With The Exorcist celebrating its 40th anniversary, there isn’t much left that can be said about the film. I suppose the best thing to do is to share a few personal thoughts about my experience with the film. Warner Bros. uses the moniker “The scariest movie of all time” in just about all of its marketing for The Exorcist. How scary is it really? Just like every horror film, scary is completely objective. My not being a religious person keeps the film from its full potential I suppose, but I can see how it could scare the living daylights out of others.
I remember the first time I tried to watch The Exorcist. It was on late-night TV and way past my bedtime. I stayed up late hoping to get the bejesus scared out of me, only to find myself bored into a deep slumber. Years later, I rented the film on DVD because the marketing machine never stops on this and it continues to make the rounds every Halloween season. I knew if it was going to make its correct impact, I couldn’t watch an edited for TV version. Popping in the disc, I watched the entire movie, still not finding it exactly scary. Again, I could see how it could have an effect on the religious viewer and I could also see why it was considered a classic.
Putting in the Blu-ray disc this past Sunday, I finally saw The Exorcist in a new light, being considerably older than either of my previous attempts with it. I finally see now, William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin’s attempts at infusing the film with a more scientific approach about poor atheist Chris MacNeil’s (Ellen Burstyn) battle with what could possibly be the Devil himself from taking control over her helpless daughter Regan’s (Linda Blair) soul. While still not scaring the pants off of me, I finally see what all the fuss is about. And, the most surprising aspect is that now I see how the film feels more like a mystery, playing with the aspects of whether her innocent daughter really may be possessed by the Devil, or how it could be all in her head.
The Exorcist makes its 40th Anniversary on Blu-ray in nearly the exact same release previously available as a two-disc set featuring both the Director’s Extended Cut and the Original Theatrical Release. Both versions are on their own 50GB discs in an opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio, still packed with extras, but they never take their toll on the picture quality. Long story short, aside from a sprinkling of noise in the darkest of shots, the transfer looks spectacular. I cannot confirm if this is the new 4K master that Friedkin has been talking about having just approved, but some of the defects seen on the previous release don’t seem to be found here.
Clarity is astounding, particularly in the dusty opening scenes in the Iraqi desert. A case could be made of some slight DNR imperfections if you look closely at the skies as the grain appears to be frozen in midair. However, the banding is gone, and there are no other anomalies to speak of aside from the faint noise. The same 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has been carried over and is as creepy as ever. (A 5.1 mix is on the Original Theatrical Cut.) LFE creates some unsettling booms while directionality makes scenes like Chris’s venture into the attic and any scene taking place in Regan’s room after she becomes possessed. It is suitably effective with sound effects and the dialogue is crisp and clean. If you haven’t seen or heard The Exorcist on Blu-ray, you haven’t seen or heard The Exorcist. I can imagine this is the best it will ever look or sound outside of a 35mm projection in a theater.
The only new special features sit on their own Blu-ray disc, but only add up to about 47 minutes of new material. While short and sweet, they are still interesting. “Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist” consists of Blatty roaming around the cabin where he wrote 90% of the original novel. He spends most of the time talking about how he can’t believe he’s back where it all started, but does make mention of how the “Exorcist Steps” will always be the “Hitchcock Steps” to him because of their use in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. He also reads excerpts from his novel while scenes from the film play over it. The second, “Talk of the Devil,” runs 20 minutes and features interviews with Father Eugene Ghallager and Mike Siegel. Ghallager mentions how he knows Blatty took some of his classes while in attendance at Georgetown University, and encourages scientists to start looking into the factual realm of possession in the form of Parapsychological Phenomena.
The remaining special features are the same from the 2010 release. The Extended Director’s Cut includes the three-part documentary broken up into “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist,” “The Exorcist Locations: Then and Now,” and “Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist.” A set of trailers, and TV and radio spots round out the Extended disc, along with the commentary from Friedkin. The Original Theatrical Cut includes all the same features as well: an introduction by Friedkin; two commentaries featuring one from Friedkin and one from Blatty; “The Fear of God;” “Filmmaker Interviews;” “Sketches and Storyboards;” the “Original Ending;” and finally, “Trailers and TV Spots.” Also included is a hardcover excerpt from Friedkin’s recently published The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir.
If you already own any of the previously released editions of The Exorcist on Blu-ray, you already have nearly all of what’s included here. However, for anyone who’s been holding out, it appears that the 40th Anniversary Edition has a slight upgrade in video quality, while featuring the same stellar audio track, and all of the special features with two new noteworthy additions. With the inclusion of the book excerpt, this is a grand edition worth picking up if you don’t already have The Exorcist in your Blu-ray collection, and is available October 8, just in time for your Halloween viewing pleasure.
Cover art and photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures