What can be said or written about The Exorcist that hasn't been mentioned already? Even for a horror fan as thorough and verbose as myself, I sit here stumped on how to add some new insights regarding one of the most widely-adored horror films ever made. My generation grew up discovering the film on network television, for the most part, and even that watered-down version was more than enough to freak us out on a deep and primal level. Kids get freaked out by the vomiting, the creepy voice, the horrible scars that crack down the possessed little girl's face...
...but as a grown-up, this simple tale of demonic possession takes on a whole new level of creepiness. It was Blatty's simple approach -- that biblical horror could strike even the most generic of human hosts -- that kept the story from becoming ridiculous, and it was Friedkin's skill that allowed it to leap off the page and right into your gut. Far more than just a horror story, The Exorcist is one of the most ironically "hopeful" terror tales you're likely to see. For all its horrible ideas and confrontational nastiness, the film maintains a quietly noble disposition, and its big finale is as tragic as it is strangely satisfying.
Oh, fine. For those who don't know: The Exorcist is about a little girl who gets possessed by a vicious demon, and her only chance of salvation comes from her loyal mother and a team of potentially unprepared priests. Simple, sure. Simple enough to become a smash hit, kick-start a (strangely troubled) film franchise, and spawn 325 (mostly Italian) knock-offs.
One of the (very) few horror films to ever clean up at the Oscars (Silence of the Lambs was another), The Exorcist may have earned its initial notoriety due to its deep and freakish scares, but it remains a classic to this day because of the stuff that comes between the scares. To mention that The Exorcist is cut and scored like a dream, populated by fantastic actors, and laden with ideas both disturbing and divine would, again, be redundant. I'm a bit too young to have been there when The Exorcist hit the screens (I was three, actually) but I (and my entire generation of horror fans) have gladly picked up the mantle and fostered the flick's legacy as an inarguable classic of our beloved genre. And it just never gets un-scary. That's the best part.
On disc one you'll find the 132-minute version of The Exorcist, which includes both the "spider walk" sequence and the rather poignant dialogue scene at the end between the two beleaguered priests. After years of claiming that the latter scene simply "explains" things for the audience, Friedkin seems to have come around; he notes that the longer version is now his preferred take on The Exorcist.
The director presents a new audio commentary here, which is considerably more interesting than the last chat track he presented for the film. That one wasn't terrible, but it was a bit dry, and here the director seems a little looser with his inspirations. (The older commentary is actually included on disc two; more on that in a minute.) Also presented here is an excellent three-part documentary: Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist (30:03), The Exorcist Locations: Then and Now (8:30), and (most interesting of all) Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist (9:52), which explains what was cut and why. Rounding out disc one are two theatrical trailers, two radio ads, and three TV spots.
Over on the second platter you'll find the original (122 minute) version of the film, should that be your preferred version, in addition to several old goodies that no Exorcist fan should be without: the original audio commentary from William Friedkin, another one from writer William Peter Blatty, and the feature-length Fear of God (1998, 77 minutes), which might feel a bit redundant on this set, but is definitely a welcome inclusion all the same. You'll also find ten minutes of archival interviews with Friedkin and Blatty, several sketches and storyboards, a look at the "original ending," three more theatrical trailers, and four more TV spots.
Throw in a director's introduction and a nifty little booklet inside the packaging, and you have pretty much the ultimate version of The Exorcist right in your hands. Savor it.