If this horror classic doesn’t terrify you, maybe you need a shrink. Movie actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) realizes an evil spirit may possess her daughter (Linda Blair). Against formidable odds, two priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) try to exorcise the demon. A superb meditation about the nature of evil, The Exorcist was created with adults in mind and isn’t appropriate for youngsters.
Ironically, although this was released back in 2000, this DVD has stayed in my collection unwatched until just before writing this review. Why did I wait so long? Well, to be honest, I’d heard bad things about “The Version You’ve Never Seen” and I didn’t want to spoil one of the most frightening cinematic experiences I’d ever had with some overly commercial CGI enhanced “Author’s Cut”. Yes, that’s right, this isn’t a “Director’s Cut” but is designed to get the movie back to how the author, William Peter Blatty, originally imagined it.
Being a bit of a book reader back in the day, I’d always found the novel to be far weaker than the visually stunning William Friedkin classic that we all know and love. So it was with great trepidation that I watched the eleven minutes of extra footage being slipped in.
Now it wasn’t too horrible. The opening had scenes of the Georgetown house which was a bit superfluous but the big “good versus evil” standoff between Father Merrin and the statue of the demon Pazuzu was all the same. It all looked really good as well with a lot of digital remastering so it felt almost, but not quite, like this was only made recently rather than in 1973. Everything was sharp and clear not at all grainy like the old VHS version which arrived late into the UK due to anti-blasphemy legislation. It all seemed better than the “25th Anniversary” collector’s edition DVD that I got from Big Lots for $3 too.
I was really quite in awe of how good it all looked and sounded until something very bad started to happen. Somehow an extended scene in the psychiatrist’s office got put in there which started to bore me and then, even worse, an extended medical examination of Regan as well, and things really started to drag. It was at this point that I fell asleep and woke up just in time to see the new ending with CGI Reganisms imposed all over Father Karras’ face after he tells the demon to pick him instead. I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t remember that being in the original!” and it was quite a “WTF” moment as I struggled to click back through the chapters to see what else I’d missed. Actually, the CGI worked really well here and it was a very frightening image for me in my weakened early morning state but, really, was it necessary? I think we all get the idea without the message being hammered home for the hard of understanding.
Back to the mid-section though and there wasn’t really a lot of additional material other than Regan’s weird over-publicised spiderwalk down the stairs. Although this ties in well with some of the weirder scenes from “The Exorcist III”, I thought it could have just as easily been left out as it was laughable, even tacky, compared to the tone of the rest of the movie. The CGI blood was just awful.
A few less than sublimal CGI Pazuzu heads here and there followed and made me growl in displeasure but the nastiest surprise for me was the new ending. It seems that William Peter Blatty never liked how the original theatrical ending may have suggested that the devil won. He certainly wasn’t the only one who thought this either hence why “The Exorcist” was banned by most UK councils in case it upset Roman Catholics. Back in 1973 the world was a much different place and you can imagine the cries of “Blasphemy!” This new ending though had me shouting the same thing! How can anyone tack on such a pointless and suggestively gay ending as this and not expect it to be derided? Was Lt. Kinderman trying to pick up Father Dyer with his fake movie line? I couldn’t work that bit out at all. It was alright to have Karras being given the last rites but it should have stopped there. Everything after that was unnecessary.
So, overall, “The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen” isn’t a disaster. It just really doesn’t add anything better to what was there before. The ending is now weaker than the theatrical version but, if that’s the way that it was intended to be then so be it. I didn’t like it as much but I’m sure there’ll be those that do.
The Exorcist – The Version You’ve Never Seen (1973)