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  top 10 list of things that enhance The Exorcist

TOP 10 LIST: New Things that enhance The Exorcist by Octavio Ramos Jr

In 1973 writer and producer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin unleashed what is arguably the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist. On September 22, 2000, they re-released the film, adding scenes originally left on the cutting-room floor and never-before-seen special effects.
   Critics are divided with respect to the new version, with some saying that it does not help the movie in any way, or far worse, detracts from the impact of the original. On the other hand, other reviewers praise some of the new scenes, including the spider-walk sequence, the pounding soundtrack, and even some of the digital effects.
   I rather enjoyed the new version of this film. Although I will keep my original version, I also will keep this new one. Below are the top-ten reasons why I think this new version is worth watching. This is not to say that this version is superior to the original, for there are new things that I do not like about this version. Still, for those of you out there who have not seen this version, here are ten reasons for why you should.
The Remastered Sound
Although The Exorcist won an Academy Award for Sound (with Robert Knudson and Chris Newman taking home the statues), the new version boasts an even better soundtrack. Digitally remastered, the film now packs a punch that actually enhances many of its sequences.
   For example, you can hear the song 'Traveling Man' in the background as Father Karras gets some beer at a bar. In the direct sequel, Exorcist III, the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) tells Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) that he is just a 'traveling man.' True fans will know about this sequence, and when listening to the new version of The Exorcist, you may experience a chill of continuity because of the sound.
   The sound also works to establish subliminal chills. For example, there is a repeating pattern of 'Tubular Bells' throughout the beginning of the film that helps bring about the demon's invasion - several sequences before we see the three blacksmiths pounding away at metal using the same sound pattern, you can hear that sound as Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) sits at a restaurant and when he is speaking to an archaeologist. Very nice touch.
A Slower, More Suspenseful Pace
The new version takes the time to establish some excellent foreshadowing by slowing down the pace and inserting new scenes that show that Regan's (Linda Blair) possession takes much longer than originally shown. For example, there are numerous new sequences with Regan interacting with medical staff. In one particularly chilling scene, Regan sees a flash of Captain Howdy's face while undergoing a laboratory procedure. In another scene, a doctor and Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) discuss Regan's blossoming use of profanity. This scene sets up later sequences, in which Regan actually uses expletives.
Opening Sequence
Originally, the film opened with a black screen and the film title in red, a Middle Eastern call to Allah in the background soundtrack. In the new version, we see Regan's house, and as the light is turned off in Regan's bedroom, the scene cuts to the alabaster statue of the Virgin Mary.
   These two scenes excellently foreshadow two scenes that come later. When Lieutenant Kinderman (originally played by Lee J. Cobb) spies on the MacNeil house from his car, he sees Regan at the window. The shot is similar to the original shot.
   Having seen the pure alabaster Virgin Mary, it comes as more of a shock when we see her later, desecrated by the demon who gives her male genitalia and hideous breasts, all of which are covered with blood.
Leaving Alone the 'Subliminals'
With all the digital enhancements, it was smart of Blatty and Friedkin not to mess with the two subliminal images of the Captain Howdy face. These single shots appear
- 1. just after the head-turning sequence and,
- 2. when Regan turns to face Fathers Merrin and Karras.
   It would have been easy to enhance these two shots, but they remain as is.
Demon Flash
Seconds before Regan reaches out and grabs a psychiatrist by his testicles, her face now morphs into that of the demon. Specifically, her eyes glow deep green, her nose becomes animal-like, and her teeth turn yellow and become fang-like. Although this shot lasts no more than two seconds, it makes the scene much more effective, for Regan - who had been answering the doctor's questions - is quickly taken over by the demon. The Stone Demon The stone face of Pazuzu - the statue Merrin faces off during the Iraq sequence - makes a brief appearance when Chris bursts into Regan's bedroom. This brief flash introduces the stone statue earlier (the next time we see the statue is when the demon attempts to seek succor during the exorcism). Thus, this digital effect helps the audience remember the Pazuzu statue a little better.
Priest Talk
During a lull in the exorcism, Fathers Merrin and Karras attempt to answer why a demon would take over a little girl. In the 1970s, without this scene, many reviewers and audience members asked this question. Although this sequence gives an answer, it offers no succor and it quite vague. Merrin's response is as follows: "To see ourselves as animal and ugly - to reject the possibility that God could love us." Merrin's delivery, one of a weary, almost beaten man, is truly chilling, particularly because we know he will die later in the battle.
Captain Howdy's Haunts
A little known fact about the Captain Howdy face used in the original version of the film is that it was actually makeup tests of stand-in Eileen Dietz. Director Friedkin had rejected he makeup but later elected to use the tests for the Captain Howdy sequences.
   In the new version of the film, Captain Howdy appears in several more scenes, thus establishing him as one of the stronger manifestations of the demon. When Chris enters the house and the power suddenly is turned off, Captain Howdy's face appears on a kitchen appliance. He also appears in a new medical sequence (revealing his guise to Regan) and during the exorcism.
Mother at the Window
This new digital insert takes place moments before Father Karras is taken over by the demon. As Karras looks toward the curtains for the first time, an image of his mother's face flashes among them, foreshadowing his death. This ghost-like image contrasts that of the demon's. To this point in the film the demon has used the guise of Karras' mother to break him down. When his mother's true guise appears, Karras gains the strength to overcome the demon temporarily and thus sacrifice himself in the name of the good.
The Spider Walk
The original version of this scene can be found in the collector's edition of the DVD. The original version has Regan striding down the staircase, stomach up, with her arms and legs like spider-like limbs. When she reaches the base of the stairs, she sticks out her tongue like a lizard, forcing it in and out.
   This new version combines this stock footage with a new short sequence. When Regan reaches the base of the stairs, she opens her mouth and spews blood. Although purists may not like the new sequence, it does work better, creating a more intense shock - a true frisson, if you will.

previously published online at VideoVista #28 - July 2001

DOWSE Guide to the Movies is compiled by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press
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