BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE EXORCIST (40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN / SCREENPLAY: WILLIAM PETER BLATTY / STARRING: ELLEN BURSTYN, MAX VON SYDOW, LINDA BLAIR, JASON MILLER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Writing a synopsis for The Exorcist is a bit like trying to decipher one point of view from another. Is it a story about a young girl who becomes possessed by the devil, or is it about two Jesuit priests who fight a battle against demons both personal and physical? Or is it, as writer Blatty suggests during one interview, a love story of a priest giving his life for a young girl who he never really met?
In truth, it is all of these things and more depending on your individual point of view. An incredibly rare example of a motion picture that completely ignores genre, The Exorcist continues to provoke debate even 40 years on. Despite the marketing to the contrary, it is far from a horror film, neither is it a thriller, drama or even a comedy. It is, instead, a gateway to something far more important – incredible filmmaking.
Amongst The Exorcist’s more provoking scenes (including the oft-mentioned pea-soup projecting, head spinning and crucifix masturbation) are moments of unparalleled bravery and subtlety. Director William Friedkin may have been an arrogant lunatic on set, but it was just that self-belief which created something that nobody else had faith in at the time. Yes, marketing created the lines around the block and made it a success, but the genius of Friedkin and Blatty’s creation have ensured that this remains a classic piece of filmmaking 40 years on.
But what’s in this version to make it worth buying (again)? Well, for a start this edition contains both versions of the film (original theatrical and the extended director’s cut) each with their own commentary tracks – making this a must-have purchase before you even get to the other extras. What follows are a plethora of assembled documentaries that bulk out this impressive three-disc set, although at times you do find some of the interviews regurgitated a little.
Dotted among the immersive sketches, storyboards, TV spots and radio and movie trailers is some great new content. Disc one boasts Raising Hell, featuring never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of the film. While there is always an argument for this kind of content hammering through the fourth wall, you can’t escape the wonderment of seeing effects shots from behind the lens, or Linda Blair in full make-up grinning with joy and sticking her tongue out. Faces of Evil breaks down the reasoning behind the more recent director’s cut while Georgetown Then and Now does exactly what you expect it to.
This wouldn’t be a complete Exorcist experience without Mark Kermode, and to that end it’s great to see him pop up in the 1998 documentary The Fear of God on disc two. Some un-edited interviews from the doc are also included along with the intended original ending (with bad sound intact).
Disc three holds the most intimate additions to the Exorcist story. Beyond Comprehension takes Blatty back to the guest house where he wrote the novel over four decades ago as well as the infamous steps in Georgetown, and retraces the torturous history of his story’s inception. He also manages a pretty good plug for the new edition of the book that he was pleased to be able to produce a new draft for. Finally, Talk of the Devil shows some incredible footage of Father Eugene Gallagher (the priest who had mentioned a case of possession to Blatty’s class while the budding writer was attending Georgetown University) discussing his former pupil and Exorcism in general. He goes on a bit (the interviewer checks his watch three times), but it is nevertheless a fascinating addition to The Exorcist’s story. As they surmise towards the end of the interview, had Gallagher not mentioned the exorcism in class, there may never have been a book or a movie.
Some might argue that if you are a horror fan, you shouldn’t be without this in your collection, and while that might be true it certainly isn’t the whole story. Fans of cinema, storytelling and filmmaking should also count this release as a must-buy. Come on, the power of Blu-ray compels you!