Now, before a chorus of "what the fuck, dude?" erupts, I'm not referring to the quality of this great and highly influential milestone. Friedkin's film is to the Horror genre what Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is to the dramatic depiction of war on film. Both are Hollywood watersheds with the sprawling stories of their creation and postscript being just as interesting as the resulting images on-screen. One could devote their passion to becoming scholars of just these two features and still continually discover new aspects within their worlds.
The Exorcist, aside from perhaps 20th Century Fox's The Omen, was one of the last times an old studio power threw their weight full bore into pursuing something of immense quality and controversy that unquestionably resides in the Horror genre. For that alone, it's an effort that's special, instead of the long standing trend of major studios buckling under lobbyist or rating board pressures, cheaping out on the genre, or striking distribution deals for films outside the Hollywood superpower fold in the hopes of hitting upon a phenomenon. Warner and Friedkin made an event film that doesn't rely on trite gimmicks that only wants to scare the hell out its audience--even if at the same time the audience is screaming sacrilege at the screen.
Though I can't help but feel The Exorcist has sorta fallen at least halfway to the wayside since its shove back into the spotlight a decade ago with the dubious Version You've Never Seen. That and the big brouhaha over the mess of the fourth mediocre sequel/prequel. The film might have suffered the Star Wars effect only on a vastly smaller scale. I'm not the biggest fan of that sci-fi franchise; however, the whole Lucas universe seems markedly "less" due to the the post-Phantom Menace explosion of merchandising, re-cuts, prequels, animated numbers, graphic novels, video games, baby clothes, and bobbleheads that we're all still enduring.
In some way, before their rebirths, The Exorcist and Star Wars were retiring in comfort under the care of their respective fanbases and genre communities. Afterward, it was like they had been taken away from loved ones and propped up for the entire world to see for profit. A bit of the closeness was rubbed away with everyone having an opinion and a Yoda LEGO figure taped to their monitor in their cubicle.
I'm going to say something that might put me on the shit list, but I don't think it's a stretch to believe that a sizable portion of horror fans actually feel resentment towards The Exorcist over its trip back into the mainstream's conscious. They like to belabor the fact the film is often cited as "the scariest movie of all time" and ride upon their high horse with a sneer when someone "outside the loop" says that. I'm not saying it's the scariest, that's subjective, but they're just cutting their noses off. We should be nothing but proud that such an example is held as the most popular high watermark to this day; even if your co-worker believes that despite missing two weeks of work after developing a hernia from the hilarity of Meet the Spartans.
With time, The Exorcist will hopefully be fully reclaimed after this quiet probation. Warner and Friedkin are again working on a fresh restoration of the original cut and are said to be planning a Halloween '10 Blu-ray debut of both versions. Watching the original cut on Warner's 25th Anniversary DVD last night, the film definitely needs it, as the picture quality is quite dated. So there's hope, so long as Warner doesn't decide to throw The Version You've Never Seen back into theaters for it's tenth anniversary...in IMAX 3-D...