Reviews

Captain Howdy Still Terrifies in 'The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition'

Forty years after the original release of The Exorcist, this extras-heavy release looks and sounds incredible and makes for one more terrifying journey into the unknown.


The Exorcist

Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, Mercedes McCambridge
Length: 254 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 1973
Distributor: Warner
MPAA Rating: R
Release date: 2013-10-08
Website

The Exorcist has been released and re-released over the past 40 years in two different versions so many times that, by now, everyone who ever wanted to has seen The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen. Therefore Warner Bros. officially changed the name of that edition to The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut. The releases have gone from bare-bones to limited edition deluxe boxed sets with a treasure trove of extras. Thus, we’ve certainly seen it all by now.

Why continue to release this movie and why do people keep buying every edition over and over again? Because after 40 years, The Exorcist is not only one of the most frightening films ever made, but it's also one of the best films ever made. Under the skilled direction of William Friedkin (brought on board after the success of his film, The French Connection), the film became not only a box office success (one of the biggest grossing horror films in history) but also a critically acclaimed feature film. Sure, it’s not a film for everyone, and yes, there have been a few bad reviews out there but its two Academy Awards (out of a mind-blowing total of ten nominations) and four Golden Globes (out of a total of five nominations) have successfully shut the mouths of those blasphemers pretty quick.

How is such a feat possible for a horror film? Horror has traditionally been among the most successful, but least acclaimed genres of all film, with only The Silence of the Lambs truly breaking the mold and sweeping the Oscars. The answer to that question is that, like The Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist was not approached as a horror film, but as a spiritual mystery and drama. The lack of jump-scares in Friedkin’s classic make the suspenseful, visceral terrors all the more real for the viewer. This is also a prime reason why many audience members can’t make it through to the closing credits without checking out early. To the engrossed viewer, The Exorcist isn’t a horror film, The Exorcist is horror.

Friedkin's interpretation of William Peter Blatty's script (based on his own 1971 novel) focuses not on disturbance and terror, but on reality and tangible issues of real people being torn apart by something they cannot fathom. By the time the blood, gore, vulgarity and nightmarish imagery begins (and brother, it does) the drama is already unfolding and we, the audience, are all the more disturbed by the fact that we've been engrossed by these realistic, well-established characters.

Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil is an affable actress and affectionate mother to her only child Regan (Linda Blair, of course), a pretty, well-adjusted kid, happy and fun, until she starts having seizures and exhibiting strange behavior including, but not limited to the kind of profanity that could make any Tourette's sufferer blush.

Outside of the family is Father Damien Karras (well-played by the subdued Jason Miller), a very worldly priest who doubles as a psychiatrist and straddles the world between spirituality and psychology while getting out his frustrations by beating the hell out of a punching bag. The terror of The Exorcist is rooted in this very worldliness. We’re not talking about a group of Quakers, but people who would rarely if ever think of such things. In fact, it's only the involvement of a local police Lieutenant Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) that brings the Catholic Church into things in the first place and even they have to call out for a ringer in the title character, an archaeologist named Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow in very convincing old-age makeup).

Merrin and Karras exorcise Regan

The Blu-Ray transfer here is pretty much excellent and makes Dick Smith's makeup design look all the more incredible. Take a look at Regan's deteriorating face from the first signs of oddity to the last moments on screen. As impressive as this is, it pales when compared to the impressive makeup on von Sydow, who was 44 at the time, but playing a man in his 70s. So convincing is Smith’s makeup job on the younger von Sydow that the title Exorcist closely resembles the von Sydow of the past ten years (the actor is currently 84).

Amping up the “reality” factor, Blair's lips are perfectly synched with actress Mercedes McCambridge's amazingly scary demon voice. The terrifying flashes of the demonic face of the possessor "Captain Howdy" (also known as Pazuzu) keeps the audience uncomfortable and susceptible to the biggest of frights, very few of which are ever cheap or startling.

Captain Howdy observes Chris MacNeil in a single frame flash

While the writing and the directing are both exceptional here and make The Exorcist a drama with deeply horrifying elements, rather than a horror film with dramatic undertones, the best successes can be seen in the acting. Burstyn is excellent as the concerned mother who is moved from atheism to some form of terrified belief (or, at least, acceptance of the unknown). Miller was a stage actor, never having had a part in a film and he does a remarkable job here as the tough but depressed man walking the line between science and faith (and even... doubt).

Of course, especially for a child actress, Blair was exceptional here as each aspect of her character: the happy Regan, the sad kid who doesn't know what is happening to her and as the menacing demon who performs some horrible acts and says things that are even worse. It's amazing how consistently good Blair is even when her character is anything but consistent.

Regan on her way...

Above all this and though he actually has a relatively small amount of screen time for such a pivotal part, Max von Sydow steals the show as the Exorcist himself. The man is brilliant in this role and anyone could believe that he is the age called for by the script. I might add, it's real credit to Jason Miller that he shared so much screen time with von Sydow and still held his own for a great performance.

Although largely repeats from previous releases, this three-disc 40th Anniversary Blu-ray edition’s bonus features are nothing short of excellent. Both the original theatrical release of the film and the 2000 director’s cut (formerly known as “The Version You’ve Never Seen”). Each disc features at least one commentary track, documentaries, interviews, promotional materials (such as trailers, radio and TV spots) as well as alternate scenes.

The third disc focuses only on special features such as the two new documentaries, Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Talk of the Devil that explores Father Eugene Gallagher ‘s telling of true stories of possession to author William Peter Blatty. The package also contains a 40 page hardcover book (the size of a Blu-ray) that presents the Exorcist-centric parts of Friedkin’s memoir The Friedkin Connection.

While The Exorcist is a quality drama that has the nominations and acclaim to back up its excellence, by its very nature, this film is not for all tastes. Friedkin and company dare to ask a lot of the audience and their constitutions, because so very much is calculated to distress and cause discomposure. However, make no mistake, The Exorcist is an excellent dramatic film, worth every second of the effort it takes to watch! Catholic Horror has been given its finest hour, unsurpassed in the subgenre to this day. The Exorcist is what it purports to be, no less than one of the best horror films, one of the best films, of all time.

9
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Film

It's a Helluva of a World in Alain Corneau's 'Série Noire'

Alain Corneau's Série Noire is like a documentary of squalid desperation, albeit a slightly heightened and sardonic one.

Music

The 15 Best Americana Albums of 2015

From the old guard reaffirming its status to upstarts asserting their prowess, personal tales voiced by true artists connected on an emotional level in the best Americana music of 2015.

Music

Dizzy's Katie Munshaw Keeps Home Fires Burning with 'The Sun and Her Scorch'

In a world turned upside down, it might be the perfect time to take a new album spin with Canadian dream-pop band Dizzy and lead singer-songwriter Katie Munshaw, who supplies enough emotional electricity to jump-start a broken heart.

Music

Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers Bring Summery Highlife to 'Ozobia Special'

Summery synths bring highlife of the 1980s on a reissue of Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers' innovative Ozobia Special.

Music

'The Upward Spiral' Is Nicolas Bougaïeff's Layered and Unique Approach to Techno

On his debut album for Mute, Berlin-based producer Nicolas Bougaïeff applies meticulous care and a deft, trained ear to each track, and the results are marvelous.

Music

How BTS Always Leave You Wanting More

K-pop boy band BTS are masterful at creating a separation between their public personas and their private lives. This mythology leaves a void that fans willingly fill.

Music

The Psychedelic Furs' 'Made of Rain' Is Their First Album in Nearly 30 Years

The first album in three decades from the Psychedelic Furs beats expectations just one track in with "The Boy That Invented Rock and Roll".

Music

Fontaines D.C. Abandon the Familiar on 'A Hero's Death'

Fontaines D.C.'s A Hero's Death is the follow-up to the acclaimed Dogrel, and it features some of their best work -- alongside some of their most generic.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.