The Exorcist

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The Exorcist

The marketing of the umpteenth release of The Exorcist as "the version you've never seen" is more than a little misleading. For starters, most if not all of the added footage has been available in various home-video incarnations. Besides, those 12 unnecessary minutes—in particular a gratuitous special effect and a protracted upbeat ending—were originally cut by director William Friedkin himself, who only recently edited them back in to assuage lingering concerns on the part of the film's screenwriter (and author of the source novel) William Peter Blatty. So while, yes, this version has never before been exhibited, it's not the film Friedkin sought to make. It also seems odd to tinker with the sound, revamped here for modern equipment, since that aspect of the film was one of the few elements to be acknowledged by the Academy. Regardless, The Exorcist is certainly worth revisiting, if only because more than 25 years after its original theatrical run, it remains a controversial and highly debated cultural touchstone. Friedkin made the movie as the follow-up to his Oscar-lauded The French Connection, and he couldn't have picked a more different topic than the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl. The performances, many infamously provoked by Friedkin's on-set abuse (call it "imposed method acting"), are rich and moving. Linda Blair's antics, given voice by veteran actress Mercedes McCambridge, are no less shocking today than they were two decades ago, even after countless imitations and parodies have mined the material for far less visceral thrills. In fact, that's one of the most common criticisms leveled at The Exorcist: that it's nothing more than a mechanical thrill ride designed to do nothing more than scare the bejesus out of an unsuspecting audience. While there's nothing wrong with that strategy—a few years later, the equally brilliant Jaws redefined the blockbuster as an ever-simpler distillation of scare tactics—the dismissal of The Exorcist as sheer exploitation sells the themes of faith and family short. Besides, manipulative or not, it still stands as one of the most truly horrifying films ever made, and if the new sound and extraneous spliced footage don't enhance that assessment, they also do little to degrade it.