Starring: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller
“I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.” (Father Merrin, The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen)
(Note: if you haven’t read my review of The Exorcist yet, it may be best to check it out first.)
Although The Exorcist was a worldwide smash hit and remains Warner Bros’ highest-grossing film at the box office (after inflation), William Peter Blatty remained unsatisfied. As the author of the book on which the film was based he felt some key scenes had been dropped, scenes that would have given viewers the message he originally wanted to express.
William Friedkin, the film’s director, disagreed. He felt the film worked perfectly as it was and told Blatty he was being “a bad winner”, that they were both making a fortune on a hugely critically successful film and he should be happy with the recognition. The two fell out for a while because of this dispute.
Time passed and Blatty and Friedkin resolved their differences and became friends again. Blatty still maintained that he wasn’t happy with parts of the film, in particular the ending, which he felt ended too ambiguously and left people leaving the cinema on a downer thinking the devil may have won. Friedkin remained unconvinced, and maintained that the film should stay untouched.
Eventually, around the time of the film’s 25th anniversary, Blatty persuaded Friedkin to dig out the unused footage from the film and put together a new cut of The Exorcist that more closely resembled Blatty’s original vision, a sort of ‘Writer’s Cut’. The result was released in cinemas in 2000 as The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen.
Despite Blatty’s original intention for the re-release, the most notable change in this new cut is the inclusion of the legendary ‘spider walk’ scene. This deleted scene, in which Regan flips upside-down and walks down the stairs like a spider, had been part of Exorcist lore for years with fans eager to see it as it was originally intended. The scene itself is pretty effective – here it is if you fancy a gander:
So, the spider walk aside, what else is in there? Well, the other main addition is of course the aforementioned alternative ending, which involves an extra scene at the end where Father Dyer and Lt Kinderman have a pleasant chat. This was the scene Blatty wanted to add to reassure the viewer that all was well with the world, and I could take it or leave it really.
There are also a few little trims and additions dotted here and there throughout the movie. Father Merrin has a few extra scenes with Chris MacNeil and Father Karras which flesh his character out a little, and there are some new digital effects where a demon’s face subliminally pops up from time to time.
Do these changes make The Version You’ve Never Seen a better movie than the original? Not necessarily, it just makes it a slightly different one that perhaps feels slightly more modern. Both versions are effective but if pushed I’d recommend you watch the spider scene above then just check out the original version of the film, since its more ambiguous ending leaves a greater feeling of unease.