Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.) - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)

Releasing Studio: Warner Bros.
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p High Definition; 1.78:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Video Codec: VC-1
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Original Theatrical Version); English DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 (2000 Extended Director’s Cut)
Rating: R
Director: William Friedkin
Starring Cast: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Wynn



What can be said about the seminal Exorcist from 1973 that has not already been said? William Friedkin, basing his masterpiece off a novel by William Peter Blatty, in creating this timeless film (routinely referred to as the “Scariest Film of All Time”) has created legions (no pun intended) of copies, rip-offs, references and a gaggle of sequels and prequels none of which have been able to even compare. As a diehard fan of this picture – probably one of my very favorite films of all time, no doubt – I have owned the various VHS incarnations of the title, and then once getting on the DVD era bandwagon, picked up Warner’s snapper case variant of the theatrical re-release of the film in 2000 bravely titled The Version You’ve Never Seen, now morphed into the Extended Director’s Cut. There is simply too much overwhelming insight with regard to Friedkin’s film all over the internet, amongst Catholic networking groups and within film critic circles to even warrant going into these elements once more, at least from my perspective; I will try to cover all the basics as best as possible, before getting to the technical elements of Warner’s long-awaited high definition release of The Exorcist. The last time I reviewed this title, it was for the aforementioned DVD release of The Version You’ve Never Seen, with its butt-kickin' Dolby Digital Surround EX remix.

Let’s begin with Warner’s decision with regard to marketing and packaging the much-celebrated Blu-ray version of this legendary horror catalog title – included in the beautiful Digibook packaging are two discs, each containing the two different cuts of the film. Controversial from the very beginning, the 2000 “Extended Director’s Cut” joins the original 1973 “Theatrical Cut” here in the Blu-ray package for fans of both versions. Both carry, of course, 1080p encodes and 1.78:1 transfers (the latter filling my screen due to RPTV overscan) and on the audio side, the original version has been equipped with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track apparently derived from elements that formed the 5.1 remix for the original cut some years ago when Warner released an Anniversary Edition of the title, while the 2000 director’s version carries a 6.1 MA mix apparently taken from the elements that formed the Dolby EX remix for that version on DVD. I sampled the original version last night first, as I haven’t seen that cut in many years, and both the audio and video were disappointing – I’ll definitely get to that.

Also in Warner’s Digibook Exorcist packaging is a signed introduction letter by director William Friedkin explaining the effort behind the film’s high definition release, plus the book-esque pages containing information on the background of the film plus glossy photos from varying sequences and biography information on the major stars and filmmakers. All in all, it’s a very nice package for fans; much more engaging than the single-disc snapper case package for the DVD release of The Version You’ve Never Seen. From a personal standpoint, I held off buying this title on Blu because of the way I had been burned in the past with regard to double dipping on titles I already owned on DVD – and although this was one of my favorite films, and even though I constantly bombarded Warner’s press contact office with emails about this title’s eventual release date, I still didn’t think the jump to pure 1080p in high definition would warrant me going out to replace the 2000 version’s DVD which looked absolutely stunning to me (for this film) upconverted via my BD player. Upon entering a local Best Buy two days ago to purchase Fast Five on Blu (which my wife wanted more than me) I decided to cave in and buy The Exorcist as well in celebration of this Halloween season; both titles were on sale for $20 anyway. My conclusion? As I said earlier, I’ll get into that in the technical specs area, but after viewing the 1973 original version last night, my suspicions were validated: To me, the upscaled DVD version of the 2000 cut looked about the same as the Blu-ray of the original version, if not better with less noise and film grain, and I definitely preferred the overtly aggressive Dolby EX track on the DVD compared to the somewhat lifeless (but undoubtedly genuine) DTS-HD Master Audio track on the original cut’s Blu-ray Disc. Of course, these feelings could change after I watch the 2000 Extended Director’s Cut on Blu-ray, as that’s supposed to incorporate (on the audio side) the stems and elements from the 2000 DVD’s Dolby EX remix, which I prefer; I haven’t gotten around to that disc yet. To me, the audio track of what was once known as The Version You’ve Never Seen was engaging, aggressive and allowed us to experience this legendary film with surprising amounts of surround activity and bass. Of course, purists demand watching the film with its original audio elements intact – perhaps even in mono, the way it was originally released theatrically – and I completely applaud that. In the case of The Exorcist, I felt the Dolby EX mix simply upped the fright factor for this title in more ways than I can even describe.

Next, let’s explore the tensions and controversy behind the Blatty/Friedkin disagreements that have become legendary amidst Exorcist discussion and fan groups. Blatty based his novel on a supposed real case of demonic possession that took place in the Maryland, U.S. area in the ‘40s, in which the Catholic Church reportedly was involved in attempting to free a young boy from ghoulish powers within him. The novel switched the situation to involve a young girl – Regan MacNeil – who was apparently possessed by a “demon of the air” named “Pazuzu” which was unearthed during an archeological dig in Iraq and which somehow flew all the way to the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. to take her over. There were tremendous amounts of creative differences between William Peter Blatty and the director who signed on to helm the eventual film project, William Friedkin (responsible for legends like The French Connection), as each man saw the vision of this story in dramatically different ways. The details of these differences remain shrouded in controversy to this day, but at the turn of the millennium in 2000, Friedkin’s vision which included added footage spliced back into The Exorcist was greenlighted by Warner Bros., and a theatrical re-released was authorized, boasting the subtitle “The Version You’ve Never Seen.” Now, for the first time, fans were able to witness some wildly eye-opening cut footage such as Linda Blair’s descent down the staircase (the famous “spider walk” sequence), slight additions to the opening and closing sets, some more dialogue interaction between Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) and more. Also added – to the dismay of many fans who claimed this totally killed the narrative of this film – was more modern CGI with quick graphical flashes of the Pazuzu statue, demonic faces and other elements. The audio for that version was also redone, with supposed restored audio elements which basically trickled down to additional “stinger” shocks, reworked surround material and aggressive LFE. Most diehard fans of The Exorcist – as well as the critic circuit – absolutely loathes this “Extended Director’s” vision of the film, claiming it ruins the entire feel of the narrative and injects unnecessary CGI and sound effects to make it a more “corny,” cheesy variant of a classic. For what it’s worth, as a rabid fan, I actually liked the added work put into the 2000 release – I can totally understand where purists are coming from with regard to what these changes do to the original, but at home, the DVD version of the 2000 cut was much more enjoyable, to me, technically with the reworked and more immersive audio and the added clips of Pazuzu sprinkled throughout.


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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)

Pazuzu was another disturbing element of the world that is Exorcist – the notion of this “demon” which is unearthed by Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin character has been explored in various ways throughout the franchise’s run, notably in the sequel film entitled Exorcist II: The Heretic helmed by John Boorman. However, questions have always plagued me about this demon, and exactly what it is that took over Regan MacNeil’s body – at one point in the original film, Linda Blair, in her demonic makeup, sits up in bed and spews at Jason Miller’s character “AND I’M THE DEVIL! NOW KINDLY UNDO THESE STRAPS!” Later on, after Regan vomits in his face during a famous sequence, Miller’s Father Karras character says to Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) “Look…your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon, she says she’s the Devil himself…” But, in the absolutely awful Exorcist II: The Heretic, the opening dialogue by Richard Burton explains that Regan was possessed by Pazuzu, a horrific demon “of the air” which hailed from the African continent. So, which is it? Is Pazuzu the Devil, himself, as hinted at even in the Renny Harlin-helmed prequel Exorcist: The Beginning, or is it just a demon? This discrepancy always bothered me, even though either way it’s probably no big deal. “Pazuzu” and its accompanying statue indicating where it was unearthed during Max Von Sydow’s dig in the beginning of the first film has become an icon through the franchise’s run, but it is confusing when there are constant references to this being the “Devil” instead of a demon of some sort.

1973’s The Exorcist became such an overnight, worldwide sensation after its box office release – during which time there were reports of people standing for hours in line in the rain to see it in theaters, as well as people actually passing out during the viewing from the sheer horror they experienced – Warner Bros. at the time figured the public would be willing to accept anything as a sequel. Exorcist II: The Heretic was sanctioned, starring Richard Burton as a priest sent to Georgetown to investigate Father Merrin’s death at the conclusion of the first film, while some characters from that film returned to reprise certain roles, such as Linda Blair as Regan and Kitty Wynn as Sharon, the nanny. The film was so idiotically stupid with a complete lack of story or sense to the plot and narrative, it has gone down on the list of the worst films ever made. The premise was that Regan (Linda Blair) was now a teenager and still suffering from post-demonic possession, and is being treated by a doctor (Louise Fletcher) for it – while Burton’s priest investigates the events surrounding Father Merrin’s death in Washington, D.C. It was not until 1991 that Warner Bros., in conjunction with sister studio Morgan Creek, decided to add another chapter to this story with The Exorcist III, based on a book by original author William Peter Blatty and also directed by him. Blatty’s Legion, the inspiration for this third film, explored the possibility that Father Damien Karras had been reincarnated after his fall to death at the end of the first film by the demonic presence that jumped from Regan MacNeil into him, and is still alive suffering from amnesia in a Georgetown hospital now – but Karras’ spirit is sharing this body with the spirit of a serial killer as well, both being controlled by what we know as “Pazuzu” (or the Devil, or a demonic force…it’s never made clear). George C. Scott took over the role of Lieutenant Kinderman of the Georgetown Police (originally played by Lee J. Cobb) investigating murders in Georgetown with the same M.O. as the Gemini Killer from years ago. The culmination of The Exorcist III suggests an actual exorcism of Father Karras (played by Jason Miller again) who remains possessed by this entity, but apparently this was a tacked-on addition demanded by Warner Bros. after they screened the first version of Blatty’s film. After Exorcist III, Warner and Morgan Creek attempted to keep this franchise alive by authorizing a prequel story to be made, apparently telling the tale of a young Father Merrin and his first contact with the demon in Africa. This was a problem from the get-go – the first attempt at the prequel, entitled Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist was a borefest with absolutely no energy, charisma or redeeming qualities. The only saving grace was Stellan Skarsgard in the role of the young Merrin – we can actually picture him growing into the man we see in 1973’s The Exorcist in the form of Max Von Sydow. When Warner demanded a different film be made, they scrapped the whole project and called in Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea) who made Exorcist: The Beginning), also starring Skarsgard as the young Merrin. Harlin made a gorier, graphically-oriented picture, but it was still cheesy and somewhat unoriginal, borrowing elements from the original film all over the place like Karras’ Catholic necklace, the Pazuzu statue head, the old men smashing the tools down to melt their metal, etc. There are essays that can be written on the sequels and prequels of The Exorcist and how they attempted to tie in the events of the original film that I won’t go into now.


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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)

And so William Friedkin released his film version of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist amidst a worldwide anticipatory stage in ’73, the teasers for the film promising shocking horror unlike anything anyone had ever seen – and the picture delivered. From the overt vulgarity coming from Linda Blair’s Regan character’s mouth, to the perverted sexual overtones suggested during the demon-with-religious-items sequences and a usage of special effects tricks never really witnessed before, the film was an instant sensation. Beneath the underlying theme of good versus evil, as two priests attempt to exorcise a young girl of her demon, The Exorcist explored so many other elements – the Karras character losing ultimate faith, the Merrin character aging and weak, needing to face his fears again against an enemy he had once battled and a mother (Ellen Burstyn) attempting to keep her sanity during this whole ordeal with her daughter. I can recall reading the novel years ago in one of its original purple-covered paperback variants and being thoroughly shocked and mesmerized at the same time; the book by Blatty is a work of genius in horrific storytelling. The film, by comparison, takes some creative liberties as all book-to-film transitions do, but keeps the basic characters and plot narratives intact – the opening of Friedkin’s film always stunned me with is sweeping vista depicting a hot, arid Iraqi desert, as we come upon Father Lancaster Merrin (Max Von Sydow), a priest and archeologist working in Iraq to uncover possible treasures at a dig site. He comes upon a relic that is in the shape of a demonic face – supposedly, a representation of the demon Pazuzu, which hails from this land and which Merrin had faced before when this demon supposedly possessed a boy in Africa (explored in Exorcist II). Merrin, in unearthing this relic, had somehow now released the demon again, and we learn in the following sequences that it has “flown” from the African continent across the Atlantic Ocean where it finds a home in a young girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) living temporarily with her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) in Washington, D.C. where Chris is shooting a film. It seems a little convoluted that this demonic presence would fly across the world and land in Washington of all places once unearthed, but we learn later on that Regan has been playing with a you-know-what board, and thus has opened the portal for this presence to come through. It still doesn’t answer the question regarding why it chose Washington, though.

A townhome outside the Georgetown University campus serves as the backdrop for the story, as Chris, Regan, their nanny Sharon (Kitty Wynn) and two servants go through everyday life as Chris is on location for a film she’s making. As the days pass, it’s obvious something is going wrong with Chris’ daughter Regan; her complaints of her “bed shaking” are coupled with Chris’ discovery of strange noises taking place within the attic (suggesting that this is where Pazuzu entered the house). Friedkin builds the tension here expertly, as we go from witnessing a perfectly normal (well, for a divorcee situation) mother-daughter relationship amidst the backdrop of a Hollywood actress filming on location to a constantly sick, troubled little girl getting worse with mysterious symptoms no one seems to be able to identify. Chris takes Regan to specialists who run test after test, including a spinal tap, and come to the conclusion that the girl is suffering from a nervous disorder. However, when two doctors come to the house after Chris calls them in a state of panic, and they witness Regan being thrust up and down on her bed without any visible cause, they still don’t believe it’s anything other than a temporal lobe problem in the brain – and that’s after Regan’s throat swells to a massive shape, her eyes roll back to white, a guttural growl comes from within her voice box and she hikes up her nightgown in front of all of them on her bed and exclaims...well, I think you all know the rest.

The first hour of The Exorcist explores Burstyn’s character’s frustration with doctors she is taking Regan to, as they continue to refuse to believe anything other than a brain disorder is taking place here. Meanwhile, we meet the Damien Karras character (Jason Miller, who I learned from reading the Digibook material passed away in 2001 at the age of 62 or so), a priest working as a psychological counselor at Georgetown University and who is going through his loss of faith. Seemingly, all Karras has in his life is his ailing mother and his friend, Father Joseph Dyer, and when his mother dies, the film takes on an ominous tone as the demon within Regan uses this against Damien. As the film transcends into its second half, we meet Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb, played by George C. Scott in the third film), a homicide detective investigating the death of Chris MacNeil’s director who was thrown from her daughter’s window and found with his neck turned completely around, facing backwards on a long flight of steps leading from the Georgetown townhome. Kinderman is alluded to the fact that Chris’ daughter is very ill and remains heavily sedated, so it’s a mystery as to who killed Burke Dennings, the director of Chris’ film – although Chris has her suspicions that it was in fact her daughter Regan, under the influence of this evil presence, that threw Dennings out the window. In one of the film’s more disturbing, memorable moments, there is a sequence in which Kinderman leaves Chris’ townhouse after asking her questions about the deceased director, and just after she hears a string of vulgarity and booming chaos coming from Regan’s bedroom. When she runs upstairs and flings the door open, she’s horrified to find objects from Regan’s room flying about wildly on their own, while her daughter lies in the middle of her bed, her hand ramming a crucifix into her bloody private area while in a demonic voice she bellows “LET JESUS 'F' YOU!!! LET HIM 'F' YOU!!!!” When Chris attempts to snatch the crucifix from Regan’s hand, the girl, under the demonic influence, grabs her by the back of her head and forces her mother’s face into her crotch – and we’re absolutely shocked, horrified and repulsed as we witness Burstyn’s face buried in her daughter’s blood-soaked genitals, as Regan bellows “LICK ME!!!! LICK MEEEEEEEE!!!!!” Eventually, we even hear the swishing and lapping noises of Burstyn’s mouth pressed against Regan’s private area as the demon forces her to do what the booming voice proclaimed just moments earlier. The whole thing is really disturbing, and resonates with viewers to this day – I know it does for me – culminating in Chris being cracked in the mouth by the possessed Regan, flinging her across the room. Furniture then moves by itself around Regan’s room, while a shocked Chris watches as her daughter’s head spins around backwards so a possessed Regan can say to her in Burke Dennings’ voice “DO YOU KNOW WHAT SHE DID? YOUR ---- DAUGHTER????” The sequence still shocks to this day.


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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)

Finally, when doctors and clinics can no longer explain Regan’s symptoms or offer any help to Chris, they suggest looking to exorcism – taking Regan to a rabbi or priest who can get rid of the so-called invading spirit. The fact that the medical community would tell a human being to turn to this kind of answer always bothered me, even in the context of a film; I mean, here is a gaggle of specialists sitting around a conference table telling this grown woman to take her daughter to a religious fanatic that can treat her with a nearly ancient ritual that isn’t even recognized by anyone other than a small band of Catholics. Feeling this may be the only answer, Chris makes contact with Father Karras, who listens to her desperate plea for her daughter and concludes that exorcism will not only make matters worse, but is something that is not even recognized or acknowledged by the church. Eventually, Karras agrees to see Regan, and this is when things start to get really weird.

Upon entering Regan’s bedroom, we see just how far the girl’s transformation has gone – Regan is no longer resembling anything human, as she’s tied down to her bed boasting green, menacing eyes, tears in her facial skin and an overtly possessed, demonic look. And still, no one – not even Father Karras – finds anything “off” about this presence to question the fact that the girl may be suffering from something far worse than a nerve or brain disorder. Karras communicates with the demon for a time, still not convinced that there’s anything demonic inside Regan, until eventually after confronted with a question Karras has for the demon about his mother, she vomits into his face. As Chris washes Karras’ clothes for him, he continues to express to her that he believes there’s nothing that six months in a psychiatric hospital can’t fix for Regan – which makes no sense at all, after he witnessed the girl speaking in a guttural growling voice, seeing her green eyes and her knowing things about him and his family she couldn’t possibly know on her own.

Karras eventually returns to Chris’ home to record Regan’s voice and the strange encoded messages she’s growling out – here, he gets a taste of Regan’s psychokinetic abilities in which she’s able to fling furniture draws open without leaving the bed, as she speaks in what is perceived as various bizarre languages. Still not totally convinced, he takes the tapes to a linguistic expert at Georgetown University who concludes that Regan is indeed speaking in English, but reversed. When the tape is played backwards for Karras, it’s clear the demonic voice is calling out to a “Merrin” and even calling Karras by the name his mother called him by – “Dimi.” Finally, Karras goes to the church and asks for permission to perform an exorcism on Regan MacNeil, even though he is not totally sure the whole thing is genuine. The church decides to send in Lancaster Merrin, who has had more experience with demonic possession than Damien, but authorizes Karras to assist. Merrin, working on a book in Woodstock, New York since returning from the archeological dig in Iraq from the beginning of the film, is summoned to Washington for the exorcism, setting up the final frames of the film.

It is in these final frames that many of the characterizations are revealed at different layers; Karras’ disbelief is suddenly shattered as he watches Regan twitch, gyrate, spit and spew vulgarities at the priests under the influence of this nasty demon, while Van Sydow’s Merrin attempts to put aside the fact that he has faced this demon before and concentrate on the exorcism at hand on Regan. The final exorcism sequence is shocking and influential, still effective all these years later no matter how many times you watch it, and it remains an iconic symbol when one thinks of The Exorcist. The sequence is broken into two halves, the first depicting the older and younger priest battling the demon with holy water, crucifixes and the Roman Ritual for exorcism while Regan levitates, spins her head, spews bile and curses at them relentlessly, and the second after they have to take a break, depicting Karras witnessing the demon taking on the form of his mother while speaking to him. Finally, Merrin demands Karras leave the bedroom after losing his patience -- and sanity – with the demon mocking him in his mother’s voice, and attempts to finish the exorcism alone. Karras ultimately finds Merrin dead in the room, apparently from a heart condition that was simply no match for the battle with Pazuzu, as a possessed Regan laughs demonically in a corner of the bed. Absolutely fed up with the taunting and terror from this demon, Karras grabs Regan and throws her down on the floor, exclaiming “YOU SON OF A *****!! TAKE ME!! COME INTO ME!!! G-D YOU, TAKE ME!!!!! TAKE MEEEEEEE!!!!!” while punching her with closed fists. The demon, growling in physical agony, eventually does just that – as it’s been proven will happen when a priest challenges a demonic spirit a la Amityville II: The Possession – and instantly migrates into Karras; the tormented priest, refusing to succumb to the presence of this demon within him, makes a desperate decision to throw himself out of Regan’s bedroom window and down the long flight of stairs outside to his death. This sets up the plot for Exorcist III, in keeping with the notion that Karras is “regenerated” from this fall by the evil entity and remains possessed, but of course this wasn’t conceived until 1991, years later.

The two different versions of The Exorcist take varying directions with regard to the end sequence and other moments leading up to it; the original theatrical cut suggests that Karras killed himself, the demon is freed from both him and Regan, and that’s all there is to it. Of course, John Boorman’s Exorcist II explores the possibility that Regan, as a teenager years later, is still tormented by the demon, but the whole thing is ridiculous, and was obviously tacked on as a desperate sequel – but the 2000 director’s vision of the film adds some footage to the very end following the Karras suicide, in that we witness Chris and Sharon packing up the townhouse to move out of, while Chris runs into Father Dyer, a friend of Karras’. There is some interaction between Regan and Dyer here, as Chris tells him she “doesn’t remember any” of the exorcism, and Regan has a moment of religious wonder as she gazes at Dyer’s priest collar. There is also, in the director’s version, a moment in which Karras’ pendant which was ripped from his neck by Regan at the end of the exorcism is passed back and forth between Chris and Dyer, the two of them wanting the other to keep it as a memory of the fallen priest. How much of this actually adds anything to the narrative I’m not quite sure, but many critics claim it answers some “questions” about the demon’s final hold on these characters – I didn’t see that at all. Finally, there is a closing pre-credits sequence involving Kinderman who arrives at the MacNeil’s now locked home and Father Dyer, as the two of them begin a friendship that’s thoroughly explored in Blatty’s Exorcist III, some of which was not seen in the original theatrical release.

The Exorcist still shocks with awe and horror today, faithfully keeping fans like me in the fold forever, always going to this title as one of the best horror pieces ever created. It’s more than horror, as well, as there are a lot of themes on the table here, and it indeed makes one wonder what exactly is out there that we don’t know about. I remember seeing the film during its theatrical re-release sometime in 2000 and witnessing the hordes of teenagers and kids that simply didn’t get the impact of this film; the theater was filled with laughing, mocking, yelling stupid comments at the screen and all other kinds of shenanigans because it was something they just couldn’t relate to. I’m convinced that it’s this asinine, moronic behavior that is the cause of the flood of remakes of certain horror films today, so that filmmakers can line their pockets from the profits that come with remaking a picture that today’s mindless youth can “relate” to.

As I mentioned, the 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen” cut of The Exorcist on DVD was a spectacular presentation to my eyes and ears, with a rousing, aggressive Dolby Surround EX mix that took this film to a whole new level – the upconverted video, too, was no slouch. I was hesitant going into the Blu-ray for this reason, and my fears were justified when I sampled the Original Theatrical Cut last night. That is the version I am reviewing right here and now – when I watch the Blu-ray version of the “2000 Extended Director’s Cut” (the new moniker for the previous “Version You’ve Never Seen) I will add my comments to the review.


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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)


Unlike (from what I have learned) the “Extended Director’s Cut” disc, the Blu-ray of the Original Theatrical version goes right to a static, basic setup menu that does not improve in any way over the DVD’s menu – in fact, the same creepy audio and snippets of Regan’s possessed voice from the DVD menu is used on the Blu-ray. Disappointing. I expected interactive, moving menu systems like on most Blu-rays. By picking the “English” language option, which activates the Theatrical Cut’s DTS-HD Master Audio track in 5.1, this begins a video introduction by William Friedkin explaining his feelings on the impact of The Exorcist and was quite refreshing in his recommendation to “turn down the lights, turn up the sound and enjoy the digitally remastered version of The Exorcist.” Some reviewers called this introduction annoying; I didn’t find it so – although Warner could have opted to make the intro by Friedkin an option like Universal did with the Dawn of the Dead remake and the optional Zack Snyder intro on the DVD.

The calling of this Blu-ray a “remastered” version also bugged me, as Warner claimed the 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen” was also struck from remastered video and audio elements for the DVD release; did Friedkin and Warner Bros. mean this was a “remastered” print struck specifically for the high definition presentation? In any case, from the moment the Theatrical Cut’s opening shot of Iraq filled my screen, I was able to tell that the 1080p BD encode of The Exorcist wasn’t besting the DVD version I own all that much, if at all – all the elements of the upscaled DVD were there, including the detail of the hot Iraqi desert, the gorgeous, stunning close-ups of Max Von Sydow’s skin and hands, the detail in the dig site sequence…the Blu-ray looked rather identical to me in detail and depth as compared to the DVD. As the beginning went on, the Blu-ray transfer became overtly grainy and noisy to my eyes, offering no improvement in detail uncovering compared to the DVD yet remaining too grainy in certain places to enjoy.

I realize Warner Bros. and Friedkin’s cinematographer supervised this Blu-ray transfer in a painstaking frame-by-frame manner to get the color timing correct and keep all the natural film grain elements intact as best as possible, without any DNR, but the final result was not pleasing to me eye. Further, the same scenes which were overtly soft and waxy on the DVD remained the same on the Blu-ray, with no improvement in quality that I could detect – the sequence when Karras goes to visit his mother in New York towards the beginning of the film looked particularly awful in 1080p, as the grain, pixilation, banding and macroblocking so evident on the DVD was turned up tenfold here, making this scene almost unwatchable. As Karras sits with the mother before he leaves her apartment, the image is coated in a twitchy, flashing static mess that almost looked like the film was taped off a TV broadcast with bad reception – I’m not kidding. I am utterly aware that this is most likely the exact way the original prints of the film looked, and the Blu-ray represents the way the film should look in this regard, but it was uncomfortably not clear or enjoyable to me. Before Karras leaves the mother’s apartment in that aforementioned sequence, the transfer exhibits a pulsating, noisy/static-like characteristic that was most unsettling; there were other moments when black crush got so horrific that it collapsed into digital pixilation, rendering the image difficult to make out.

In the Blu-ray’s defense, this Karras/mother sequence was never easy to reproduce and looks terrible even on the DVD, with blacks that collapse into macroblocking pixels and smeared banding all over the place, and other areas of the DVD that looked bad are rendered in a similar fashion on the Blu-ray, just with more grain in the detail; yet, as a whole, the DVD just looked cleaner than this Blu-ray Disc in 1080p.

Color timing, which had been addressed on the Blu-ray by Friedkin and cinematographer teams, makes the film take on a different look than the DVD versions especially in color rendition; skin tones appear different and somewhat not as saturated as on the DVD, but this is not a distraction. As I stated, I viewed the Original Theatrical Cut last night and these were my findings; I may have a different take once I view the 2000 Director’s Cut when I get a chance, assuming Warner used the “digitally restored” elements utilized on the previous DVD version. If so, I’ll probably find that disc to be more enjoyable.

Also, as aforementioned early on in the review, The Exorcist is presented in its theatrical release ratio of 1.85:1, which filled my screen with image via overscan and open matte applications by Warner Bros. on this release (which they applied to previous DVD releases as well); there was (obviously) no letterboxing.


I was also disappointed with the audio on the Original Theatrical Cut; equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio track in English and in a 5.1 channel configuration (the Extended Director’s version carries a 6.1 mix), the sound mix here wasn’t immersive in the least bit, and it exhibited definite characteristics from the original mono track devised for this film in this incarnation. Obvious from the very beginning, the audio was center speaker-heavy, with slight spread to the front channels on occasion. My guess is that Warner was working with the remixed audio elements from the Anniversary re-release for the film on DVD, in which the mono track was remixed for 5.1 surround; I don’t have much experience with those older DVD editions, but I can compare this to the “Version You’ve Never Seen” DVD and its completely remixed Dolby EX track. Compared to that DVD, the audio here on the Theatrical Cut’s Blu-ray was an utter disappointment; gone is the booming LFE given to that EX mix, as well as the exciting and overtly aggressive surround activity evident right from the opening Iraq sequence. On the extended version’s DVD, the Dolby EX mix puts the cries and shouts of the diggers in Iraq all over the surround channels, spread through a complete EX array if your theater has the surround back speakers connected; even in a 5.1 setup, which I run, the EX track is collapsed into the standard surrounds for wildly convincing environmental fill that simply wasn’t there on the Master Audio track of the Theatrical version.

As the film moves on, on the EX equipped DVD, the surrounds are constantly used as we hear planes fly overhead from one side of the rear stage to the other, the demonic breathing of Regan/Pazuzu and the booming of its guttural voice, the sounds of furniture and items flying about and a definite sense of looming, heavy LFE information. The EX track on the DVD simply upped the excitement factor of this film, and although it doesn’t represent the original intent or nature designed by Friedkin and team, that surround mix was absolutely effective and the Theatrical Cut on the Blu-ray suffers due to its lack of this excitement. Most disappointing was a moment before the final exorcism sequence in which Max Von Sydow’s character arrives at Chris’ house and shakes hands with Miller’s character – on the DVD’s EX track, this is followed by a loud boom of Pazuzu’s voice in the right surround channel for directional effect in which the demon bellows “MERRRRRRRRRRRRRIN!!!!” On the Blu-ray’s Master Audio track, this whole effect is lost, the entire bellow from the demon coming strictly from the center channel without directionality.

Many purists and diehard fans also cite the added score and foreboding creepy audio cues that were added during some parts of the 2000 rerelease, and how they completely killed the pace of the original’s narrative – I don’t think the added audio cues were quite that damaging. Scenes involving Karras talking to Kinderman as well as Chris arriving home to find Sharon gone are accompanied, on the rereleased version, with additional spooky audio overtones that added a bit more tension and fear to the scenes; without them, the film is far from ruined. But I didn’t think it was as damaging as diehard Exorcist fanatics or critics claimed. On the Theatrical Cut Blu-ray, these elements are not there, obviously, as the track represents the remixed original audio stems. But the whole 5.1 Master Audio track for the Original Theatrical Cut was disappointing, with low overall volume output, a complete lack of surround activity and nonexistent LFE.

Of note is a scene that always gets me on the “Version You’ve Never Seen” DVD – in the beginning Iraq sequence when Merrin is nearly mowed down by the old lady in the screaming carriage, this scene is rendered on the Dolby EX track loudly and aggressively, throwing the sound of the carriage not only into the front three channels but into the rears as an encompassing effect that is most jarring. On the Master Audio track of the Blu-ray, this sequence loses all such tactile punch, as the carriage is merely heard through the front main channels in a rather subtle fashion. Of course, this was also without the “benefit” of the reworked audio from the 2000 rerelease.


This was a review of just the Theatrical Cut of The Exorcist on Blu-ray – as soon as I view the “Extended Director’s Cut” I will post my findings and feelings, and summarize my entire take on Warner Bros.’ Digibook release of this legendary horror film. As it stands right now, I actually prefer the experience I get when watching the DVD release of “The Version You’ve Never Seen,” but this may change after seeing that version of the picture on Blu-ray.
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post #6 of 8 Old 10-07-11, 01:04 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)

NOTE: Varying degrees of changes and edits made to different parts of this review; more will undoubtedly follow as I find them.
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post #7 of 8 Old 10-09-11, 10:59 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)


Viewed the 2000 Extended Director’s Cut of the film – previously known as “The Version You’ve Never Seen” – and my suspicions were correct. This version is working off of the restored audio and video elements used on the DVD edition of the cut, so the Blu-ray indeed looked better than the Theatrical Version did. The audio also boasted the same aggressive tendencies and cues that the Dolby EX track on the DVD edition did, as well. I’ll get to all this in depth.

First, let me comment on some of the insight I got from watching one of the documentaries on the Extended cut disc, entitled “The Different Versions of The Exorcist.” Listening to director William Friedkin comment about what transpired between him and author William Peter Blatty – and listening to Blatty’s commentary in the documentary as well – one can get a much better sense of what transpired between these two men in terms of the creative vision differences; it seems, according to Friedkin, there was the additional footage removed from the theatrical version, put back into the 2000 re-release of the film, and it was this footage Blatty felt made the story much more complete, even though it was ultimately titled “The Director’s Cut.” According to testimony from Friedkin on the documentary, Blatty gave him a hard time about this material being removed – including Regan’s spider walk sequence, the dialogue interaction between Merrin and Karras during the final exorcism sequence when they’re on the stairs and the added footage of Regan being examined for the nervous disorder – and felt the theatrical version was incomplete without it. He supposedly went to Friedkin prior to the year 2000 and pitched him the idea of making a theatrical re-release of the film with the material put back in; Friedkin was hesitant, but the two men sat down at Warner Bros. and viewed the extra material, deciding to pitch the idea to Warner executives. The “Version You’ve Never Seen” was sanctioned and greenlighted by the studio, and it was released in theaters in 2000. Friedkin admits that in the end, this extended cut is indeed, to him, the absolute definitive version of The Exorcist and it makes the film better with the added footage cut back in. Some sequences, however, such as a cut involving Regan coming down the stairs after the spider walk and attacking Sharon (Kitty Wynn) with a snake-like tongue as well as dialogue exchange between Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) and Father Dyer at the very end in which Kinderman announces a “new friendship” has begun between the two men, were ultimately either lost or could not be salvaged for usage.

Okay – so on to the technical specs of the Director’s Cut on the Blu-ray. The 1080p transfer of this version was indeed sharper, richer looking and a bit cleaner than the Theatrical Cut on Blu, probably working off the restored video used in this version’s DVD release. As I mentioned, the upconverted DVD image on my system for The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen looked spectacular for 480i being upscaled, so the Blu-ray version reflected this, and I much preferred it over the Theatrical Cut’s look. There was of course more grain and surface abnormality revealing via the 1080p encode, but all the outstanding qualities of the DVD were there – the opening Iraq sequence with Merrin (Max Von Sydow) looked as stunning as ever in 1080p, with the close-ups of Merrin’s face and hands absolutely jaw-dropping in terms of detail. The remainder of the Blu-ray transfer of the 2000 Director’s Cut looked much like the DVD edition of “The Version You’ve Never Seen,” only amped up a bit – in the end, the upscaled DVD of this cut didn’t look much different to my eyes than this new Blu-ray minting.

There will still problems in the definitive problem areas though – the sequence involving Karras (Jason Miller) going to his mother’s New York apartment was riddled with a static-like, pulsating noise made even more unpleasant by the twitchy, relentless grain structure of the scene. The blacks in this sequence dissolve into a blocky, blotchy mess at times, with noise crawling all over the image – this shot must have been a nightmare from the get-go, because I have never seen it look clean on any video format. Further, a sequence involving Karras dreaming of Pazuzu, the famous pendant, his mother and the killer dog was rendered horribly as well, as we see Jason Miller falling asleep in this scene and the blacks collapse into a crushed mess around his face.

There was an added layer of film grain more resolved via the 1080p encode as compared to the DVD edition of the extended cut – it’s apparent in nearly every scene. But more or less, this Blu-ray version, if working off the restored elements from the DVD release, looks cleaner than the Blu-ray transfer of the Theatrical Cut yet remains close to the DVD in terms of overall look.

On the audio side, the results didn’t surprise me as I suspected Warner engineers were working with the remixed track from the DVD release of the extended cut as well – rendered in a 6.1 channel configuration, but running in 5.1 on my system, the English DTS-HD Master Audio track of the Extended Director’s Cut was indeed much more aggressive and tactile as compared to the 5.1 MA track of the Theatrical Version. It was obvious the stems were lifted from the reworked Dolby EX mix of the “Version You’ve Never Seen” DVD, as all of that track’s enjoyable elements were there in the Master Audio variant – the deep bass drop accompanying the opening title sequence, the yells and screams of the diggers in Iraq filling both surround channels aggressively, the roaring carriage that almost hits Merrin in Iraq and which rampages through the surround channels, the airplane flying overhead as we move from Iraq to Georgetown, the subtle cues that place the demon’s activities in the attic in the proper surround channels, the subway train in New York that races past Karras and into the left surround channel very aggressively, the breathing and wheezing of the demon in the back channels as the priests make their way to Regan’s (Linda Blair) bedroom, the booming, loud bellowing of Pazuzu/Regan when Merrin arrives at the end ("MERRRRRRINNNNNNN!!!!") which comes screaming out of the left surround channel…and much more.

All of these reworked audio cues were on the Dolby EX mix of the DVD – here, they’re utilized in the same places, but are slightly louder and clearer. Thus, I enjoyed this version of The Exorcist much more than the Theatrical Cut; the whole experience is just more unnerving, encompassing and “up to date” feeling than on the original version’s disc. In the end, I am a bit disappointed in the Blu-ray release of this seminal, groundbreaking film; it was really nice to have the Digibook presentation with the added documentaries which were fascinating, plus the signed memorabilia from William Friedkin, but I felt like I merely bought the Blu-ray version of the extended cut (the one I’d more likely reach for to watch) and that it improved upon the DVD version ever so slightly.

If I were to do it again, I think I would have just stayed with upconverting the DVD edition of “The Version You’ve Never Seen” which I suspected would happen; it’s cool to have this favorite film of mine, though, in both formats on the shelf. The packaging of The Exorcist on Blu-ray is worth the upgrade in it of itself, if you have the cash. At any rate, please discuss this much-anticipated title in high definition if you have seen it, own it or are as passionate about the film as I am – I’d love to read your input!
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post #8 of 8 Old 10-31-11, 01:57 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Better Late Than Never: Osage Reviews...THE EXORCIST (Blu-ray; Warner Bros.)


I also noticed on the Blu-ray edition of the "Extended Director's Cut," some of the added CGI "Pazuzu" work, mysteriously, has been deleted from certain sequences -- when this film was previously known, on DVD, as "The Version You've Never Seen," there were brief bursts of Pazuzu images (the statue, demonic faces, etc.) added, along with subtle background score, for effect. The one that comes to mind immediately is the moment Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) goes into Linda Blair's room just before she and Sharon are informed about Burke Dennings' death, and when Burstyn storms out of the bedroom to confront Sharon about leaving Blair alone, there is a momentary projected image of the Pazuzu statue on the wall next to the door which fades in as Burstyn makes her way out of the room...

This was seemingly cut from the Blu-ray edition's "Extended Director's Cut," at least on my copy it was, as the creepy, subtle background score is there but the CGI enhanced Pazuzu statue on the wall was not.

Did anyone else who has seen this cut of The Exorcist on Blu-ray notice this? I'm wondering if this was a creative decision by Friedkin in the last minutes before the film was transferred to Blu-ray, or if Warner decided to do this...or if I got a rare, mysteriously different copy!
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