After missing its 25th anniversary a couple of Christmases ago, THE
EXORCIST, the gold standard of horror movies, is being re-released to
theaters. In an expanded "writers-cut" -- Director William Friedkin was
happy with its original edit -- the new version is being marketed as THE
EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU'VE NEVER SEEN. Eleven minutes of William Peter
Blatty's script, based on his novel, which were left on the cutting room
floor, have been restored. The ending has been altered and, so that Regan's
screams can really stir up the heavens, the original mono soundtrack has
been replaced by one in six-track digital stereo.
First, let me get this off my chest. I don't enjoy reviewing a film
considered "a classic" for whatever reason, since everyone, including those
who haven't seen it, typically has already formed strong opinions about it.
Covering the plot feels redundant and a bit ridiculous. (In THE TEN
COMMANDMENTS, there is this guy named Moses ...) And commenting on it is
likely to inflame the prejudices of people who disagree with you.
As THE EXORCIST begins, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has got problems:
rats. She's got rats in her attic, or so she thinks. These noises prove to
be the least of her problems when her angelic daughter Regan, played with an
incredible intensity by Linda Blair, begins to cuss like a sailor.
Nominated for a supporting Oscar, Blair was beaten by Tatum O'Neal, whose
performance in PAPER MOON pales in comparison to Blair's.
As Regan plunges into what looks like the depths of madness, her mother
turns to a team of doctors, who put her through the modern medical
equivalent of medieval torture in order to diagnose her aliment. The
problem, of course, lies not in Regan's body but in her soul. After
insisting that Regan has a "disorder of her nerves," the doctors finally
throw up their hands and recommend that Chris look to the church for
salvation in the form of an exorcism. Their rationale, however, is that
it's all in Regan's mind, but, if her mind believes that the devil has left
her body, she will be cured.
With all of the fury of a rabid pit bull, Regan torments anyone brave or
foolish enough to come into her room. The film releases its terror in
carefully controlled doses, which heightens its effective. Venturing into
Regan's room devastates the viewers as much as the priests (Max von Sydow
and Jason Miller) who conduct the rarely used -- so we're told -- Catholic
rite of exorcism. For these reasons, most scenes occur outside the terror
chamber, which helps fortify us for the descent into hell as we vicariously
battle along with the agents of God against the Devil.
The movie's most famous scenes -- Regan's head doing a 360, her masturbating
with a crucifix and her using projectile vomit like a venom spitting
dinosaur -- are scary, gross and shocking. Just imagine how audiences must
have felt in the much more cinematically sheltered times of the early 1970s.
So does this film deserve its normally associated sobriquet of "the scariest
movie ever made?" Perhaps. As one who found THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT lame
and tame, I have a high tolerance for shock. I don't know if THE EXORCIST
is the most frightening ever, but it would certainly rank high on most
people's fear scale. And, maybe most shocking of all, I've never seen the
film before other than a few excerpts. When it was originally released, I
believed its detractors and avoided the film entirely. A bad move, which I
have now corrected.
THE EXORCIST runs 2:12. It is rated R for strong language and disturbing
images and would be acceptable for those 17 and over.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes