Back in release, not really for an anniversary, but to show off some newly restored footage, "The Exorcist" (IMDb listing) roars back into theaters picking up exactly where it left off. Largely considered the best and brightest horror thriller of all time, this new versioncomplete with a spectacular new digital sound designfully fleshes out the classic and makes the moviegoing experience even more memorable. Little Reagan is back in 2000, and she's even meaner than she was in 1973.
But is it still scary?
I don't believe that "The Exorcist" was ever meant to simply jolt audiences. It's much more effective as a disturbing film than a scary one. In the current climate of horror films, the languid pace and almost perfect ominous tone of "The Exorcist" is obsolete. Audiences today want shocks, not story. They want meat for the slaughter, not characters of flesh and bone. The porcelain structure of "The Exorcist" is why this re-release is such a very special occasion. It makes the other allegedly scary films of today seem childish and wasteful. No teens being stalked by a cell phone killer, just a story of a priest named Karras (Jason Miller) who is losing his faith at the very same moment undisputed proof of faith is presented to him in the form of a demonically possessed little girl (Linda Blair). It's a simple story, clearly told, and worth the wait.
And that delicate tone is the key to the long durability of "The Exorcist." Give me Freddy Kruger slicing adolescents, and I will have fun watching, but I will be separated from the horror. Just an onlooker to Hollywood mayhem that doesn't draw me into the story. However, give me the snuff film plots of "8MM" or the somber (and unreleased since 1997) Johnny Depp directing debut "The Brave"; or even the "let's murder children!" plot of "Halloween III", and I will be shaking under the theater seats. It's all about getting inside the head, and "The Exorcist" gets right in there, preying on those untapped religious fears.
"The Exorcist" features plenty of visual magic and some good indulgent grossouts, but the storyline underneath the effects is the one that is truly frightening. The corruption of pure innocence is a frightening thing to ponder, and "The Exorcist" milks it for all it's worth.
The new scenes that make up "The version you've never seen!" (as all the advertising screams), are actually remnants of scenes that have shown up in various special editions of the film since the initial release more than 25 years ago. These deleted scenes are now spiffed up and fully integrated back into the film. The additions are splendid and add even more depth to an already astute film. The most infamous is the "spider walk" sequence in which we see Reagan walk down a flight of stairs inverted, with blood dripping from her mouth. Even after watching the scene time and again in it's unfinished form on the last DVD release of "The Exorcist," the moment still does not fail to disturb here in its proper place. The other additions simply expand relationships and add more context to the film. The most unnecessary addition of new footage is the extended ending featuring Father Dyer and the investigating Lieutenant Kinderman discussing a movie that Kinderman has passes for. It works as a payoff to an earlier scene in which Kinderman tries to talk Father Karras into joining him, but as a new capper to the film, it stinks. It ruins the impact of all that has come before it, and really stands out as the one flaw in a nearly perfect film.
Filmfodder Grade: A