soundtrack is totally environmental, effects move fluidly throughout all speakers creating quite a hellishly delightful aural experience.

Here's where Warner's has missed the boat. The opportunity to present a seamlessly branched version of both films has been over-looked, there are no trailers for the original version, nor the splendid documentary which was included on the 25th Anniversary Edition. What we are given is a rather soporific, scene-specific audio commentary from director Friedkin who uses this track to more or less narrate the movie, leading me to call this "The Exorcist: A Bedtime Story" track. There are a couple of text only files on the cast and crew, as well as several trailers, tv and radio spots: all for "The Version You've Never Seen," and none really all that great.

I have always been somewhat indifferent to "the Exorcist," pleading that I like the book much better. I have found the possession scenes to be too over-the-top and too graphic for their own good; while when reading the novel, there is still room to see the innocent Regan while reading those possession passages. Friedkin's choice to smother Linda Blair in outree make-up and special effects has always been a sore point with many viewers...the head turning sequence - -too obviously fake, and too brutal for a child to survive reeks of gratuitousness. Despite all the cheap thrills Friedkin evokes, the film works very well outside of Regan's possession, after all, it is not ultimately ABOUT Regan, but rather the effect that Regan's possession has on the people around her. This is the heart and soul of this story, the quiet passages where the superb acting of a finely-tuned cast is allowed to present their characters. My favorite scenes in any version of "The Exorcist" consist of two to three people nearly whispering to each other in conversation, and on that count, the new "The Version You've Never Seen" excels. Viewers are treated to new scenes with Lt. Kinderman, new footage of Fathers Karras and Merrin discussing the reason for the possession, as well as some new dialogue for the ever-watchable Ellen Burstyn.

For fans of this film, unfortunately NEITHER dvd incarnation is adequate: Although "The Version You've Never Seen" boasts much better picture and sound, the additional footage at times feels bloated and dumbed-down, while the 25th Anniversary edition features a plethora of Special Features, including a running commentary with BOTH Blatty and Friedkin, as well as a BBC documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew. With Warner's pricing, it is not too expensive to hove both in one's home video library.

(4/5, NOT included in final score)




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