Although The Exorcist cannot be as scary to today's audiences as it was in 1973, it is still one of the most viscerally creepy films ever made. Actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is a single mom, on location in Georgetown for her latest film. Soon after finding a Ouija board in their rented house, her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) begins to exhibit drastic personality changes, leading to outbursts of physical and verbal violence. Chris consults numerous doctors and psychiatrists about Regan's condition, none of whom can pinpoint the cause. Despite her own lack of religious faith, she comes to the unavoidable conclusion that Regan's best hope for a cure lies in exorcism. She consults Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), who, although doing his best to play the Scully, requests that the Church provide an exorcism. Cue titular character, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), an experienced exorcist who's last bout with a demon almost proved fatal. Father Merrin shows up, he and Karras try to cast out the demon, and nasty Regan becomes decidedly unhappy.
Linda Blair's Regan is disturbing, to say the least. Although it's true that the performance was actually a team effort (Blair, Mercedes McCambridge as the demonic voice, a really freaky dummy, and Eileen Dietz as a stand-in for scenes deemed unsuitable for the 13 year old Blair), Blair's transformation from happy-go-lucky little girl to foul-mouthed banshee is remarkable. In fact, the movie on a whole is still one of the best horror films ever made.
The Exorcist seems creepy, but not particularly scary when you're watching it. Its fright factor lies in its power to stay with you, providing one of those self-induced bouts of dread lying just at the edge of panic, late at night, maybe when you're home alone and the house is making its own uncanny noises. Um, I didn't get much sleep last night.
Director William Friedkin oversaw the digital remastering of The Exorcist in honor of the film's 25th anniversary. The print is clear and crisp, highlighting Friedkin's juxtaposition of light and dark. The Oscar-winning sound has also been remastered. There were some glitches in the disc I reviewed. The menu command was unpredictable, going into play mode rather than returning to the menu, and some of the submenus seemed to 'freeze,' preventing any navigation.
This DVD is loaded with extras. In addition to cast and crew bios (on which the type was uncomfortably small), there are also two commentary tracks, interviews, the original ending, sketches and storyboards, TV commercials and theatrical trailers, and a 25th anniversary documentary. Friedkin's exceptional commentary track is informative and interesting, relating well to the onscreen action without resorting to tiresome narration. Author/screenwriter William Peter Blatty's track, however, dwells too much on his inspiration for the book and not enough on his experience with the movie. It very rarely relates to the accompanying scene. In itself, the track is interesting, but it seems odd superimposed on the film. The documentary is also quite good and, although overly long, is definitely a must-see. It also includes the 'Spider Walk,' omitted from the final cut of the movie, which is just plain freaky.
Due to the sheer amount of stuff included, the DVD is two-sided. The film is on one side and most of the extras are on the other
Lisa McInnis, 5/31/00