Director William Friedkin's "The Exorcist," hits theaters today, with improved sound and 11 minutes of footage trimmed from its original 1973 release. And while the film has lost little of its psyche-jarring impact - there's a reason it frequently turns up atop lists of the most frightening movies ever made - this new, 132-minute version proves that restored scenes make for fine curiosities, but rarely add much to the movie.
Of the scenes that have been restored, only one didn't deserve to be cut - the infamous spider-walk scene, in which Linda Blair's Regan, the little girl harboring a demon, scurries down a flight of stairs on all fours, running backward, with her hands and feet behind her back. Trimmed by Friedkin at the last minute, it's a horrific effect, one that makes Regan's infamous 360-degree head spin look like a cheap parlor trick. It's not essential to the plot, but it's among the creepiest few seconds ever captured on film.
The most substantial added scene, a new ending dialogue between Police Lieutenant Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb, giving the film's worst performance as its most unnecessary character) and a friend of Fr. Karras', really hurts the film. Screenwriter William Peter Blatty, who adapted his own novel, has long criticized Friedkin for removing the scene. Without it, he contended, audiences could be left thinking the devil had won - a conclusion directly opposite what Blatty had intended.
But anyone who left "The Exorcist" feeling that evil had triumphed sorely missed the point - Karras' final act of heroism both rids Regan of the demon and exorcises Karras' own doubts about the existence of God. Tacking treacly greeting-card sentiments to the end of the film only belabors what should be obvious.
Such matters aside, this re-release of "The Exorcist" is cause for celebration. Mike Oldfield's ominously crescending "Tubular Bells" has never sounded so threatening. And the film so steadily ratchets up the horror that seeing it on commercial television is just plain silly. This is a film that needs to be seen larger-than-life, in a darkened room, with a hundred or so of your most terrified friends.
Little Italy's film fest
If you're going to the Little Italy Open-Air Film Festival tonight, you're in for a treat. Not only is the featured film "Stanno Tutti Bene" ("Everybody's Fine"), a virtual Italian travelogue directed by Giuseppe Tornatore ("Cinema Paradiso"), but before the main event, the festival will show "Little Castles," Lillian Bowers' charming short documentary about the history of Formstone. Don't miss this chance to see a rarely screened film about this special slice of Baltimore culture.
As always, the free show begins at 9 p.m. at the corner of High and Stiles streets. Bring your own lawn chair, and plan on arriving early.
Charles presents 'Idiots'
Cinema Sundays at the Charles will present "The Idiots" this weekend. Lars von Trier's film is about a group of young people living outside Copenhagen who make a "game" out of acting like developmentally disabled adults.
The film begins at 10:30 a.m. after a 9:45 a.m. snack. Full memberships to the current nine-film series of Cinema Sundays cost $99; five mini-memberships cost $65. Walk-up tickets can be bought for $15. For information, call 410-727-3464.