|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 December 1998|
Although it was set and released in 1973, ‘The Exorcist’ does not feel in the least dated. For those who have somehow missed the movie for all this time, it concerns an apparently happy, well-adjusted 12-year-old girl, Regan McNeil (Linda Blair), whose personality and physical health undergo a rapid, inexplicable deterioration. Finally, her up-until-now agnostic mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) beseeches a reluctant and skeptical Catholic priest (Jason Miller) to conduct an exorcism.
Why the film works as well now as it ever did is due in large part to realization on the part of director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty (adapting his own novel) that their audience would be incredulous and need a whole lot of convincing. At every turn, they seek to ground their tale of the supernatural in the recognizable world. Their characters are intelligent, articulate, sophisticated people who we can believe in, portrayed in every instance by actors giving first-rate performances; they take in the film’s frightening, otherworldly events at the same rate we do, so that they always seem to be sharing our perceptions of their situation.
While it’s known that ‘The Exorcist’ was nominated for a bundle of Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), and took the statue for Best Adapted Screenplay (to Blatty), audiophiles may particularly want to know that the film also won an Academy Award for Best Sound. The DVD brings up each layer of whisper with terrifying, silky precision, while rendering Mercedes McCambridge’s demonic bellows (the actress supplied the voice of the possessed child) as raspy and shocking as ever.
Among the film’s many special features is an audio track that contrasts Blair’s renditions of the demon’s lines (said during actual filming so that there would be correct mouth movements to go with McCambridge’s looped dialogue) with the final versions, followed by McCambridge’s experiments with tone and pacing. For those in a hurry to find this material, it is on Chapters 25-28 of the second of two audio tracks (director Friedkin supplies the other one), even though the scene in which the dialogue appears is in Chapter 31. This is preceded by author Blatty’s comments on his work and on the film. Blatty’s reminiscences and opinions are surprisingly engaging, including his discussion of the actual case that inspired his novel, his lingering frustration over viewers’ misinterpretation of the film’s climax and how he came to deface Georgetown Library property.
The wealth of engrossing supplemental material on ‘The Exorcist’ Special 25th Anniversary Edition DVD makes it a must-have for fans of the film. Even without the add-ons, the film itself is worth viewing again and again for its expert shot composition, its then-revolutionary sound techniques and, above all, its illustration of how to build tension without insulting either the material or the audience.