The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen

The Exorcist - The Version You've Never SeenSynopsis: The Scariest Movie Of All Time.

Brace yourself as one of the all-time spellbinders possesses you all over again. Director William Friedkin and producer/screenwriter William Peter Blatty have revisited The Exorcist to integrate 11 minutes of scenes and images deleted before the film’s 1973 release and digitally restore the picture and audio elements. The result is an experience more gripping than ever.

Now seen are moments deepening the impact of the performances by Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow and Lee J. Cobb. They include a “nervous disorder” diagnosis, expansion of Father Merrin’s arrival before the ritual, priestly doubts during the ritual, an epilogue with Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer and most notably, a shattering staircase descent by Regan. Winner of Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay (by Blatty) and Sound, The Exorcist astonishes time and again like no other movie.

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The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen 8.25

eyelights: the pace.
eyesores: the spiderwalk.

“La plume de ma tante.”

In 1998, for the 25th anniversary of ‘The Exorcist‘, Warner Bros released lavish home video packages that generated new interest in the horror film classic. For starters, in the special features of the VHS and DVD was the footage of a previously unseen excised sequence of Regan doing a “spiderwalk”.

Naturally this release was very well-received and, bolstered by this reception, Warner Bros. and director William Friedkin got to work on a major re-issue of the original film, re-edited to include deleted material, excise old footage, and add new special effects as well as an entirely reworked soundtrack.

It was released in cinemas in 2000 with the clunky subtitle of “The Version You’ve Never Seen” (it’s since known as the “Extended Director’s Cut”). It made a fortune.

Friedkin claims that he had originally intended the excised material to be in the picture, but that the studio balked at its lengthy run-time and asked for him to cut it down. He removed the material he felt was unnecessary then, but claims that this newly revamped version is the one he always intended – and it’s his favourite.

Of course, this is the same man who revisited ‘The French Connection’ and upset its fans by changing the colour timing on it (he’s since had to return it to its original look – something he’ll never have to do with this one, given its commercial success). So his judgement, some 30 years later, is questionable.

And that’s the rub. Filmmakers who revisit their works are not the same people who first made them back in the day: they have had different life experiences, have different outlooks, and different means. So there’s no way that the retooled versions of their past works are valid – at best, they are mere curiosities.

If anything, I feel that this is more of a commercial move than an artistic one. And it’s part of a trend that was growing at the time, in the wake of George Lucas’ bastardized versions of his original ‘Star War’ trilogy, the so-called “Special Editions”: studios started to milk their films’ fans by retouching their classics.

Although I saw Lucas’ “Special Editions” at the big screen, I didn’t go see “The Version You’ve Never Seen”. By that point, it was already abundantly clear that retouching a film doesn’t necessarily make it better; for all the improvements, there are tons of poor decisions being made. All you end up with is another imperfection.

And spoiled memories.

‘The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen’, is interesting because it doesn’t change that much: there are maybe four significant new scenes in all, and the others are more subtle. And yet, somehow, it changes the result enough that it doesn’t have the same impact at all, doesn’t build up in the same way.

In fact, within 15 minutes I was already wondering why the picture felt less subtle to me. It could very well be my bias against such retoolings, I admit, but from the onset there were changes that signified a different approach than originally envisioned back in 1973. This altered the tone of the picture.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

  • Right from the start, the opening is different. Instead of going straight to Iraq and Father Merrin, we are shown shots of Regan’s house and the street below, with a couple walking by it. It’s dark, spooky, meant to reconnect the audience with the picture – which they’ve presumably seen already. Because it otherwise makes no sense to show this before the credits to new audiences; it’s disparate, out of place.
  • A major change is this long scene of Regan getting a medical exam done. She’s all weird, acting up, …etc. Afterwards, the Doctor tells her mother that he’ll prescribe Ritalin. The problem for me is that, interesting as it is, the scene doesn’t let Regan’s illness creep up on us. The breadth of her issues is known very early on.
  • Then there’s the infamous spiderwalk scene, which is short and rather a bit abrupt. I mean, seriously, there’s no mention of it at all afterwards, as though this was an easily forgettable moment in that household. As if. It’s cool to see, but it brings nothing to the table. And, really, blood pouring from her mouth? C’mon…
  • There was also a short sequence in which Father Karras listens to recordings of Regan and her mother talking. What was that? Where did he get those recordings? And what was the point of the scene? Most superfluous it is.
  • And then there’s the ending, which is on a light note, as opposed to the original, which is more melancholy, perfectly in tune with the vibe of the picture. Giving audience a “happy” ending is a poor decision, ruining the tone.
  • Friedkin also added ghostly faces and images of Pazuzu here and there throughout this version. And some CGI effects. Similarly, he redid some of the soundtrack to make it scarier, added some Foley work. The point was obviously to dial up the “scariness” of the picture.

These changes are heavy-handed and unnecessary, and it shows the lack of subtlety ins Friedkin’s approach now, many years later. These are not decisions he would have made back then – because he simply would have made them.

  • Father Merrin also gets more screentime as they wait prior to the exorcism, and prepare to get started. I like the character, but I enjoyed the quick and dirty quality of his appearance in the original film.

There are a lot little changes along the way, many inconsequential. For a more detailed rundown, please visit the following webpage: http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=5706806

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

It’s strange because this version of the picture, even though it’s substantially the same film, feels more like a modern film than the original. In some ways, it’s more in line with ‘The Exorcist III‘ in style and tone-wise. Perhaps that’s an improvement from a series’ perspective, but I loved the film as it was.

The fact is that some of the changes that Friedkin made took up no screen time at all and could easily have been included in the original film -yet were only added now. This suggests that there are merely a case of revisionism, not a restoration. And that’s why I’m not a fan of this so-called “Director’s cut”, which is weaker.

Thankfully, both versions are readily available, and are usually part of the same package. This is likely due to the incessant flack that George Lucas receives (and rightly so!) for only making his revisionist Star Wars films available, and not the original versions. So Friedkin made both versions of ‘The Exorcist’ available.

Frankly, I can easily pretend that this new cut is indeed “the version I’ve never seen”. This one is redundant, and the original is a far superior chiller.

Story: 9.0
Acting: 9.0
Production: 9.0

Chills: 8.5
Gore: 7.0
Violence: 4.0

Date of viewing: October 13, 2014

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2 responses to “The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen

  1. Great post.

    I only watched The Exorcist for the first time last weekend having only seen bits and pieces. I didn’t realise but I actually saw this version. I think I need to seek out the original.

    • Yes, please do. Of course, now it might be hard to see it with a fresh outlook, but I certainly hope that you enjoy it. Either way, let me know what you think of it when you do see it. 🙂

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