William Friedkin’s classic 1973 film finally gets the Blu-ray treatment from Warner Bros with a disc filled with features.
When her distraught mother (Ellen Burstyn) can find no answers from the medical profession, she turns to a local catholic priest (Jason Miller) and an ageing exorcist (Max Von Sydow).
A box office sensation at the time, it scored several Oscar nominations and became something of a pop-culture phenomenon.
In the UK it has a special aura, as Warner Bros decided to stop releasing it on home video after the ‘video nasties’ scare of the mid-1980s and it only got a re-issued years later in 1999.
A further special edition followed in 2000, with 11 minutes of extra footage trimmed from the original theatrical release.
The film is a victim of its own success, as some modern audiences find certain effects (notably the pea soup vomit) dated and that it doesn’t quite live up to its considerable reputation.
However, The Exorcist is much more than just a horror film. A disturbing drama about the breakdown of a family, the loss of faith and the presence of evil, it taps in to deep, universal fears which even the very best horrors don’t even touch.
Coming off the Oscar winning success of The French Connection, Friedkin was at his creative peak and the realistic approach to the material made for a visceral and riveting experience.
The lead performances are uniformly excellent: Burstyn embodies parental anguish; Blair is remarkable as the possessed youngster; Miller gives a quiet dignity to a priest haunted by guilt; and Van Sydow has tremendous presence in the title role.
For the Blu-ray, Warner Bros have included both versions in a two disc set.
I prefer the original theatrical cut, which feels tighter and more polished, but the additional sequences are interesting to compare.
The image quality of the transfer is excellent and certain scenes looks stunning for a film that is thirty-seven years old.
Friedkin attracted some serious criticism for the Blu-ray of The French Connection, where he altered the colour of the film, even prompting cinematographer Owen Roizman to label it as ‘atrocious’.
Here they seem to have made up and in the liner notes Friedkin states that this Blu-ray was:
”color-timed by the cinematographer Owen Roizman and myself and represents the very best print ever made of ‘The Exorcist”.
Certain sequences have a pristine clarity to them and it is a great showcase for Roizman’s cinematography, which is filled with memorable compositions and images.
Warner Bros Home Entertainment has been forging a reputation as the best studio when it comes to re-releasing classic films and the extras on this disc are plentiful.
It includes all the material from previous DVD versions, such as the audio commentaries and 1998 documentary The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist.
The most notable addition is the a 3-part documentary on the film’s production and legacy, featuring on-set footage shot by Owen Roizman, along with as ‘personal message statement’ from Friedkin and a 40-page digi-book with photos and essays.
The full list of extras breaks down like this:
Disc 1: – Extended Director’s Cut (2000) plus Special Features
- Commentary by William Friedkin
- Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist – set footage produced and photographed by Owen Roizman, camera and makeup tests, and interviews with director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair, author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty and Owen Roizman (new; Blu-ray exclusive)
- The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now – Featuring a tour of the iconic locations where the film was shot (new; Blu-ray exclusive)
- Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist – with director William Friedkin and author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty discussing the different versions of the film and featuring outtakes from the film (new; Blu-ray exclusive)
- Trailers, TV spots & radio spots from the film’s 2000 release
Disc 2 – Theatrical Cut (1973) plus Special Features
- Introduction by William Friedkin
- Commentaries: William Friedkin / William Peter Blatty with Special Sound Effects Tests
- The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist [1998 BBC documentary]
- Additional interviews with William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty
- The Original Cut
- Stairway to Heaven
- The Final Reckoning
- Original ending
- Sketches & storyboards
- Trailers & TV spots from the 1973 version
The Exorcist is out on Blu-ray from Warner Bros Home Entertainment on Monday 11th October