Screenwriter William Peter Blatty jokes that every October inquisitive reporters hound him for new details of what many call the scariest film of all time–his 1973 shocker The Exorcist.
The Exorcist also matters for its respectful treatment of the Catholic Church. Modern Hollywood might have used the material to throw a dig or two at the Church, or even cast aspersions on the notion of exorcisms in some meta fashion.
The film’s new Extended Director’s Cut, part of The Exorcist’s 40th Anniversary Edition, reminds audiences that a respectful tone toward faith can yield the most frightening results.
Director William Friedkin of The French Connection fame brings the story of a Georgetown single mother (Ellen Burstyn) and daughter Regan (Linda Blair, fearless in a complicated, unorthodox role) who battle the devil in their posh home.
Poor Regan begins to display extreme, destructive behavior, and the medical community appears incapable of bringing her back to health.
The Catholic Church wants nothing to do with even the notion of an exorcism. Only when the evidence piles up beyond reason does the Church allow its members to save young Regan.
The pivotal religious figures, played by Max von Sydow and Jason Miller, bring a weariness to their mission. Miller’s character is having a crisis of faith, but it’s used in a way that makes the final showdown between good and evil all the richer.
The film’s most poignant moments comes at the end, when we’re told Regan has no memory of the ghastly events we’ve just witnessed. Still, when she is introduced to a man of the cloth, she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek. It’s a silent “thank you,” a gentle moment in a movie known for its white-knuckle shocks.
No one stands atop a soap box here. It’s all about storytelling and scares, and few films accomplish both with the intensity that The Exorcist delivers. Even the film’s effects remain impressive despite the absence of modern CGI trickery. Makeup guru Dick Smith transforms the chubby-cheeked Blair into a monster without losing the essence of the pre-teen girl beneath it all.
He did that and more. Audiences have had countless sleepless nights as a result of his faith-based storytelling.
The Blu-ray release also comes with two new featurettes–Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s ‘The Exorcist” and Talk of the Devil plus a sampling from the director’s recent memoir recalling the film’s creation.