On an archaeological dig in Iraq, an aging Jesuit, Lancaster Merrin (Max von Sydow), senses that a terrible, ancient demon has been unearthed. A young priest, Damien Karras (Jason Miller), working with members of the clergy in Georgetown, is having a crisis of faith, torn between his work and guilt over leaving his ailing, elderly mother alone in her run-down New York apartment. A popular film star, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), is shooting a movie on location in Washington, D.C., and the townhouse she is renting is making strange noises in the night, leading her to wonder if there are rats in the attic, and her 12-year-old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), is having trouble sleeping. A rare and violent supernatural occurrence is about to bring all of these characters together.
After her film shoot wraps, Chris finds she cannot leave Washington because Regan has grown progressively worse, from bouts of insomnia to frightening behavioral and physical changes. After Chris exhausts the advice and treatment of medical professionals, Regan turns into a growling tempest, capable of unspeakable acts. Things worsen when the director of Chris’ film, Burke (Jack MacGowran), stops by to visit and is violently thrown from Regan’s bedroom window to his death on the street below. Chris is traumatized when the police suggest her daughter is the only suspect in Burke’s death. Later, brutally attacked by the vomit-spewing, odious monster that was once her daughter, a terrified Chris decides science will not help them. At the end of her rope, she seeks out Karras, whom she has seen on the streets near her home. She begs him to perform an exorcism.
For Christmas 1973, Warner Bros. unleashed The Exorcist, one of the most controversial and successful horror movies of all time. William Peter Blatty’s novel was a best seller, and Blatty, a fan of William Friedkin, could envision no one else directing the film. Friedkin was adamant the story be presented with a documentary-like approach. He wanted a serious film about the nature of good and evil engaging with questions of faith, rather than the standard type of shocks to which Blatty’s material could easily lend itself. Friedkin’s excellent instincts led him to reteam with Owen Roizman, ASC, his trusted collaborator on The French Connection. Realism was key to their approach, with dramatic lighting gradually instilling the gritty imagery with a Gothic atmosphere. Roizman’s work on the picture remains a hallmark of his illustrious career, which includes the ASC’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
Roizman’s impressive work on The Exorcist has been carefully rendered for its Blu-ray debut. Friedkin and Roizman together supervised this new 1080p transfer for both the 122-minute, original theatrical edition of the film and the 132-minute director’s cut released theatrically in 2000. The transfers seem identical and represent the best this 37-year-old film has ever looked on home screens. The image transfers carry visible grain, which feels organic, and the occasional employing of DNR is very discreet. The photography is incredibly sharp, from the sand-grain details visible in the Iraq sequences to the fine lines of interior production design. Primary colors are solid and defined, with reasonable blacks and good definition in shadows. Minor artifacting and softness in a few of the darker scenes are occasionally evident but never detract from the overall impact of the image. The DTS HD 6.1 audio on the director’s cut is remarkable. The DTS HD 5.1 surround mix on the theatrical cut is also very good, just slightly less aggressive.
Warner’s impressive two-disc Blu-ray set of The Exorcist comes in a digibook, with pages of stills, cast and crew notes and trivia. Disc 1 contains the director’s cut and is accompanied by a new commentary track from Friedkin, 50 minutes of new documentary segments (presented in HD) with cast and crew interviews, and never-before-seen footage from the set shot by Roizman. The disc finishes with theatrical trailers and radio spots.
Disc 2 presents the theatrical version of the film. It also borrows the substantial extras (in standard definition) from the original 1998 DVD, including the BBC documentary, The Fear of God, which features interviews with cast members, Friedkin, Blatty, Roizman and others. Returning, too, are audio commentaries by Friedkin, another by Blatty and an eerie audio session featuring actress Mercedes McCambridge, who famously voiced the demon.
This legendary horror film has truly been given its due on the Blu-ray format. Long after its theatrical release, The Exorcist continues to deliver its grim, often relentless barrage of shocks, as well as its lingering existential questions. To borrow a phrase from the blasphemous creature that stews in Regan’s bed, with this handsome Blu-ray, any day can be “... an excellent day for an exorcism.”