The Exorcist & House of Wax (US - BD)
Matt checks out a couple of horror film classics from Warner Bros. on Blu-ray...
The Exorcist (1973)
Running Time: 122 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack Macgowran, Jason Miller, Linda Blair
Release Date: 8 October, 2013
The Exorcist tells the now-famous story of a girl's demonic possession, and a gripping fight between good and evil. Linda Blair, in a breakout role, plays Regan, a young girl who starts to exhibit strange, arcane behavior. Her mother (Ellen Burstyn, Oscar-winner for Best Actress Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) calls upon a priest, Father Karras (Jason Miller) to investigate. But Karras, who has a spiritual crisis of his own, is suddenly confronted with the unimaginable evil of Regan's possession. Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an archeologist-priest, is called to help, and a horrific battle for her soul begins.
When The Exorcist was first released in 1973, viewers were frightened out of their wits--and literally out of their seats. Now Warner Bros. Home Entertainment celebrates the 40th anniversary of Academy Award winning director William Friedkin's suspense masterpiece that haunted and intrigued the world with a new Blu-ray release featuring both the original and extended director's cut with new special features and a specially edited excerpt from Friedkin's memoir, "The Friedkin Connection" which focuses on this horrifying film. A true cinema landmark, the theological thriller is one of the top ten box office performers of all-time (adjusted for inflation), and took 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won two Oscars, for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. Subsequently, the film went on to become a multi-million dollar franchise. Directed by Friedkin (Oscar-winner for The French Connection in 1971) and written by William Peter Blatty, the film is based on his best-selling novel, which sold nearly 13 million copies domestically and was the #1 book on the New York Times Best Seller List of 57 weeks, 17 of them at #1.
Regarding the Extended Director's Cut, Friedkin says, "After my initial cut, I took out 12 more minutes before we released it in theatres. Years later, Bill Blatty asked if I'd review some of that rejected footage (which he always felt should have remained) with an eye towards putting it back in a new version . In so doing I believe we strengthened the spiritual aspect of the film."
Celebrated for his directorial role in this seminal film, Friedkin is still very much in the limelight. His new book, "The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir", recently published by HarperCollins, extensively discusses the background and casting of The Exorcist. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films will honor Friedkin this month with their Lifetime Achievement Award for his continually influential work in genre entertainment at this year's Saturn Awards. In August, Friedkin will receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, where he will present the restored version of Warner Bros.' Sorcerer, and Friedkin and author Blatty will attend a special 40th Anniversary screening of their film at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. on October 30. The film will also have an exclusive theatrical engagement October 31 through November 7th at the AMC Georgetown. ( Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
The first two discs in this three-disc set are identical to those found in the previously released Blu-ray digibook, so if you already own that set you know what to expect here. Warner's 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfers for both the original version and the extended cut are quite excellent overall with fine detail with a nice layer of grain. Black levels are as dark and deep as you'd like them to be with sharp contrast and good color representation. There are a few instances of banding here and there and I did notice a few spots with crushed blacks, but other issues such as edge enhancement, macroblocking and aliasing aren't a problem. The source print used is in immaculate condition too, so there aren't many instances of dirt or debris popping up to distract you from the movie. Overall this is a pretty great transfer of the 40-year old film on Blu-ray.
The main audio option present on each is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in English, and while I wish that there were a mono option available the remixed track isn't bad at all. There aren't many sound effects that take advantage of the surround channels and for the most part everything stays fairly close to the center channel, but the music does play nicely over the stereo field and the LFE channel is given a few bumps to jolt you at the right moments. Dialogue is always clear as well, and I couldn't detect any anomalies in the track that would cause an issue. Like the video transfer, this is a well done audio option that's been presented on the Blu-ray release.
For the most part the special features included in the set are identical to what what previously released with the two-disc Blu-ray release of The Exorcist from a few years back, and in fact the first two discs in this set are the same discs that were previously released. The only new addition to the set is the third disc which includes two all-new featurettes:
- Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist - 40 years after his novel was published, The Exorcist author, screenwriter and producer returns to where it all began. First stop is a cabin/guest house in the hills of Encino, California, where Blatty wrote the novel. The author visits the place for the first time in 40 years and shares not only memories of writing the book, but also discusses how it inspired him. We then meet Blatty in two key and iconic locations; Georgetown University where the film was shot, and at the now-famous Exorcist steps. Throughout, Blatty reads from his novel, including an excerpt from a chilling newly published passage.
- Talk of the Devil - While at Georgetown University, William Peter Blatty heard about a true case of possession from Father Eugene Gallagher. At the time the film came out, the priest talked at length about exorcism, the true story and about Blatty; this footage is now available for the first time in many years. It is as revealing as it is shocking.
The remainder of the special features are hold overs from the previously released two-disc set:
- Two Commentaries by William Friedkin
- Commentary by William Peter Blatty
- Introduction by William Friedkin
- 1998 BBC Documentary The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist
- Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist- Set footage produced and photographed by Owen Roizman, camera and makeup tests, and interviews with director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair, author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty and Owen Roizman.
- The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now - Featuring a tour of the iconic locations where the film was shot.
- Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist - Director William Friedkin and author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty discuss the different versions of the film; features outtakes from the film.
- Original Ending
- The Original Cut Interview
- Stairway to Heaven Interview
- The Final Reckoning Interview
- Sketches & Storyboards
- Radio Spots
- TV Spots
An UltraViolet digital copy code is also included.
House of Wax (1953)
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: André deToth
Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk and Charles Bronson (credited as Charles Buchinsky)
Release Date: 1 October, 2013
Professor Henry Jarrod is the owner and figure sculptor in a wax museum whose specialty is historic figures. When he and his business partner, Matthew Burke quarrel over the choice of exhibits displayed, Burke suggests it would be more profitable to burn down the museum in order to obtain the insurance money. As they fight, the museum burns and Jarrod is left for dead. It’s not until much later at a new museum that the fate of Jarrod and the mystery of how the lifelike waxed figures are created becomes gruesomely evident.
In 1953, the film was the first color 3D feature released by a major studio. The huge hit also marked Vincent Price’s first major starring horror role and changed the course of his career. Thanks to advanced technology and the expert work of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging (MPI), audiences will now be able to enjoy the classic mystery shocker as it was seen in theatres 60-years ago. Originally designed to lure audiences away from their TV sets, 3D utilized a “left-eye/right-eye” dual projection process and polarized glasses, the basis for what is seen today. MPI’s work on House of Wax includes a 4K scan, and a full restoration of the two “eyes,” as well as perfect 3D image alignment. House of Wax was a major box-office success when it was released in 1953. If adjusted to today’s gross, it would have brought in more than $401 million, placing it among the top 100 highest grossing films ever. It no doubt paved the way for a 3D boom over the next several years during which 50 3D features and some two dozen shorts and cartoons were released.
The film was directed by André deToth, an unlikely choice to direct a 3D film as he was blind in one eye and unable to properly see the effects he created. Besides Price, House of Wax additionally features Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni and a young actor named Charles Buchinsky, who would later become known to audiences worldwide as Charles Bronson. Screenplay is by Crane Wilbur. Brian Foy produced. The Warner library has the largest number of classic 3D titles (15) of any studio, and now that the technology has been perfected, the studio looks forward to re-introducing them to home audiences. The long-awaited, much requested release of House of Wax is the second classic 3D film the studio has released on Blu-ray, following last year’s release of Dial M for Murder. ( Warner Bros. Home Entertainment))
I was holding off publishing this review until I had the opportunity to view the film in 3D, but that still hasn't occurred so you'll have to excuse me if I can't really comment on that aspect of the 1.37:1, AVC encoded, 1080p video transfer, but if I do get a chance in the near future I will update the review. As for the 2D version for the feature you likely won't be disappointed in what you get, but you aren't going to be exactly blown away either. The most strikingly beautiful aspect of the video transfer is just how lush and saturated the colors are and how everything pops off the screen even without the 3D effect. Blacks are generally very strong and there's plenty of fine detail everywhere in the picture, though the film's 3D filmmaking process does seep through with a few blurry and soft images from time to time. The source print also shows its age here and there, but overall things are in good shape, and I didn't notice much in the way of aliasing, banding and edge enhancement, though macroblocking does pop up every so little often.
The supplied DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track does a great job of emulating the stereo sound design of the picture with some effects sweeping across from left to right and back again with ease, though things do tend to stick around the center channel for the most part. Dialogue is always clear and crisp, and I didn't notice any defects that might take one out of the film. Overall this is a very good technical presentation of the feature film.
Warner Home Video has added some very nice features to the film for its Blu-ray debut, including a few news ones in addition to everything carried over from the previously released DVD.
- Audio Commentary with film historians David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr - a nice track that is a little on the dry side, but full of great information as to the making of the film, the director and the cast.
- House of Wax: Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before - an all-new and very good 49-minute piece on the history behind the film, featuring such talents as Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, Joe Dante and Rick Baker, who each discuss the film, its history and their own personal stories of experiencing it.
- Newsreel footage
- Mystery of the Wax Museum (standard definition) - the complete original film from 1933 starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. Though I wish that it too was in high definition, I'm glad that was included just as before on DVD.
Review by Matt Joseph
Release Date: 1st October 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (The Exorcist) & 20 Stereo (House of Wax)
Extras: Commentaries, Featurettes
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Max Von Sydow, Vincent Price
Length: 210 minutes