William Friedkin has added some eleven minutes of material to this millennial reissue of his 1973 horror smash, and spruced up the soundtrack markedly (the periodic aural shocks that punctuate the action–a shriek, even a ringing telephone–now work startlingly well). The new footage mostly expands on already existing footage–usually rendering it more graphic–but there’s one added scene that will catch everyone’s eye, the often bruited-about “spider walk” in which the possessed child played by Linda Blair ambles down a staircase like a contorted crab and comes to a stop with her mouth dripping blood. Maybe it was considered too intense twenty-seven years ago, but it barely registers a ripple now, more’s the pity.

Still, “The Exorcist” retains its original virtues–it may plod a bit in places, never really delves into the subject of demonic possession, and closes with an idiotic turn that can work only if you believe that the devil is a dope–but Friedkin’s manipulative skill makes it genuinely unsettling and delivers an occasionally effective jolt. Max von Sydow, as the saintly Father Merrin, and Lee J. Cobb, as the querulous Detective Kinderman, add some luster to the acing, and Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller remain adequate as the kid’s mother and the troubled priest she first approaches, whose act of self-sacrifice ends the proceedings. Linda Blair, aided incomparably by the voice of Mercedes McCambridge, has never been better–though that’s hardly saying much.

For some viewers the whole central conceit of “The Exorcist” remains pretty silly; and any attempt to invest the movie with theological significance is a lost cause. It’s nothing more than a big, overripe potboiler. But it’s an effective potboiler, and it’s also historically important in that it represented the first time that material which would ordinarily have served as the basis for a “B” movie was given the “A” treatment–starting a trend which is, of course, the rule today. And whether or nbot you find the central story either credible or frightening, you will still feel considerable queasiness over the medical sequences in the picture, when the poor girl is treated to graphically-illustrated spinal taps and what appear to be early CAT scans. The notion of demonic possession may not terrify you, but those hospital procedures will surely do so.