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The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition - Blu-ray Review

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The Exorcist - 40th Anniversary

5 stars

Having grown up with horror movies from a really inappropriate age and finding them a delight, each and every one, there was one I’d been urged to watch and never got around to in my youth. My mother, as I got into my teens, kept telling me to ‘watch The Exorcist’, as I would proudly announce that no film had really rattled me. I knew myopically of the pea soup and the spinning head; I had even seen the spoof Possessed. But for one reason or another, I had just never gotten around to watching it.

Then, in my early twenties, I finally got a hold of a VHS copy, and set down one night, around 2am, alone, to watch this highly acclaim and oft quoted ‘scariest movie ever made’… I didn’t go to bed that night.

Blatty, the writer of the book; Friedkin, the director; and Blair, the star, will all tell you that this is not a horror movie. To the audience that may seem like semantics—if you go into any rental store (the ones that are left anyway), you’ll find it always in the horror section—but their steadfast insistence to that interpretation is the reason this movie is so effective.

Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, which is based on an actual case of Exorcism from the 40s, The Exorcist tells the story of a young 12 year-old girl who is inexplicably possessed by a demon. After her atheist mother has exhausted all medical and psychological means at aid, it is left to a Jesuit priest and a theistically battle-hardened exorcist to save her from this demonic threat.

The Exorcist is a master work in characterisation and fear. It is a patient, methodical examination of faith, of sacrifice, and of good versus evil. For a modern audience coming in fresh, be patient with it. It is a slow burner, but everything (in the theatrical cut especially) comes to bear, and lays the foundation for a confronting and terrifying pay off. You are acquainted with all the major players before they inhabit the same space, and because you get to follow them for a while before things turn truly dark, you fear for them and with them when the shit hits the fan… or the vomit hits the priest.

The authenticity, because of the makers’ approach and because of the talents in front of the camera, sells this thing in spades. The fear they accomplish is palpable. What happens to this most innocent looking child is an offence to everything we hold dear. It is unrelenting, confronting, revolting, and utterly without mercy when it’s thrust upon the characters and the audience.

Blair, who, among other members of the cast, was nominated for an Academy Award, is the anchor by which the film succeeds. Mercedes McCambridge was responsible for the guttural mocking tones of the demon, but this 12 year-old girl’s body language, emoting and performance is as nuanced and terrifying as anything ever committed to celluloid. That she accomplished the demands of this role at such a young and innocent age is astounding. But in fact all the cast deliver immersive and convincing performances (some say due to Friedkin’s less than conventional directions with guns and slaps, etc.)

Everything in the film, from the sounds, to the effects, the editing, the writing—master class in every way. There is an air of foreboding in every frame of this movie. It is not definable, otherwise the countless attempts to replicate it would have succeeded, and none have in 40 years. It transcends your lean on religion—doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not. This film consistently tops the scariest film ever made list for a reason. If you immerse yourself in this movie, it will unequivocally scare the living crap out of you.The Exorcist - 40th Anniversary

At the end of the 20th century, Blatty and Friedkin, who had had their share of animosity professionally, collaborated on a new cut of the movie. The version you’ve never seen, as it was called, reintroduced even more character moments and a new effects sequence that was excised in the 70s due to the wires showing. This version, in this reviewer’s opinion, is inferior to the theatrical version. While it does add to the time spent with these characters, and the ‘spider walk’ scene is a grotesque and menacing addition, the film doesn’t balance as well as the razor sharp timing and editing from the original release. It’s not a bad version by any means, but I don’t think it adds anything revelatory to what already existed.

If it’s your first time, if someone you know is telling you to watch this movie, seek out the theatrical cut. Let it wash over you, take you where it wants to lead you. Pay attention to the people you are sharing time with, and, like a bolt of lightning, it will have you. The hairs on the back of your neck will stand; you will feel a chill, smell the bile, recoil at the obscenity, and will be in the presence of true evil and watch good overcome it.

Perfection.

The Exorcist - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R for strong language and disturbing images.
Runtime:
122 mins
Director
: William Friedkin
Writer
: William Friedkin
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
Genre: Horror
Tagline:
Now... Open your eyes to...
Memorable Movie Quote: "Of course I like him. I like pizzas too, but I'm not gonna marry one."
Distributor:
Warner Bros.
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 26, 1973
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 8, 2013

Synopsis: Something beyond evil is happening in a little girl's room. Regan has brutally changed both in the way she looks and the way she acts, with violent outbursts on everyone who comes in contact with her. Her worried mother gets in contact with a priest who comes to the conclusion that Regan is possessed. The top priest who can deal with an exorcism, Father Merrin, is called in to help save Regan from the demon inside her.

The Exorcist - 40th Anniversary

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

40th Anniversary Edition | Extended Director's Cut and Original Theatrical Version / Blu-ray + UltraViolet

Available on Blu-ray - October 8, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 16-bit); French: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (3 BDs); UV digital copy; Digital copy
Region Encoding: Region A/1

Well, for those of you wondering if this 40th anniversary edition is worth it, let’s break you into two categories. Apparently the digi-book released in 2010 has the two identical cuts on two separate discs included. What this version offers in addition is a third disk with just under an hour of new HD material, that includes Blatty revisiting the villa where he wrote most of the book, and a restored archival interview with the priest Blatty asked to help him research the real exorcism that occurred in the 40s.

The picture for both cuts: VC1/1080p that are pretty close to perfection. There are some signs of noise in the blacks, a little inconsistency in contrast from scene to scene toward the end of the movie, but flesh tones are accurate, blacks are more often than not solid and detailed, colours are muted but faithful to the source; Friedkin’s 2000 colour timing remains, coated the dénouement with a blue tint. It is a very faithful cleaning up of the original source material, by and large. Transfer remains filmic with grain and no DNR visible. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest this is not the rumoured 4K transfer alluded to by Friedkin, as it doesn’t look any different than previous releases.

Sound has two different mixes: a DTS-HS 5.1 ES mix on the Extended Director’s Cut and a DTS-HD 5.1 mix on the theatrical. Both are lossless, and I am not an audiophile, so couldn’t tell the difference between either one. With both cuts, you get an impressive workout with your speakers, and will feel inside Reagan’s room when all hell breaks loose. It’s a very precise mix, with noises coming at you convincingly, immersing you in what’s on screen. Dialogue is crisp. Rears are always getting a workout. Base is heavy. It’s an awesome job by Warners on both counts.

Extras: If you have the digi-book, I don’t think there’s anything screaming must have for this version. It’s a three disc set, in a nice foil-laden sturdy box with a hardcover mini-book/excerpt of Friedkin’s memoir. It has been reported to be region locked, but my region B locked Sony blu ray player played it fine (most Warner discs are region free anyway). All the documentaries and commentaries from previous releases are present in this set, and add up to a fairly exhaustive exploration of the movie and those that made it. For those that don’t own the movie on HD yet, this is well worth the money, and an impressive package honouring its place in film history.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Two Commentaries and an introduction by William Friedkin
  • A Commentary by William Peter Blatty

Special Features:

  • "Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist" 40 years after his novel was published,The Exorcist author, screenwriter and producer returns to where it all began. First stop is a guest house in the hills of Encino, California, where he wrote the novel. The author visits the place for the first time in 40 years and shares not only memories of writing the book, but also discusses how it inspired him. We then meet Blatty in two key and iconic locations; Georgetown University where the film was shot, and at the now-famous Exorcist steps. Throughout, Blatty reads from his novel, including an excerpt from a chilling newly published passage.
  • "Talk of the Devil" - While at Georgetown University, William Peter Blatty heard about a true case of possession from Father Eugene Gallagher. At the time the film came out, the priest talked at length about exorcism, the true story and about Blatty; this footage is now available for the first time in many years. It is as revealing as it is shocking.
  • 1998 BBC Documentary "The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist"
  • 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.
  • The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now -- Featuring a tour of the iconic locations where the film was shot.
  • 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.
  • Original Ending
  • Interviews
  • The Original Cut
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • The Final Reckoning
  • Sketches & Storyboards
  • Radio Spots
  • TV Spots
  • Trailers
  • Also included is an excerpt from "The Friedkin Connection, a memoir."

 

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