Today we heard the first word on a Blu-ray box set containing every single Exorcist film. A release that’s sure to challenge Anchor Bay’s upcoming Halloween release for the title of “Most Uneven Blu-ray Collection Of 2014,” not only does this set have both versions of William Friedkin's 1973 masterpiece, but EVERY sequel, all of which are hitting Blu-ray for the first time.
But for one reason or another, none of the sequels seem to enjoy the prestige of the original. So why would you buy this box set? I can't tell you that. All I can tell you is why I'm probably going to buy it.
First up we have Exorcist II: The Heretic, which I haven’t seen since its theatrical release in 1977. I remember almost nothing, only that I recall a nonsensical mess. Mostly I remember swarms of locusts. But my younger self certainly wasn't aware of the film's frankly great pedigree - Richard Burton and Louise Fletcher starring, John Boorman directing, Ennio Morricone scoring and the great William A. Fraker shooting the thing. I guess a fuzzy memory and an HD remaster are good enough reasons to revisit this one; it should, at the very least, look and sound pretty good.
Next is 1990’s Exorcist III, directed by William Peter Blatty, writer and producer of the original film, as well as the series’ source novels. This is the best news about this release, and I'm super excited to free up 2% of my DVR when this baby hits! Exorcist III is its own beast for most of its running time - evocative and scary as it capitalizes on Georgetown as a location, a hospital as a setting, and Brad Dourif as a Brad Dourif character. The ending is a little rushed/shoehorned (the film realizes at the 11th hour that it needs to get around to an actual exorcism to earn the title), but for an hour and change this movie is a respectable entry, still the second best in the series. Holy shit, those jump scares.
Then comes the weird fork in the road. In 2002, Morgan Creek hired Paul Schrader to replace an ailing John Frankenheimer on an Exorcist prequel. Upon completion, the studio shelved Schrader’s film and hired Renny Harlin to make another version, released in 2004 as Exorcist: The Beginning. Harlin’s film came and went, underwhelming on all fronts. The end? Nope. As one story goes, Schrader’s contract guaranteed his cut of the film some sort of release. Morgan Creek threw a few more dollars at Schrader’s version and screened it at a film fest in Brussels (as Dominion: A Prequel To The Exorcist), where it was rather enthusiastically received. Everyone loves an underdog!
This led to a DVD release for Dominion, and an interesting opportunity for cinephiles - an up-close look at the process of studio meddling! So many films try to explore the filmmaker’s creative process; here was an unorthodox, unique way to watch what happens when two filmmakers - one a stubborn iconoclast, the other a studio-friendly hired gun - approach the same material. While in my opinion neither film is particularly successful, I’ve always thought of them as two halves of a whole, their true value seen only when watched together. Or at least close together. And since, according to the trade advertisement below, the only way to get Dominion is with the set (all the other sequels are available as single-disc releases), I’m probably in the bag for the whole thing. If the studio wanted to do something really interesting, they’d throw a fee at Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader, and have them sit together to do a commentary track for both their entries, but I don’t run Hollywood.
More good news gleaned from this ad: the discs will certainly be affordable, and seem to retain the original poster art! It’s the little things.
The set hits on September 23rd.