Monday, April 25, 2011

The Exorcist: Excellent Blu-ray presentation for Friedkin's theological thriller

The Exorcist (horror, mystery, thriller)
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb
Director: William Friedkin

Warner Brothers | 1973 | 132m and 122m | Rated R |

VC-1 | 1080p | 1.78:1

English DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono

English SDH, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German SDH, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian SDH, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish

Two 50GB Blu-ray Discs

The Film 4/5

The Exorcist's iconic cover claims that it's the scariest film of all time, but the makers of the movie prefer to label it as a theological thriller. I tend to agree and have always considered The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining and Psycho as psychological thrillers rather than horror. I mention those three because they represent the best that 'horror' has to offer, whether you label them as such or not.

When I think of horror films, the first thing that comes to mind is excessive gore and cheesy lines. I'm simply not a fan of seeing bodies hacked to pieces and I don't find any value in cheesy horror stories. So bear that in mind if you are a fan of such movies as the Evil Dead (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Instead, I look at how films are made, what they make me feel, the quality of the acting and the methods used by the director. In those terms, The Exorcist deserves to be rated among the best 'horror' films ever made.

The film plays like a book with the three main sets of characters being shown individually before the threads are drawn together for the body of the story. The story begins with Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) heading an archeological expedition in Iraq. Father Karras (Jason Miller) is shown caring for his dying mother and we see how he lives. Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is shown being a mother to Regan (Linda Blair).

Regan is a pretty, playful 12-year-old girl without a care in the world. We see her demeanor gradually change as she's possessed by a demon. She seeks out her mother's bed because her own is shaking, but her mother thinks she's lying. There are noises in the attic which are thought to be rats as Chris tries to label them as something familiar. Regan's sweet nature gradually erodes and we see her lose her temper more and more frequently. She's eventually referred to doctors and shouts obscenities at them. Some of the tests she has to undergo would be frightening to a child, but everything comes back negative. A psychiatrist gets a turn and also fails to solve the problem. Denial is a powerful thing in this story as doctors continually try to rationalize the things they are seeing and hearing.

Chris is an atheist, but can see that the doctors are wrong. She eventually seeks out help from Father Karras, showing just how desperate she is to help her daughter. If you allow yourself to be drawn in to the story and consider how you would react if your own child underwent such changes, you'll feel the power of this film.

The climax of the film sees Father Karras and Father Merrin performing an exorcism after convincing the church that it was needed. Regan's transformation is impressive. When possessed, she talks in many different voices, some of which are known to the priests and the people around her. The demon is a master liar and seeks to confuse the priests and prevent the exorcism. Regan becomes a monster, reeling off obscenities and spewing foul green bile. Her face and body become covered in scars and it's hard to see anything of the original person.

In 1973, it was a real challenge to produce some of the effects seen in the film. Instead of CGI, everything had to be done by other means. Wires were used in two or three of the scenes were Regan levitates or runs down the stairs upside down. A model was made to enable the illusion that her head turns 360 degrees. The bile had to be made and then delivered using tubes. Although it's obvious that the spinning head is a model, it's still unsettling to see it happen.

Will you be scared by this movie? Visually, it's nothing compared to effects achieved by modern techniques. You might be scared if the story captures you sufficiently to make you feel that you're a part of it. Imagine yourself as Regan's parent for example. We can overlook the dated effects and take them seriously because everything else about this film is deadly serious. The acting is strong throughout, with the whole cast performing well. Friedkin tells the story simply, but effectively. The final solution is extreme, but convincing.

Like Psycho, this film was original and startling in its day. It has an important place in film history. It might not have a strong impact on people who are used to modern horror movies, but it's worth seeing for anyone who has avoided it thus far.

Video Quality 4/5

This package includes two discs. One shows the original theatrical version (122m) and the other shows the extended version (132m). My comments refer to the extended version, although I would expect the quality to be identical in both versions.

The scenes in Iraq are bright and full of detail and the film would earn a 4.5 for picture quality if it were that good throughout. Unfortunately, much of the film is shot in dimly lit rooms and grain is dense in such scenes. All things considered, it's hard to imagine the image looking any better than it does though.

Audio Quality 4.5/5

Friedkin mentions that the lossless audio enables him to hear effects that he had forgotten were in the film. It's certainly a strong presentation and the film benefits most of all from the audio upgrade. We can clearly hear Regan wheezing and the voices in outdoor scenes come across well in the rear speakers. Dialogue is always easy to understand and some of the louder scenes, such as furniture moving or glass breaking, carry added weight. The 6.1 version is included in the extended cut, while the original version has 5.1 audio.

Special Features 4.5/5

There's plenty of background information included in the special features for anyone who is interested.

Director's commentary
Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist (30m, HD)
The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now (9m, HD)
Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of the Exorcist (10m, HD)
Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots
Director's Introduction (2m, SD)
The Fear of God (77m, SD)
Filmmaker Interviews (9m, SD)
Sketches and Storyboards (3m, SD)
Original Ending (2m, SD)
40-page booklet with pictures, cast details and background information

The Exorcist is an important part of cinematic history. Nominated for 10 Oscars, it won two, and that's unusual for this genre. It's a beautifully presented package complete with a high quality booklet and separate discs for each version of the film. The audio upgrade is huge, making the experience a lot more intense. The visual upgrade is probably the best that could have been managed considering the dark setting and the director's original intentions. I would strongly recommend this definitive version for any fan of the film or of cinema in general.

Overall score 4.5/5 

Return to index of every review on the site.


  1. Enjoyed reading this great review - I agree wholeheartedly, The Exorcist is among the greatest horror films ever made!

    Also agree that placing the Exorcist with SILENCE, PSYCHO and SHINING is appropriate - great comparison of four films that stand alone, in my book, as beyond scary for their effect on the psyche. Beyond what is on the screen, beyond how the film is made, beyond the acting - all key elements for me as well - THESE linger!!

    Can't wait to get this bluray! Although I have to be prepared before I watch this film again.


  2. Hi Aurora,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the review :)

    Horror has to be very good to interest me and the films I mentioned all manage to do that.

    I think you'll be very happy with the Blu-ray presentation. Both versions are included and it looks great considering when it was made.