Cult Movies: The Exorcist is still incredibly over-rated - even in its deluxe new 4K release

Ralph slaughters a sacred cow beloved of horror aficionados everywhere

A scene from The Exorcist, which was based on the novel by the late William Peter Blatty
A scene from The Exorcist, which was based on the novel by the late William Peter Blatty

I CAN practically hear Mark Kermode spinning on his critical crucifix as I write this, but I’ve never really liked The Exorcist.

Maybe it’s the decades of endless spoofs and parodies - you know the craic: fake spinning heads, bile spewing out like burst water pipes and all that toilet talk about what your mother likes to do in the lower depths of hell – that have soured me to William Friedkin’s 1973 tale of demonic possession.

Perhaps, and this is more likely to be honest, it’s the fact that I’m too young to have seen the film the way it should be seen. In other words, on a big screen with a late night cinema audience of whooping horror hounds.

Instead, I had to make do with rubbish, faded VHS copies passed around by fellow film buffs in the days before HD was even a twinkle in the eye of Hollywood home entertainment moguls.

Which is why, he wrote, finally getting to the point, the brand new 4K edition just issued by Warners is such a boon to me. Sparkling like only a freshly-minted ultra high definition transfer can, The Exorcist now looks better than ever before. But does an upgrade in viewing quality mean a better film? Well, that’s debatable frankly.

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As a straight-ahead demonic chiller, it certainly delivers the goods. A deadly simple tale of possession and the steps taken to rid a sweet Georgetown kid of it, it boasts some excellent performances with just about everyone – from the great Max Von Sydow to Jason Miller and the brilliant Lee J Cobb – taking their roles and fleshing them out impressively from the start.

Right at the top of the list is Linda Blair as Regan. Watching her turn to the dark side, with all the gruesome practical special effects and garish green face make-up that entails, remains a remarkable sight.

A scene from The Exorcist in 1973 starring Linda Blair, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller

This crisp new HD print captures those infamous effects handsomely, if perhaps a little too clearly, with the lack of grit and grain in certain sequences leaving the caked-on make up a tad too clear to see in all its eye-popping glory.

Aside from the new high-end visuals on offer, this 4K reissue also delivers a jolt-heavy new sound mix which jumps from the speakers with shocking frequency and adds enormously to the overall tension Friedkin builds on-screen.

The director manages to craft a slightly seedy atmosphere of evil very effectively and William Peter Blatty’s screenplay, from his own novel, is neatly paced, winding us up nicely for those garish set pieces that allow a little much needed release.

The Exorcist was released in 1973

As is often the way with these things, this new package is creaking under the weight of nice looking but ultimately pointless artefacts and bonus features you’ll probably never get around to actually watching. While it makes for a lovely item that would look nice on anyone’s shelves, does it make the film any better than it was before? The answer, for me, is no.

The Exorcist remains a perfectly acceptable but wildly over-hyped horror and it’ll take more than a nicely curated boxset to make think anything otherwise.