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

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It’s extraordinarily hard to add anything new to the ongoing appreciation of William Friedkin’s 1973 classic, The Exorcist. It’s probably the most acclaimed horror film in cinema history, the recipient of ten Oscar nominations (winner of two), and one of the most commercially successful films of any genre ever made. Whether you agree with it or not, The Exorcist is routinely referred to as “the scariest movie of all-time.” It’s also become one of the most milked cinematic products, with multiple theatrical and home video reissues over the years.

It’s probably inevitable that the 40th anniversary of the film’s release has been seized by Warner Bros. as another opportunity to reissue it on Blu-ray. It was only three years ago that The Exorcist received a fantastic two-disc Blu-ray edition. Those two discs, with the same sparkling high definition transfers and lossless surround mixes, have been ported over here. A third disc is included, one that features a pair of brand new featurettes. “Beyond Comprehension” is a 27-minute piece featuring William Peter Blatty, author of the original novel (and winner of one of those two Oscars, for his screenplay). Blatty reads some passages from his novel, discusses the 40th anniversary of both the novel and film, and revisits some of the locations associated with the film.

The other new featurette, “Talk of the Devil,” is a 20-minute piece consisting of never-before-seen interviews conducted in 1974 with real-life priest Father Eugene Gallagher. This priest was apparently something of a consultant to Blatty during the writing of the novel. It’s interesting stuff, made all the more so by Gallagher’s dry, matter-of-fact discussion of an alleged exorcism. Incidentally, the interview was conducted by radio talk show host Mike Siegel, who I’m guess has been sitting on this material for nearly 40 years (he’s specially thanked at the end of the piece).

In addition to the bonus disc, the package includes a 38-page hardcover book containing an excerpt from Friedkin’s memoir. All in all, it’s a great package and a total knockout for anyone who doesn’t already own the previous Blu-ray. The first disc contains the extended director’s edition, while the original cut is found on disc two. That really should be the other way around, as the original, unaltered version is the recognized classic. Between the two discs, all the previously available supplemental material has been carried over, including three audio commentaries and a host of featurettes.

As for the film itself, it remains one of the most entertaining and gripping horror films I’ve seen. It was only recently that I realized some people actually take The Exorcist at face value. There are, in fact, educated people in the year 2013 who believe that demonic possession is a real possibility. I suppose if I were among them, the film would freak me out more than it does. For me, the aspects of The Exorcist that most truly get under the skin are the fate of Father Karras’ (Jason Miller) mother and the gruesome medical procedures Regan (Linda Blair) must endure. The actual possession stuff is best taken metaphorically or symbolically (puberty, loss of parental control over an adolescent, mental illness, whatever you like) rather than literally.

While the novel is exponentially more disturbing and graphic in detail (if you’re a fan of the film and haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and get the novel), Blatty did a truly commendable job of adapting his own work for the screen. Friedkin put everything he possibly could onscreen in 1973 while still managing to receive an R rating. Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, and especially Jason Miller deliver palpably believable performances in a genre not often heralded for quality acting. While this 40th anniversary double-dip may not be essential if The Exorcist is already in your Blu-ray collection (both versions that is, not the single-disc director’s cut edition), it is the most comprehensive release of the film to date.

Be sure to check out our giveaway of The Exorcist 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, sponsored by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, open now through November 7, 2013.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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