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Archive for Saturday, September 23, 2000

Give in to temptation of ‘Exorcist’ rerelease

September 23, 2000

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The dark figure of Max Von Sydow standing under a streetlight in Georgetown has returned, and the question is, should you go to the devil again and see the re-release of "The Exorcist"?

Although William Friedkin's landmark horror film doesn't pack the punch and shock value it mustered in 1973, the answer is a resounding yes. "The Exorcist," with its excellent cast, mounting intensity and ingeniously constructed surprises, is still a commanding achievement. The fact that the movie's impact has been drained by more than a quarter-century of hack imitations is no fault of its creators.

"The Exorcist," in a handsome new print with a splendidly remastered soundtrack, deserves to be seen in its historical context. It is a picture that reflected a darker, edgier time in American life with a public disillusioned over the tragedy in Vietnam and corruption in Washington, D.C. At the time, it struck many people as no accident that the devil should show up in the nation's capital.

The come-on for the reissue is the addition of 12 minutes of footage and an amplified ending that William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel on which "The Exorcist" was based, always preferred. He prevailed on Friedkin to include it. I won't spoil it for many movie-goers who will be curious. Suffice it to say I prefer the original conclusion and I think most "Exorcist" fans will agree.

The other additions don't make a significant difference. The sound, however, does. Coming through multiple speakers at a volume and dynamic range undreamed of in the early 1970s, it registers with a wallop. "The Exorcist" won the Oscar for best sound. It was always a film to be heard as well as seen, and that is even more true in the new edition.

Among the fine performances, there is the gravity of Von Sydow as the senior exorcist and the anguish of Ellen Burstyn as the mother of possessed Linda Blair. And Jason Miller, who made his screen debut as Father Karras, the priest of fragile fate, reminds you how extraordinary he was in his redemptive role. So give in to temptation and revisit "The Exorcist."

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