The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen

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The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen Review


It's been 26 years since "The Exorcist" raised the bar for horror movies, trading more on its chilling psychological effects than its ability to provide cheap spooks.

Because its story of a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) possessed by the devil quarries so deeply in the viewer's psyche, it remains more frightening than any teenage slasher flick (save, perhaps, the original "Halloween") -- even if it has become every-so-slightly campy with age.

The newly remastered print being released this month under the idiotic title of "The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen" is padded with cutting room floor footage and souped up with a digitally enhanced soundtrack and sound effects -- much of which actually distracts from the film's classic scariness.

Partially an exploration (and exploitation) of religious faith, the movie's timeless ability to terrify depends on its strong performances.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jason Miller is the soul of the film as Father Karras, a Catholic priest who has begun to question his faith. Reluctantly recruited for spiritual aid by a desperate mother (Ellen Burstyn) whose angelic daughter has gone from mild mood-swings to devil-spawn demeanor, his suppressed fear adroitly enhances the audience's own rampant unease.

Most effective, of course, is young Linda Blair, who gives an exhaustingly hexed performance, moving from innocence and light into flailing, screaming, spitting, growling, huffing and barking unnerving obscenities -- all of which should be laughably absurd coming from a 12-year-old. But it isn't absurd. It's petrifying, because in her portrayal Blair never forgets that somewhere inside all that there's a traumatized little girl.

Director William Friedkin (who went on to direct "Jade" and this year's "Rules of Engagement") keeps the audience on edge from the very early going with even the most innocuous-sounding hints at what's to come. The chirpy way cherubic Regan (Blair) explains to her mother that someone named Captain Howdy controls her Ouija board makes the words "Captain Howdy" sound scarier than "Adolf Hitler." When the Ouija board's pointer moves on its own, it's almost enough to send you jumping over the back of your seat.

The film's really hardcore scares are amazingly sustained by Friedkin. Once Father Karras has brought in an experienced exorcist (Max Von Sydow), whole scenes have the same disturbing timbre, steadily milked for minutes at a time as the two priests cling to their rituals while the girl, tied to her bed, spews pure hate and quakes the room around them.

Because "The Exorcist" holds itself to a higher standard, there are several flaws that might not stand out otherwise, like the fact that Father Karras's crisis of faith goes largely untapped as a plot point. From a modern perspective, the movie has ripened to the point of being a source of a few unintentional laughs too.

Father Karras emerges from his first meeting with Regan proclaiming that what he's seen "doesn't support a case for possession" even though the girl is speaking backwards in five voices, she's covered in lesions, she's become telekinetic and she's barfing green slime. The movie also invites a snicker before Regan really flips out, when her clueless doctor prescribes her Ridilin.

And frankly, the unforgettable score (by Jack Nitzsche) plays a larger part in producing goosebumps than anything Friedkin or Blair contributes. (The scariest thing about this movie to me has always been that there was a stage mother out there who allowed her pubescent daughter to star in a phallically-obsessed movie, constantly screaming pornographic obscenities and violently deflowering herself with a cross.)

But still, this is one unforgettable horror movie.

As for this being "The Version You've Never Seen," with the exception of the improved sound effects and the infamous "spider walk" sequence -- in which Regan descends a flight of stairs bent over backwards on her hands and feet -- most everything that's been added (an epilogue with another priest and a cop, for example) is pretty much useless and little more than a gimmick for the sake of promoting the re-issue.



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