Released in 1973, The Exorcist is still considered one of the scariest films ever made. Directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel of the same name, there have been two versions of the film released - the original 1973 release, and then in 2000, after a brief limited theatrical run, a version titled The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen was released, in which Friedkin reinstated deleted scenes and added subliminal visual and sound effects to enhance the tension. The film follows two storylines that ultimately converge. Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is starting to encounter a crisis of faith while dealing with his terminally ill mother. Meanwhile, 12-year old Regan (Linda Blair), the daughter of actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) starts to exhibit unusual behavior, such as seizures, increased strength and extreme profanity. Medical tests don't show anything out of the ordinary, and even psychiatry doesn't show anything wrong. As the incidents turn more paranormal, and Chris is at her wit's end, she turns to Karras for help. Believing that there is something unholy possessing the girl, Karras requests permission from the church to perform an exorcism. Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) - the titular character - then arrives, intent to drive out the demon possessing the girl.
In an era of films that aim to scare through "boo!" moments, The Exorcist might seem rather slow and tame by today's standards. However, Friedkin's use of slow tension, along with some disturbing imagery, lets the audience stand in Chris' shoes as she tries to deal with the abnormal behavior of her daughter. In fact, it's not until well past the halfway point of the film that anything truly supernatural begins, and it's by then that we're well attached to the characters, and can really get into the emotional and spiritual storyline.
Concurrent with a new Blu-ray release of the film (which includes both versions), a DVD-only release of The Exorcist: Extended Director's Cut (essentially "The Version You've Never seen") has been released, with most of the same extras as the original 2000 DVD release, but featuring a new transfer from the remastered source intended for the Blu-ray.
The image quality is solid, with some grain and no noticeable edge enhancement or DNR or other artifacts typically used to tighten up a DVD transfer. The contrast is deep, with many of the dark scenes filled with inky blackness. Audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (along with French Dolby Surround 5.1 and Spanish Stereo), and while it doesn't quite feel as immersive as it could be, the music and sound effects definitely take advantage of the surrounds. But the quality of the mix is top notch, remastered for the 2000 "Version You've Never Seen", giving us plenty of dynamic range. This is definitely a movie in which to turn off the lights and turn up the sound.
Extras on this release are sadly anemic. The 2000 commentary track by William Friedkin is included, but this was not a very good track. He spends much of the time recounting what you're watching on screen. In that sense, it works as a nice "English for the Visually Disabled" track, but you glean little information from it beyond that. The previous DVD release of the theatrical version of the film (the 25th Anniversary Edition) not only included a much better commentary track with Friedkin and Blatty, but also had a documentary, and much more about the production. Even the "Version You've Never Seen" release included more extras, including production notes and filmographies, none of which are included here. Instead we get two theatrical trailers, and four television spots, all for the limited theatrical re-issue of the film.
Aside from the improved image quality from the new restoration, there is unfortunately little reason to pick up this DVD. Coming at a time when Blu-ray is starting to take off - especially with a release that includes both versions of the film in HD and a wealth of extras - this is a rather disappointing and superfluous release.
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