The Exorcist

Special Edition

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Details At A Glance

Category Horror Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 4 - all 1.78:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 1.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 10 - TV Spots (6) and Other Theatrical Trailers (4)
Year Released 1973 Commentary Tracks Yes, 2 - William Friedkin (Director); William Peter Blatty (Writer)
Running Time 118:56 minutes  Other Extras Documentary - The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist (52:46)
Deleted Scene - Original Ending (1:44)
Interview Gallery (3) (9:06)
Introduction by William Friedkin (2:10) 
Sketches and Storyboards (28) (2:49)
RSDL/Flipper Flipper (extras)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director William Friedkin
Warner Home Video
Starring Ellen Burstyn 
Max Von Sydow 
Lee J. Cobb 
Jack MacGowran 
Jason Miller 
Linda Blair
Case Snapper
RRP $34.95 Music Various
Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s) 
English Audio Commentary 1 (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary 2 (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    In a just world, this film would be called The Film That Set The Cause Of Mental Health Back By A Couple Of Decades. Fundamentalist Christians often whine about the theory of evolution being taught in schools as if it were fact, in spite of it coming a lot closer to fact than anything they can come up with, but they don't seem to mind if such atrocities as exorcism are portrayed as being something heroic. Holding a poor, defenceless schizophrenic down and beating the crap out of them (or otherwise tormenting them) until they either die or the symptoms of their acute crisis abate is really heroic (can you smell the stench of my sarcasm exuding from my voice yet?). As far as I am concerned, Satan/Reagan (Linda Blair) is the hero of this film, just as Satan is the hero of the Old Testament. Okay, so you can tell I am not a big fan of this film's premise for some very good reasons. None of them are to do with the construction of the story or the acting, but they are compelling and powerful reasons, certainly far more so than the reasons people hail this film as a classic piece of work.

    Anyway, if you can call the writer a moron for his glorification of one of the darkest hangovers from the Middle Ages, you certainly can't say that the actors are particularly bad for their execution of the story. Essentially, the plot begins with an archaeological dig in Iraq being led by Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), who discovers various items buried in the Middle East. Given that archaeology is a science dedicated to discovering facts, such as the fact that evidence says Jesus never even existed, the idea that a Catholic priest would be leading an archaeological dig is hilarious. Anyway, after various events in Iraq, we cut to an average upper middle class suburb in America where we see actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). After a slow build-up, we find that Regan has become possessed by not just any old demon from the old block, but by Satan himself. During the course of the film, a distraught mother attempts to find a cure for her daughter's condition. As Father Karras (Jason Miller) so wonderfully points out, exorcism is a hangover from the dark days when the Catholic church had absolute political power, and the power to brutally torture to death any poor sod they disliked. This, friends and neighbours, is the only semblance of sense in the entire story. Once it passes, prepare to kiss your sense of tolerance for a lack of believability goodbye.

    What is even more amusing is the attempt by the director, William Friedkin, to tell us that the story as written both in novel and screenplay format by William Peter Blatty is based on a true story. This "true story", as detailed on the inside of the snapper case, is one of a 14-year-old boy by the name of John Hoffman, whose Protestant parents basically sought the services of a Jesuit priest to beat the crap out of their boy until the so-called "evil spirits" left his body. If there is one thing that this Special Edition of what is a historically bound and culturally relevant horror story (much like the Bible) proves, it is this: As far as the Christian empire is concerned, the Dark Ages have never come to an end.

Transfer Quality


    This is probably the best version I have ever seen of this film, although that is saying very little. Suffice to say that you won't find a better looking presentation of this film on any other medium, and it is certainly far better than the first time I viewed this "classic", which was courtesy of a heavily edited television broadcast. The film is presented at the aspect ration of 1.78:1, complete with 16x9 Enhancement. The original theatrical presentation was at the ratio of 1.85:1, and I am not really particularly happy with the difference in spite of the fact that it is a relatively minor one. While this transfer is still not without its problems, particularly with the rather apparent graininess of some shots, the restoration process has resulted in a very sharp transfer indeed. The level of detail in such sequences as Chris MacNeil's exploration of the attic is surprisingly good, although the shadow detail is distinctly average by most standards. Thankfully, no low-level noise was present in this transfer, which is definitely the biggest advantage it is has over the VHS version I had the displeasure of viewing a couple of years ago. For all the deficiencies of this transfer, however, I can honestly say that this film has never looked so good, not even during its original theatrical presentation.

    I'm not sure what it is with some of the most recent transfers I have been reviewing, but this is another one with such dull colours that it reminds me of watching Days Of Our Lives on an old early-1980s television set. Such dull colouration is mainly the result of the way the locations in the film are designed on the cosmetic level, so this is not a fault with the transfer. The palette is very drab, limited, and lifeless, but completely believable and appropriate to the general feel of the film. MPEG artefacts didn't make any appearance in the film, thankfully. Film-to-video artefacts were a slight problem, with very slight aliasing occurring throughout the film. However, this is not especially noticeable and not particularly distracting from the film. Film artefacts are where the restoration process has been especially good to this feature, as the few film artefacts that were present were not especially intrusive.

    As one expects from Warner Brothers, packaging errors can be found in abundance. The Bulgarian and Romanian subtitles present on this disc are certainly not mentioned on the packaging. Needless to say, the description of the extra features is presented in the usual ugly fashion that Warner Brothers have become famous for. If you can proof-read, or if you have any appreciation for cosmetic design, then Warner Brothers are in dire need of you.

    This disc is a Flipper, with most of the extra features placed on Side B. Now, I know some of you readers are going to get a bit shirty with me for calling this disc a flipper, but the result of putting vital information on both sides of the disc is the same. You wind up with a disc that requires far more care and effort to keep in a playable condition, and a throwback to the days of vinyl. As one other critic who was merciless in their damning of such formatting said, let's hope these types of discs are forever banned.


    In keeping with the freshly restored look of the video transfer, we also have a wonderfully executed audio transfer, complete with what sounds like a true digital remastering. All in all, there are three audio tracks included on this DVD: the standard English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and two Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio Commentaries in English. I listened to all three audio tracks in order to satisfy my curiosity. The dialogue was generally very clear and easy to understand from start to finish, except for the sequences involving a possessed Regan which were not meant to be particularly distinct. Even the dialogue shot during the sequences in Iraq was very clear. Given the manner in which the dialogue was performed and recorded in the production of this film, the level of clarity in the dialogue is quite surprising.

    The infrequently used score music is comprised of excerpts from relatively contemporary classical music by such composers as Krzysztof Penderecki, Jack Nitzsche and Hans Werner Henze, as well as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, to name just a few of the many names mentioned in the closing credits. The choices of music and the purposes behind those choices are mentioned in the audio commentary by director William Friedkin, but overall, I found the music to be something of a distraction more than anything else. The music used does not have any strong connection with the action on the screen, nor does it have much thematic relevance to the characters being portrayed. Like the rest of the film in question, the score music tried very hard to move me and fell rather sadly short of the mark.

    The surround presence is not especially enveloping, but it does an effective enough job of giving the film an appropriately demonic feel. There is not much use of the rear channels, but the centre channel was used quite well to support the ambient sound effects and dialogue. Essentially, this film is very front-and-centre in terms of channel usage. The subwoofer did not get a lot of overt use, but it did support the overall soundtrack in a way that surpasses a lot of other films that make use of the subwoofer. If you're not expecting a Star Wars style use of the surround channels, but one with great subtlety and sparing use, then you won't be disappointed with this DVD.


    Although Warner Brothers seem to lack any understanding of how important extras are to a presentation, the extras they have included with this disc are amazingly comprehensive.


    The menu is very well themed to the film with very well-rendered graphics. They are presented in the full-screen format with 16x9 Enhancement, and make a very nice change from the pathetic menus we were given with Heat. In a rare burst of common sense for Warner Brothers, we are able to access all 48 chapters of the film from the scene selection menu, but the chapter listing on the inside of the snapper case is utterly pathetic in how it fails to coincide with the actual chapters of the film from the word go.

Theatrical Trailers

    Eight theatrical trailers are presented under various submenus, and not all of them are actually for The Exorcist. All of the trailers are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, complete with 16x9 Enhancement. The four trailers that are for The Exorcist are presented with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound, while the other four trailers are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Generally, the four trailers for The Exorcist show their age, with film artefacts showing themselves in a certain kind of abundance. Under the Reel Recommendations menu, trailers are presented for Beetlejuice (1:25), The Devil's Advocate (2:14), Fallen (2:20), and Interview With The Vampire (2:29). The quality of these trailers is somewhat variable, but generally good. The trailers for The Exorcist are listed as Nobody Expected It (1:42), Beyond Comprehension (0:31), Flash Image (1:45), and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1:47). The actual trailers relating to The Exorcist are only of vague interest and suffer the general limitations of most trailers for films made in this era. Nonetheless, they do justify the once-over.

Television Spots

    Six television commercials for The Exorcist are presented under their own submenu. They are all presented in Full Frame format without 16x9 Enhancement, and with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. The six commercials are listed as Beyond Comprehension (0:33), You Too Can See The Exorcist (0:34), Between Science And Superstition (1:03), The Movie You've Been Waiting For (1:03), Nobody Expected It (0:33), and Life Had Been Good (0:33). The second of these commercials is especially hilarious stuff, and well worth the effort to watch. However, the quality of these television commercials is not the best.

Audio Commentary - William Friedkin (director)

    This commentary is poorly mixed with the original audio soundtrack, and a bit of effort has to be made in order to properly hear what William Friedkin is saying. However, what he does say during the course of the film often makes me want to scream at him that he hasn't made another Amadeus or Star Wars, he's just made a typical summer horror blockbuster that is long on hype and short on intelligence. It's worth listening to once, maybe, but I would not take the time to listen to it again. One thing in Friedkin's favour, however, is the fact that he doesn't feel the need to keep on speaking when he has nothing of any great value to tell the listener.

Audio Commentary - William Peter Blatty (writer)

    Sadly, this is not a full-length commentary, clocking in at somewhere in the neighbourhood of fifty-seven minutes. Like William Friedkin, he has no desire to speak incessantly, although I feel that this indicates he has little of any interest to say. A lot of what he does say has little to do with the action on the screen, and more to do with the background information of the film. After the commentary ends, we are treated to a thirteen-minute demonstration of the vocal sound effects done by one Mercedes McCambridge and inserted into the soundtrack to replace the lines spoken by Linda Blair, as well as what sound like some test recordings of these effects. I didn't find either part of this commentary to be particularly interesting.

Documentary - The Fear Of God: 25 Years Of The Exorcist (52:46)

    This is a shorter version of a documentary available on the Region 1 release. Said documentary was produced by the BBC for the film's 25th anniversary, and its original length is around 74 minutes. This documentary is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. If you're interested in how some of the effects in the film were achieved, then this documentary has a lot to offer.

Introduction by William Friedkin (2:10)

    This is an introduction to the film, specially recorded for the film's 25th Anniversary. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Deleted Scene - Original Ending (1:44)

    This is a sequence that was cut from the end of the film and has not been restored. It does not add anything to the picture in the overall sense. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, without 16x9 Enhancement. The sound is restricted to Dolby Digital 1.0, which is just fine given that the only real sound in this sequence is speech.

Sketches And Storyboards

    A collection of twenty-eight drawings to demonstrate how the look of the film was developed. There is no annotation of any kind, but even without it, this is an interesting comparison to the final film. My interest in this extra was rather limited, but others may find it to be of more interest.

Interview Gallery

    This is just a collection of three interview segments that appear to be pieces taken out of the documentary. They are presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, still without 16x9 Enhancement, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin appear to have a few differences of opinion about aspects of the film, but this is about the only interesting thing about these interview segments.

R4 vs R1

    Basically, the difference between the two versions of this film boils down to the full-length documentary feature, or the PAL formatting. Given how much more the Region 1 version would cost, and the fact that it is still packaged in one of those crappy snapper cases, I think it is a better idea to stick with the Region 4 version for now.


    The Exorcist makes me wonder what all the fuss is about, and has done since I first saw it around a decade ago. However, in that passing time, I have grown to be progressively more and more unimpressed with this film for reasons I've already covered in this review. This particular DVD presentation, however, is certainly the best presentation you're likely to see for some time. If you're not as ticked off by the story as I am, this DVD is worth the investment.

    The video quality is good, and I have never seen the film look quite so good before.

    The audio quality is good, and I don't think I've heard it sound this good before, either.

    The extras are very comprehensive, but your enjoyment of them will depend a lot on your enjoyment of the film itself.

    One thing I must be concurrent with Ian about is the call for the ditching of the snapper case. I've lost count of the number of times the artwork on a DVD that I've just purchased or received for review has been severely eroded on one of these cases. A special edition of any film, regardless of how much in poor taste the film is, does not deserve such cheap and nasty-looking packaging.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
March 1, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer