There are few horror films with the power of THE EXORCIST ($25) and even fewer that remain as disturbing twenty-five years after they were originally released. I find it hard to believe that so much time has passed, but it has and Warner Home Video has marked the occasion by releasing a 25th Anniversary Edition of THE EXORCIST on DVD.
When THE EXORCIST was originally released, there were reports of audience members passing out during screenings. This isnt likely to happen anymore since audiences have become numbed by the graphic content of modern horror films. Even though audiences may have changed, THE EXORCIST hasnt lost its ability to shock and frighten. THE EXORCIST still scares us because it is one of the most realistic depictions of evil that has ever been presented on a motion picture screen. THE EXORCIST is based upon William Peter Blattys novel, which incidentally turns out to be a fictionalized account of a real exorcism that occurred in 1949.
Blattys story concerns Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), a young girl who exhibits bizarre behavior that doctors attribute to either a neurological disorder or mental illness. A battery of tests can show no cause for Regan's strange behavior and finally the psychologist come to believe that Reagan's problem is beyond the scope of medical science. Regan's doctors reluctantly suggest to her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) that a ritual exorcism may offer the best chance of curing her daughter of the psychological demons that plague her. Desperation drives Chris to seek out Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) who is not only a man of God, but also a psychologist. As a psychologist, Father Karras is skeptical that there is an actual case of demonic possession, however after examining Regan he becomes convinced that an exorcism is necessary. The film comes to its climax with the arrival of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) who has had a past experience with the demon inhabiting the body of Regan.
Stylistically, William Friedkin directs THE EXORCIST as though it were a documentary. Much of the film's power comes from the fact that supernatural occurrences are presented in a matter of fact manner. The little flourishes most directors apply to horror films are absent from THE EXORCIST, making this film as realistic and unnerving as possible. The other key factor that separates THE EXORCIST from most films of the horror genre is the caliber of performers associated with this project. Each of the actors in THE EXORCIST is outstanding in their own right, but together they create the kind of screen magic that happens oh so rarely. Ellen Burstyn delivers a wrenching performance as a mother who desperately loves her daughter, but is helpless to stop the forces that are stealing her away. The impact that Jason Miller has on THE EXORCIST is astounding. I doubt there is any other actor who could have been as effective in the key role of a priest who loses his faith until he is confronted true evil.
Internationally acclaimed actor Max von Sydow is probably best remembered by American audiences for the role of the elderly priest forced to confront his own personal demon (both literally and figuratively). There is a power that emanates from von Sydow's performance that is a complete antithesis to the character's frail physical nature. Lee J. Cobb brings a sense of humor to the role of police Lt. William Kinderman. Cobb's performance is the only ray of sunshine present during the darkest hours of the film. Finally, there is Linda Blair in the role of the possessed girl. As a child performer, Blair delivers a performance that is truly extraordinary. There are those who feel that credit for the performance should go to Mercedes McCambridge because she supplied the voice of the demon that was later dubbed over Linda Blair's dialogue. Yes, Mercedes McCambridge does deserve high praise for her work, but it was Linda Blair up on the screen that both frightened audiences and elicited their sympathy. Blair deserves recognition because everything in THE EXORCIST is built around this one key character and performance. I also have to extend praise to a non-actor, Reverend William O'Malley. Perhaps as a real priest, O'Malley wasn't taxing himself to portray Father Dyer. However, there are moments in the film where O'Malley delivers as well as any true thespian. The solid cast of THE EXORCIST also includes Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Rudolf Schündler, Reverend Thomas Bermingham, Vasiliki Maliaros and Titos Vandis.
Warner Home Video truly has done a terrific job bringing a Special Edition of THE EXORCIST to DVD for the film's 25th Anniversary. The two-sided DVD offers a Letterboxed presentation of the film on one side and key supplemental features on the other. THE EXORCIST is presented at approximately 1.85:1 and the well balanced transfer places all the essentials up on the screen. Additionally, the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions. None of the previous home video versions of THE EXORCIST looked as sharp and clear as this 25th Anniversary DVD edition, although Warners previous DVD release came close. Detail is quite good throughout the presentation and there were only minor instances where film grain was evident. The color is just superb for a film from 1973, obviously whatever restoration work Warner has done on the original film elements has improved the color quality. Color reproduction on the DVD is rock solid without a track of chroma noise or distortion. Digital compression artifacts seldom made their presence known.
THE EXORCIST has a new Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack which features a different mix than the one on the previous DVD release. The 5.1 channel mix was only available on the cropped presentation of the older release and had a more active mix than what is presented here. This new mix makes very limited use of the discrete channels, emphasizing only certain moments in the film. Still, one can appreciate the fidelity of the soundtrack and the intricate layering of sounds that garnered the film an Academy Award for sound. A French language soundtrack has been encoded into the DVD as has English and French subtitles.
The interactive menus contain full motion video and sound, plus offer access to the DVDs nice array of supplemental features. Two audio commentaries have been included. First, director William Friedkin talks about the production in great detail as the film unspools. Second, author William Peter Blatty supplies his recollections about writing the novel. Blattys talk only lasts for a portion of the films running time, so sound tests of Mercedes McCambridge creating the voice of the demon are also provided on the track. The most significant supplement included on the DVD is a 75 minute BBC documentary entitled THE FEAR OF GOD. THE FEAR OF GOD chronicles the making of THE EXORCIST and features new interviews with both the cast and crew. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and recommend it to any fan of the movie. Other supplements include eight theatrical trailers, six television spots, storyboards, production sketches, production notes, cast biographies and the original upbeat ending of the film that author William Peter Blatty favors.
All in all, Warner has created a terrific package for fans or first time viewers of THE EXORCIST. The movie looks great and the extras are truly super. Absolutely recommended.
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