The Exorcist

Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) used to be a good kid, a fun-filled girl who loved her mother. But Regan’s changed. It all started with a common case of hyperactivity and an outbreak of pornographic language. The Ritalin her doctor prescribed didn’t seem to help. Things just seemed to go further downhill when her father forgot to call on her 12th birthday.

Now, Regan’s behavior has become outrageous: She’s assaulted her doctor, her psychiatrist, even her own mom. Dealing with this brat’s getting to be murder. Even her mother’s friends say so. What the devil has gotten into her?

Regan’s not the average hell-raising grrrl we can tune in every day on the "Maury" or "Sally" show. She’s a few steps beyond any TV talk show-sponsored juvenile boot camp. Regan’s possessed by the devil and only one man can save her: "That man is the exorcist."

The Exorcist is classic. Only a few particulars betray its 27 years: wide lapels, credibly executed mechanical (not computer-generated) effects and meticulous attention to detail. They just don’t seem to make ’em like this anymore.

The Exorcist also features something that few modern horror movies have: a story. Scratching deeply enough through The Exorcist’s thriller skin reveals family dramas with fundamental issues of guilt and redemption.

So what’s new in this year’s model? A digitally remastered soundtrack in Dolby Surround and 11 minutes of additional footage deliver a mixed bag of blessings and curses. The famous music tracks are CD quality, but some of the in-your-face sound effects are distracting. Extra shots make Regan’s medical treatment more of a Spanish Inquisition and add the creepy "spider walk" to her repertoire of possessed gymnastics. The extended ending attempts to handicap the final battle favoring good over evil.

But is it still scary? More than one person in the audience laughed as the Devil hissed 27-year-old obscenities from Regan’s perpetually 12-year-old mouth. Nervous laughter? I can’t say. Today the profane’s on TV: for laughs, uncensored from the mouths of cable comics or just mundane, bleeped from the mouths of network talk show brats. The Exorcist may not have the shock value it had in 1973, but the horror remains.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].