The Exorcist Review
By Joe Lozito
It seems silly even to mention that "The Exorcist," William Friedkin's definitive horror masterpiece based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, is a definitive horror masterpiece. What is more interesting to note while watching all the gleefully restored demonic antics and the eleven extra (if not extraneous) minutes of footage, is that today, 27 years later, this film may very well never have been made.
Yes, the actual possession of little twelve year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is brought to life with boundary-pushing obscenity which would no doubt require Mr. Friedkin to do an MPAA-imposed reedit today. But the real discovery in the film is its pacing. The film is slow. It takes almost an hour to get to any of the real full-fledged mania for which the film is best known. Instead the script, written for the screen by Mr. Blatty himself, takes its time building its characters and relationships. As much time is given to Regan and her mother (a pushed-to-the-limit Ellen Burstyn) as to the two priests who come to their aid: Max von Sydow as the elder Father Merrin and Jason Miller as Father Damien Karras.
Surely, if the film were made today, Mr. Miller's role would go to Gabriel Byrne. Aside from that, though, I can't think of any modern changes that would not destroy the film's intensity and mood. Most likely, Regan would be possessed by a more wise-cracking devil with the voice of Bruce Willis or Eddie Murphy, and the two priests would probably spew macho one-liners the way Regan spews green bile ("See you in hell, devil", etc).
Thanks to Mr. Friedkin's and Mr. Blatty's craftsmanship, however, the film has characters who matter more than any modern horror film in recent memory, and an ending that is as stunningly sad as it is frightening.
Still a classic after all these years, the extra minutes in the "Version you've never seen before" do little to enhance the film - with the possible exception of a memorable walk down the stairs by the possessed Regan. Instead, the footage builds up the forgettable character of Lt. Kinderman (character actor Lee J. Cobb) with little reason except to satisfy the bee in Mr. Blatty's bonnet for this character. After the fine work he did on the film, though, I'll let him have that one.