10/15/2010

Blu-ray Review: The Exorcist (1973) -- Director's Cut



Now Available to Own on DVD, Blu-ray & Download



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Grotesquely twisted and increasingly outrageous, The Exorcist debuted in theatres to mass hysteria as moviegoers lined up for one of the most overrated religious horror films of all time.

Misogynistic, cold and cruel, William Friedkin's Oscar winner is particularly disappointing when you compare it to his nuanced masterpiece, The French Connection, which illustrates that regardless of how potentially controversial or polarizing the content and protagonists may be, when the action is derived from the characters instead of the effects department, we can't help but remain engrossed.


Unfortunately, consummate Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore star Ellen Burstyn is given little with which to work as a movie star whose preteen daughter becomes possessed by the devil while filming on location in Washington D.C.

And aside from actor Jason Miller's mysterious antihero priest and psychiatric counselor, Father Damien Karras who is currently experiencing a crisis of faith, most of The Exorcist's characters are vague, uninteresting or shallow, which hinders our empathy and enjoyment of the work even more.


Friedkin's blockbuster film is based on William Peter Blatty's Catholic agenda based bestselling 1971 novel of the same name, which was adapted for the screen by the author. A religiously driven narrative wherein Jesus conquers all, The Exorcist claims to preach the truth and sure enough, legions of like-minded fans have indeed accepted it as gospel.


However, once you peel back the so-called authenticity, it's important to acknowledge that what you're left with is a piece of Hollywood entertainment culled from a book that was written to enhance and update events surrounding an exorcism performed on a young boy more than twenty years earlier in a case that was fraught with controversy, exaggerations, unverified claims and potential falsehoods.

With this in mind, the choices that were made by both Blatty and Friedkin in the depiction of a young female embodiment of the devil itself as opposed to the boy upon which it is based, coupled with the oft-discussed sexual crucifix sequence involving a prepubescent girl become increasingly suspect.



Yet all misogynist subtext aside, if taken at face (or rather rotating head) value, at the very least what we're experiencing when we watch The Exorcist is a very ill child who -- much like being stricken with some deadly disease -- has absolutely no control over what is happening to them.


It's this reading into the picture that affected me the first time I saw it roughly ten years ago. Honestly, like seeing any child in pain, I felt pity rather than outright fear which therefore ultimately highlights the sadistic streak of the filmmakers who exploit and torment its lead by making us hate the victim which became apparent upon the film's release as young actress Linda Blair received death threats.


When you add this to all of the controversies surrounding Friedkin's behavior during the making of the film from manipulating actors, causing harness injuries, slapping cast members and more, overall and despite WB's stellar 2-disc Blu-ray book presentation, The Exorcist becomes even uglier than its afflicted character in devilish glory as characters speak in exposition and revolting makeup and effects threaten to make you lose your breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Of course, its impact on religious crossover films, supernatural horror, and the genre in general cannot be ignored as the film frequently finds its way onto fear based movie lists and with this in mind, the Halloween timed release of the fan-favorite is sure to appeal to its parishioners who will worship the collection of extras and option to view either the original theatrical version or modern re-release complete with extra footage.

Yet when it comes right down to judging The Exorcist, religious tolerance reigns supreme as this reviewer can't just sit still during mass without making a confession that by God, let the choir sing that Friedkin and Blatty's picture is one unholy mess.


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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.