NOTE: This review regards the extended cut, released in 2000 under the title “The Version You’ve Never Seen.” Upon research, however, it appears this subtitle was a severe understatement: With audiences either horrified or offended by the film’s own nature, it’s really “The Version Too Twisted for a 1973 Audience to Even Fathom.” Amounting to approximately ten additional minutes, the expansion includes restoration of a spinal tap scene; a theological debate between the two priests about exorcism itself; the grotesque, infamous “spider-walk” scene; and the intended ending (following the original). I cannot speak on an opinionated level as far as the original cut, but it seems that fans of William Peter Blatty’s source novel would more fondly appreciate this extension.
Bottom Line: Classic horror.
Directed by: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, Kitty Winn, Lee J. Cobb, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Reverend William O’Malley S.J.
Voice of the Demon: Mercedes McCambridge
It’s only when I watch a truly brilliant horror film that I begin to realize why the genre has deteriorated in recent years. Such films as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Rite want to be the new Exorcist, but it’s humanly impossible to shape garbage into glory on a budget and severe time constraints. We sit in front of such clones and see the crust of The Exorcist: mutilated and demonic bodies vs. priests. But there’s no inner core, no depth to keep us awake throughout the film, let alone throughout the night.
Our story is of Regan (Linda Blair), a twelve-year-old girl whose increasingly strange behaviors lead to uproar in her home. Eventually, it is suggested that the best choice, despite Regan’s being a born-and-raised agnostic, is to conduct an exorcism. It’s not the plot but the way it is handled that makes The Exorcist THE representation of what the horror genre is (er, how it should have remained). It’s not an assessment of fear from the very beginning, peppered with sporadic jumps and quivers. The genre is, quite frankly, nothing more than a drama. The film is absolutely laudable for slowly creeping in that way. As we begin to care about the characters more and more, an eerie setting is superimposed, and the characters grow less self-aware, more paranoid.
The characters themselves are developed phenomenally as a result of a bloodcurdling script and powerhouse acting. Ellen Burstyn is truly phenomenal as Regan’s mother, but only thrice better is a young Linda Blair as Regan herself. Her role (albeit a subliminally, yet offensively sacrilegious poster child during the final white-knuckle sequences) is easily the horror genre’s best recognized sadist, with a portrait menacing enough to make The Shining‘s Jack Torrance seem a walk in the park. Mercedes McCambridge, as well, deserves more appreciation for her vocal effort as the demon which possesses Regan. Let’s just say she delivers several memorable lines in which the letter “f” is delivered almost alliteratively, with results that humor as well as disturb. To top it all off is the script. William Peter Blatty shows his fondness of the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” lifeline by adapting his own novel, which was in turn based on claims of a similar exorcism. Pour in diabolically unrestrained imagery from director Friedkin, controversial from his breakthrough (The French Connection) through his most recent (Killer Joe), and you’re in for an unpredictably chilling surprise.