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THE EXORCIST: The Making of the Restored Version - Part Two
Fandom's look at the classic horror film's restored footage, plus video clips and the film's trailer.
By Paul Davis
September 21, 2000
After a quarter of a century of terrifying audiences worldwide, THE EXORCIST recently went under the knife and recovered 13 minutes! Opening in over 800 theatres across America on September 22nd, THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU'VE NEVER SEEN contains an entire reel's worth of previously excised footage and also a brand new digital soundtrack bringing the haunting moans of Mercedes McCambridge's demon voice into the new millennium.
When producer-author, William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin agreed to re-cut THE EXORCIST, they had initially determined to reinstate the scenes that Blatty felt the movie needed in order to clarify the ethical underpinnings, but once in the cutting room they agreed on restoring eight complete scenes, some of which never made Friedkin's first cut. In addition to this, a number of subliminal images (of the same white-faced demon briefly glimpsed in the original cut) would be placed throughout the filmand
there would be a brand new opening shot at the beginning of the movie! This beautiful shot, previously unseen by fans of the film, was added for ethereal valuevery atmospheric and very indistinct, this single shot helps brings the new cut into its own.
From then on, the movie proceeds as normal, starting in Northern Iraq and swiftly fading to Georgetown. Thirty-five minutes into the movie comes the first of the restored scenes: Regan's initial medical examination, followed by a consultation between Chris MacNeil and Dr. Klein. The scene begins with a series of short sequences in which Regan is undergoing various physical examinationsan ophthalmoscope, tuning fork and simple coordination tests. The conversation between Chris and Klein is as humorous as it is disturbing. The importance of this scene was surprisingly overlooked when Friedkin deleted it from the movie. Here, we learn for the first time that Regan is having trouble coping with the divorce of her parents and that her hyperactivity (as seen earlier when Regan is wrestled to the floor by her mother for stealing a cookie) is a condition connected with the early stages of adolescence. Then out of nowhere comes a disturbingly funny exchange when Dr. Klein questions Chris about Regan's use of profanity. The omission of this scene left a gaping hole in the structure of the movie. Without it, the urinating scene had no weight as we had no indication that Regan was sick. The following is how the scene runs in the restored cut:
Chris is seated on the edge of a chair. Klein is behind his desk, writing a prescription.
DR. KLEIN: A disorder of the nerves. At least we think it is. We don't know yet exactly how it works, but it's often seen in earl adolescence. She shows all the symptoms: the hyperactivity; the temper; her performance in math.
CHRIS: Why the math?
DR. KLEIN: It affects concentration.
Here tears the prescription away from the pad.
DR. KLEIN: Now this is for Ritalin. Ten milligrams a day.
CHRIS: What is it? A tranquilliser?
DR. KLEIN: A stimulant.
CHRIS:- Stimulant? She's higher than a kite right now!
DR. KLEIN: Her condition isn't quite what it seems. Nobody knows the cause of her hyper-kinetic behaviour in a child. The Ritalin seems to work to relieve the condition, but we really don't know how or why, frankly. Your daughter's symptoms could be an overreaction to depression, but that's out of my field.
DR. KLEIN: Well, you mentioned her father...the divorce.
CHRIS: Do you think I should take her to see a psychiatrist?
DR. KLEIN: Oh no. I'd wait and see what happens with the Ritalin. I think that's the answer. Wait two or three weeks.
CHRIS: And those lies she's been telling?
DR. KLEIN: Lies?
CHRIS: Ya know, those things to get attention, like saying that her bed shakes and stuff.
DR. KLEIN: Have you ever known your daughter to swear and use obscenities?
DR. KLEIN: Well, you see, that's quite similar to things like her lyinguncharacter-
CHRIS: Wait a minute. What are you talking about?
DR. KLEIN: Well, she let loose quite a string while I was examining her, Mrs. MacNeil.
CHRIS: You're kidding! Like what?
DR. KLEIN: Well, I'd say her vocabulary's rather extensive.
CHRIS: Well, what, for example? I mean, give me a for instance!
Klein shrugs. No reply.
CHRIS: Hey, come on, I'm grown-up. What'd she say? I mean specifically, Doctor.
DR. KLEIN: Well, specifically, Mrs. MacNeil, she advised me to keep my fingers away from her goddamn c*nt.
Immediately following this meeting is a now much more coherent party sequence. Another thirty minutes and a few new subliminals later comes the scene that everybody wants to see: the 'Spider-walk!' Varying from the version shown in the supplemental section of the 25th anniversary DVD, this creepy sequence shows Regan crawling backwards down a flight of stairs with an extremely bloody climax! Special effects guru Marcel Vercoutere told Fangoria
of this version way back in 1983. '...she...runs down the stairs on her hands and legs upside-down! All the way down the stairs.... That scene was kinda bloody... Blood was running down all over her face, because she was upside-down at the time.'
The 'Spider-walk' was filmed on April 11th 1973, performed by stuntwomen Linda R. Hager rather than Blair. William Friedkin's first explanation for cutting this legendary scene was that he could not make a conversion between the news of Burke Dennings' death and the 'Spider-walk' that instantly followed. Friedkin claims that he never shot any reaction shots from Sharon (Kitty Winn); therefore, the scene would not work. The truth, however, is that Friedkin did not like the way the effect looked when he played it back in the cutting room. He felt it was too extreme and out of place. However, now in the realm of computer technology, the director was able to play make it look more convincing and certainly more frightening.
The next restored scene is more of an extension than a completely reinstated sequence. If the unholy bellows of Regan screaming, 'I am no one!' gave you a chill, prepare yourself for more! The scene where Father Karras is having the tape examined is more comprehensive, with more dialogue and nerve jangling screams from the demon. The purpose of the extension is to show the first signs of Karras' growing belief that Regan's manifestations are not secular, and that he is dealing with a force greater than modern science.
Coming into the final half of the movie, the next new sequence we are to see is a very light-hearted and down-to-Earth view of Father Merrin. Upon his arrival at the MacNeil home, Chris MacNeil offers Merrin a coffee, followed by a brief 'chatty' exchange between the two. The dialogue is as follows:
CHRIS: You must really be tired, Father. Would you like a cup of coffee?
He sees her fidgeting hands, her nervous glances upward at the sound of demonic raging.
MERRIN: If you're sure it's no trouble.
Merrin takes a seat in the study, Chris enters with a pot of coffee.
CHRIS: Want some brandy in it Father?
MERRIN: Well, the doctors say I shouldn't. But thank God my will is weak.
Chris looks uncertain until he gives a gentle smile; she smiles back and pours brandy into his mug.
A few minutes later, we see a beautiful shot of Sharon turning up her personal radio in order to shroud the bellowing howls from Regan's bedroom. Then we are presented with a scene that owners of the DVD will recognise. During the break in the exorcism Karras asks Merrin what the reason is behind the possession. Why Regan? Friedkin initially did not want this exchange in the movie because he felt the audience did not need the entire story explained to them. Looking at the scene now, it is clearly an instance of downhearted incomprehension between the two priests rather than an explanatory one. Essentially what Merrin is telling Karras is that Regan is not the target, but the spectators! Everybody witnessing this horror is being taunted by the demon, and to tell an audience that they are the reason that this little girl is going through such torment and anguish is a powerful declaration that should not have been ignored by Friedkin.
KARRAS: Why this girl? It makes no sense.
MERRIN: I think the point is to make us despair... to see ourselves as animal and ugly... to reject the possibility that God could love us.
With the new footage hitting a running time of eight minutes before the exorcism is over, we are left with two short yet sweet scenes new to the film. The first is a brief moment of warmth between Chris MacNeil and Father Dyer. In the original cut of the movie, we see Chris hand the medallion of St. Joseph to Dyer as a commemoration of Father Karras. In the new cut, Dyer hands the medal immediately back to Chris, implying Karras' sacrifice has touched her life in a way that will be remembered by her. From there, we are presented with the last scene of the movie. Dyer's momentary glare down the M Street stairwell (the old ending) is followed by Blatty's beloved conclusion (more or less lifted from Casablanca
). Heading back toward Prospect Street, Father Dyer finds Lt. Kinderman outside the MacNeil house; they engage conversation about movies (a mannerism seen earlier in the film between Kinderman and Karras), and they walk off together arm in arm.
Speculation as to whether the ending would make the revised cut was laid to rest after the scene was cut short of the missing dialogue and seemed to work better that way. What we now have, instead of the open-ended climax of the previous version, is a sanguine message that the memory of Karras lives on through Dyer; God is in his heaven, and all is right in the world. William Peter Blatty was upset that the previous ending of THE EXORCIST left many people confused as to who was victorious, Karras or the demon. With his original ending back in place, the answer is clearer than an Azure sky!
So with this new cut ready to test the stamina of a more 'Scream'-cultured audience, how will it shape up against recent successes such as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and THE HOLLOW MAN? William Friedkin seems very optimistic about the chances of success for THE EXORCIST today. 'It is true that special effects are better done today than they were in 1973, but THE EXORCIST does not totally rely on effects for its impact.' And how does the director feel now that he has finally granted writer William Peter Blatty's wish for a restored version? 'Although I have not felt this way for many years, I do now feel that this new version or complete version of the film is the very best and the one that will live on.'