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The Exorcist Turns 50 on 4K for Warner Bros.’ 100th

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Continuing the year-long centennial celebration for the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. Pictures, a stone cold classic arrives smack dab in Halloween season when horror fans stack up as many film viewings the way kids stack up candy. At or near the top of everyone’s ranks of the greatest horror films of all-time is William Friedkin’s authoritative masterpiece The Exorcist. The 1973 genre phenomenon turns 50 years old this year and hits store shelves for the first-time in 4K Ultra HD disc on September 19th. Film Obsessive was granted a preview copy to review for our “On the Shelf” series.


A man with a fedora and handbag stands in silhouette with a street light in The Exorcist.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

As many horror lovers can recount, The Exorcist is a landmark horror film directed by The French Connection’s William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty adapting his own novel that was hot read two years before in 1971. The story revolves around Chris MacNeil (Oscar nominee and future winner Ellen Burstyn), a loving mother, who becomes increasingly alarmed when her 12-year-old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair, also nominated for an Academy Award), exhibits disturbing and violent behavior, including obscene language and physical contortions. 

Medical and psychiatric examinations fail to explain Regan’s condition, leading Chris to seek help from Father Damien Karras (Pulitzer Prize winner and Oscar nominee Jason Miller), a troubled priest wrestling with his own crisis of faith. As Regan’s symptoms worsen, Father Karras and Father Merrin (longtime screen favorite Max von Sydow) are called upon to perform an exorcism to expel the malevolent demon possessing her. In delving into this realistic and palpable darkness, the film explores themes of faith, doubt, and the battle between good and evil. The Exorcist has been renowned for its shocking and unsettling imagery, including Regan’s iconic head-spinning and projectile vomiting, making it a classic in the horror genre and a cultural touchstone for generations of moviegoers.

Controversies, vomit, and wide audience reactions be damned, The Exorcist drew audience curiosity. It was the highest-grossing movie of 1973 grossing over $190 million domestically, which puts The Exorcist in the all-time top 10 for inflation-adjusted earnings and ticket sales. The film was nominated for an astounding ten Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Friedkin, Best Actor for Miller, Best Actress for Burstyn, and Best Supporting Actress for Linda Blair. It would win two (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound), which were historic Oscar firsts for a horror film. By 2010, the United States Library of Congress selected The Exorcist for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Universal Pictures is releasing a legacy sequel, The Exorcist: Believer, with Burstyn returning to reprise her role this October.


The cover art for The Exorcist 4K disc release
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

The Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs for The Exorcist include both the 1973 theatrical version of the film and the 2000 Extended Director’s Cut of the film which features eleven additional minutes of footage not seen in theaters. As usual with these Warner Bros. 100th anniversary 4K releases, the menus are very basic and the features are selected carryovers from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.

After an introduction from William Friedkin, who recently passed away this year, the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc retains two commentary tracks. One is Friedkin solo talking very clinically about shot selection, preparation, and locations. As with the original DVD version, it feels very edited and assembled from multiple recordings/settings and not a single, dedicated session. The same goes for the second commentary track that merges writer William Peter Blatty and special sound effects tests and drops. Coming more from the creative mind, that track can be fun for viewers looking for a little extra immersion with their education experience. 

In the featurette menus, the 70-minute 25th anniversary piece, “The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist” returns for the 4K, and stands as the thickest dive into the film’s production. Next to it are a clip of the original ending and three interview sessions with original author William Peter Blatty. Those are titled “The Original Cut,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “The Final Reckoning.” There is a small feature of storyboard sketches to extend the creative origins of The Exorcist. On the more promotional side, the menu includes six TV spots and three trailers.

The Exorcist Director’s Cut disc offers a few more DVD carryovers, including two radio spots, four more TV spots, and two more trailers. Those are the easiest nuggets to stuff in where Warner Bros. has sometimes skimped this year. Friedkin has his assembled commentary alongside five special featurettes. “Talk of the Devil,” “Raising Hell,” “Faces of Evil,” “The Exorcist Location: Georgetown Then and Now” highlight the film’s production process and Blatty appears again for “Beyond Comprehension.”

Throughout this anniversary year, Warner Bros. has been centering more and more on 4K exclusivity. These new editions used to include an additional basic Blu-ray to accommodate older players and be a dumping ground for the special features. Now, it’s just the 4K and a digital copy code. To see the studio focus and tune everything to the top format is appreciated, even if it leaves older collectors in the lurch. 

Thinking about the present, it would have been nice to see the studio bring people back together for any reflection or retrospective for the current 50th anniversary, especially with Burstyn still active and before the very-local Friedkin passed away this summer. Still, to see The Exorcist carry as many extras as it does from the usual studio that skimps is very appreciated.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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