Typical of the errant genius of William Friedkin is that he failed to ready a new version of his ‘70s masterpiece for the 25th anniversary re-release. Instead, he waits a couple of years for the less celebrated 27th anniversary and then produces a spruced up print with 11 extra minutes in the form of a ‘Director’s Cut’. And so, after years of being unable to see the film in any (legal) form, we can watch the devil and his favourite director at work on the big screen for the second time in just two years. Oh hell, indeed.
Strictly speaking this is not the director’s cut as most of the changes were made at the behest of writer/producer William Peter Blatty, who has fought for this version since 1973. And what do a quarter of a century’s worth of arguments amount to? Tidying, basically - a few plot holes covered up, a more measured build-up to the climax, some neat detail. Even the mythical ‘spider walk’ sequence is really just a quick, sharp jolt to give fresh impetus to the growing crisis.
The running time now stands at a generous 128 minutes, for the story is slight - little girl starts acting crazy, mom gets desperate, and so calls in an expert - but Blatty was right to stand firm. The effect of the added footage is to enrich and deepen a movie which is all about atmosphere in the first place.
The 11 minutes aside, what really makes this version worth catching on the big screen is the enhanced print. Digital cleaning has given shape and (horrific) form to the subliminal images peppered throughout. Even better, the sound, which has always obsessed Friedkin, now comes at you from all angles. From dog fights to rustling leaves, every nuance of noise contains the power to disturb.
The Exorcist, in any form, is not about cheap shocks or easy thrills. Watch it with a popcorn audience raised on rollercoaster rides like Scream and people will laugh. Sneak into a quiet, late night screening, give yourself over to it, believe, and you will be terrified.