Instead of making movies, nowadays, Hollywood just seems to REMAKE them, or they hire some cybergeeks to slap on a new coat of digital whatever. Someone punch George Lucas in his fuzzy jaw for planting this cockamamy idea in the minds of those Evian guzzlers out West. This new-found inability to LEAVE 'EM BE is evidenced in the recent retooling of the creep-classic The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen (1973/2000, 132 minutes). Fortunately, it ain't quite as lame as its title. Someone found the infamous "spider walk" scene in an old shoe box, or something, so they stuck that back in -- and also got all touchy feely with the ending. They splattered some CGI blood around, and put some ghoulies here and there, and turned up the Dark Lord's microphone for the new, fancy dancy soundtrack. And that's just the SHORT list.
The movie: While her mom is off being a movie star, young Regan (Linda Blair) roots around in a closet and comes out with a Ouija board that she somehow manages to summon the devil with -- except she calls him Captain Howdy. Soon after, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) wakes one morning to find her daughter sleeping beside her because her "bed was shaking" all night. Regan begins to act more and more strangely, culminating when she crashes her mom's cocktail party by declaring one of the guests will DIE soon, then whizzes on the carpet. Naturally, Chris becomes a bit more concerned, and a team of doctors torture the frightened girl with a barrage of tests to figure out what her damage is. The more they probe her, the more pronounced her wild-child condition becomes. She screams vulgarities. Writhes around as if she's being tossed about by unseen teamsters. Finally, one of the more perplexed physicians says something like, "Hey, um, maybe she's POSSESSED!!!" Bingo! The flick was followed by two dubious sequels. Ms. Blair was joined by Richard Burton for Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) in which he's sent to check-up on a now teenaged Regan. Original Exorcist novelist and screenwriter William Peter Blatty does his best to make up for the previous disaster with the chatty Exorcist III: Legion (1990) starring George C. Scott. There's even talk of a fourth installment (a prequel) that would chronicle Father Merrin's original encounter with ol' Scratch in the wilds of Africa. Linda has, of course, gone on to become one of our more prolific B-actresses, with her talents best showcased in the immortal women-in-prison classic Chained Heat.
Notables: No breasts. Two corpses. THE beast. One dog fight. Candle fireball. Multiple hypodermic close-ups. Gratuitous urination. Pie-zest bed. Stair tumbling. Gratuitous dream sequence. Loogie spitting. Hypnosis. Scrotum twisting. Flying picture frame. Sal Mineo humor. Head spinning. Self-gratification with crucifix. Projectile puking. Levitation.
Quotables: Father Karras (Jason Miller) is at a spiritual crossroads, "I think I've lost my faith." Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), the drunken director, updates an old joke, "There seems to be an alien pubic hair in my drink." The docs just can't help Regan, "The problem with your daughter is not her bed. It's her brain." Regan's demon cherishes its personal space, "Keep away! The sow is mine!" And later mocks the priests, "What an excellent day for an exorcism." Merrin and Karras then open the can of spiritual whup-ass, "THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!!!"
Time codes: Iraqi with crazy eye (5:52). Introduction of the classic "Tubular Bells" theme (15:23). Key to hell by Parker Brothers (22:30). The Virgin Mary defaced (32:08). An evil spirit appears (32:48). The first demonic manifestation (53:15). The famed spider walk (1:00:40). Max von Sydow arrives for the movie-poster photo shoot (1:40:44).
Audio/Video: Beautiful widescreen (1.85:1) transfer, with only the slightest bit of digital shimmering toward the middle to end of the film. Audio remastered (again) for Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Probably THE scariest aspect of The Exorcist is its soundtrack -- the satanic speech and backward masking whip around the room quite a bit, making for an even more unsettling experience.
Extras: This is where the 25th Anniversary Edition (and its companion Limited Edition) chuck this latest incarnation out of the second-story window. There's merely a lackluster commentary by director William Friedkin in which he narrates what's all ready apparent on the screen. He DOES point out the various additions, but only speaks briefly and broadly about WHY the changes were made. Also included are some glorified on-screen liner notes. Four TV commercials, two radio ads and 2 theatrical trailers for this version. Static menus with spooky audio.
Final thought: Some folks like to add cheese and bacon to their burger, others like it just fine the way it is. The same is true for the Exorcist discs. The new cut doesn't necessarily sour the meal, and some ways it juices it up. In fact, some fans will want BOTH burgers, ahem, DVDs. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.