Since the first film was released in 1973, the Exorcist franchise has attracted three auteurs, an amateur and a hack to its themes of good vs. evil. You have to go to the Aliens franchise to find a concept that has attracted as many different styles from as many directors, although the Exorcist films haven’t been nearly as consistently entertaining. It is exactly the unevenness from film to film, however, that makes the Warner Bros. six-DVD box set The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology such a fascinating — not to mention insanely frustrating — collection. For all its eventual bodily eruptions and hysterical representations (Female pubescence = aggggh!), William Friedkin’s original adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel sucks us into its premise with a slow build of almost analytical precision. In the film’s first 10 minutes, Friedkin deftly lays out the epic scale of the events later to unfold in the Georgetown bedroom of a little girl. His camera floats through the alien landscape of the northern Iraqi desert to establish Father Lankester Merrin’s devil-hunter backstory almost entirely in visual terms. Later contributors to the series John Boorman (Exorcist II: The Heretic) and Paul Schrader (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) seem to get lost in the same desert atmosphere, each relentlessly pursuing a personal vision that turns out to be a mirage. Their sojourns yield some startling imagery, particularly Boorman’s obsession with African locusts, and Schrader contributes the series’ most engaging discourses on the nature of evil. But both directors bore deep into their personal concerns at the expense of just about everything else. Schrader’s battle to get his version distributed, even after the studio pulled the plug and handed the whole assignment to Renny Harlin, has been well documented, but Warner Bros. home-video marketing felt compelled to add their own spin: The back-cover blurb refers to the existence of the two films as an “unprecedented cinematic event” as if they’d planned it all along. Truly frightening.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: Clean, Shaven (DVD).

Also released this week: DVD: American Dreamz; Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil; Big Love: The Complete First Season; Billy Wilder Speaks; The Break Up; The Cars Unlocked: The Live Performances; Charmed: The Complete Sixth Season; The Complete Omen Collection: The Omen, The Omen (2006), Damien: The Omen II, The Omen III: The Final Conflict, The Omen IV: The Awakening; The Cruel Sea; C.S.I. New York: The Complete Second Season; Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen; Feast; Gypo; Hands Over the City; Icons of Horror: Boris Karloff: Before I Hang, The Black Room, The Boogie Man Will Get You, The Man They Could Not Hang; Inspector Lynley Mysteries: Set 4; Michael Caine Classics: Deadfall, The Magus, Peeper; Off to War; The Other; Over the Hedge; Sólo con tu pareja; Starsky & Hutch: The Complete Fourth Season; Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired; When the Sea Rises.

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