The film follows actress Chris MacNeil and her 12-year-old daughter Regan, who begins to exhibit an explicit new personality as strange events befall the local area of Georgetown. Chris becomes torn between science and superstition in a desperate bid to save her daughter, and ultimately turns to her last hope: Father Damien Karras, a troubled priest who is struggling with his own crisis of faith.
Released in the US on December 26, 1973, The Exorcist electrified a generation of moviegoers who lined up for hours on end to see the film, only to run back out again due to its shocking and controversial scenes. The film struck a nerve with the unsuspecting public, and divided critics, going where no film had dared to go before.
After 40 celebrated years and countless sequels, prequels, parodies, and rip-offs, it remains just as chilling and effective as it was when it first premiered, continuously topping the annual ‘Scariest Movies of All Time’ lists and – when adjusted for inflation – it is still one of the highest grossing horror films of all time.
The Exorcist had its broadcast premiere on CBS on the 12th of February, 1980. This version of the film received numerous edits by director William Friedkin, removing all the profanity and explicit imagery in order to be deemed suitable for television.
Most of the profanity and “blasphemous” language was either dubbed with new dialogue (by actress Ellen Burstyn) or cut out completely. As he did not wish to work with Mercedes McCambridge again, Friedkin himself provided some of the demon’s new lines (for example, the infamous “your mother sucks cocks in hell” was replaced with “your mother still rots in hell”).
There are also a couple of alternate shots, most notably an insert of the Virgin Mary statue crying blood, which was filmed especially for the broadcast, replacing the more explicit image of a desecrated Mary seen in the theatrical cut. A slightly extended transition between Regan and Captain Howdy can also be seen in the close-up shot after Merrin arrives at the house.
This version of the film is rarely – if ever – used anymore.
You can view clips from the original broadcast on our YouTube channel here, with every edit and corresponding timestamp listed in the description.
25th Anniversary Edition
The 25th anniversary edition of The Exorcist, released in 1998, was the first home video release not based on the 1977 print of the film. Instead, it featured a newly restored transfer with a digitally remastered soundtrack, and a new introduction by William Friedkin before the opening credits. Friedkin also took advantage of digital technology to smooth out the jump cut of Karras at the end of the film.
The 25th anniversary edition was the first time The Exorcist was available in the UK since 1984, after being refused classification and thus banned from sale.
The Version You’ve Never Seen
The Version You’ve Never Seen was released in 2000 and contains 11 minutes of extra footage that was originally cut by William Friedkin during post-production in 1973. This includes the infamous spiderwalk scene, early visits with Regan to the doctors, and an extended ending.
Digital technology also gave Friedkin the chance to add in some extra effects and “subliminal” images (which are generally unfavourable with fans), and fix continuity issues such as Chris wearing a fur coat in one shot, and not in the next. This version also has additional music cues throughout the film.With the release of The Exorcist on Blu-ray in 2010, the film’s subtitle was changed from The Version You’ve Never Seen to the Extended Director’s Cut. Content-wise, both versions are identical except the “subliminal” images of the Pazuzu statue in Regan’s room have now been removed.
A few seconds of footage is also missing from both The Version You’ve Never Seen and the Extended Director’s Cut. The first is a shot of Regan laughing with guests during the party at the MacNeil house. The second, when Regan is listening to Chris’ phone call with the operator; the dialogue “I’ve been on this fucking line for 20 minutes” has been cut along with the shot of Regan loosening her shoelaces.
DVD & Blu-ray Comparisons
Over the years there have been multiple releases of The Exorcist on home video, utilizing four different prints of the film. From its initial release on VHS, up until the first bare-bones DVD in 1997, the print used was from the 1977 theatrical re-release. The 25th anniversary (1998), The Version You’ve Never Seen (2000) and Blu-ray (2010) each used their own new transfers.
The 1997 DVD, while at times muddy and cropped quite heavily into the picture, featured mostly superior colours to the 25th anniversary and The Version You’ve Never Seen releases; leaning towards more natural, warmer tones throughout the entire film.
The 25th anniversary introduced a much cooler colour grading, with skin tones looking quite unnatural – almost violet – at times. Many scenes also appeared to be very desaturated. The Version You’ve Never Seen was mostly identical to the 25th anniversary, albeit with more contrast and less grain.
The Blu-ray version is, thus far, the best the film has looked. It’s vibrant, the blacks are black, and the natural colours are restored to the film. It still retains a blueish tint during the colder scenes (the exorcism, for example). However, unlike TVYNS, it’s not overdone and skin tones still look natural.