Richard Burton - Father Phillip Lamont
Linda Blair - Regan MacNeil
Louise Fletcher - Dr. Gene Tuskin
Kitty Winn - Sharon Spencer
James Earl Jones - Dr. Kokumo
Max Van Sydow - Father Merrin
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Demons
Running Time - 117 Minutes
Four years have passed since THE EXORCIST. The Vatican has enlisted the help of Father Philip Lamont (Richard Burton) to seek out the truth about what happened to Father Merrin during his exorcism of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). Lamont finds himself in New York City, where Regan is now living with her mother's assistant, Sharon (Kitty Winn). Regan has no memory of what happened during her possession, yet still has strange dreams and nightmares that haunt her.
Every day, she seeks psychiatric help from Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), who believes that Regan's dreams will help her get better if she can just decipher what they mean. When Lamont learns about this, he believes that Regan does remember her exorcism and knows how Father Merrin had died. With the help of a synchronizer, some hypnosis machine that allows two people to read each other's minds and feel what the other is feeling, Tuskin and Lamont link themselves to Regan's mind to see if they both find the answers they're looking for. They soon realize that Regan is being haunted by two spirits within her - one of Father Merrin and the other by the demon that had possessed her, Pazuzu - knowing that the terror of four years ago will begin anew.
I have three words for EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC:
WHAT THE FUCK!?
- The special effects. EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC is known as one of the worst sequels in the horror genre [or in general], and they're pretty much right. But I will get some of the positives [yes, there are good things about this film] out of the way first.
The special effects and make up are done well here, which is definitely nice to see. Dick Smith, who had done the make up work on the first film, returns and does a great job in creating grotesque make up. Even though another actress plays her, the possessed Regan make up looks great. I also love the demon eyes on Linda Blair as well, mainly because they make her look hotter than she already does in this film.
As for the visual effects, I dug those too. The swarm of locusts that appear in a lot of the scenes may be a bit overdone, but they look great when they're attacking people. In particular, the final moments where Lamont is fighting off with Possessed Regan looks pretty cool and adds a much needed effect to the scene. I thought the Georgetown home getting destroyed looked great too, even if it was a soundstage and not the actual house they had filmed THE EXORCIST. I also dug it when Regan and Possessed Regan battled for Tuskin's heart, even if that scene comes across as pretty homoerotic and funny now.
My only issue when it came to the effects was that scene in Africa where that guy fell in between the rocks while climbing up to seek Kokumo. The wire work is absolutely terrible, with the guy just flailing around so awkwardly that it's almost surreal. Made me laugh though, so that's a plus. So yeah, while the majority of the film is terrible, at least it's nice to look at.
- Most of the visual presentation. Speaking of nice to look at, the cinematography by William A. Fraker is stunning. Sure, a lot of the African exterior locations were done in Utah and Arizona [and you can tell by the backdrop that it's fake]. But I thought the picture looks crisp and vibrant. I also liked how the Georgetown sets looked similar to THE EXORCIST, as they were darker and bleaker in tone. Just a nice looking film.
And I won't be negative on all of John Boorman's direction. The man who gave us DELIVERANCE, EXCALIBUR, and ZARDOZ is nowhere as good as William Friedkin. But it does have some style and some of the scenes are directed well. I'll get to the other stuff later, but it's not the worst direction I've seen in a film. But the cinematography definitely outshone it.
- Ennio Morricone's score. EXORCIST II may have the trippiest and strangest Ennio Morricone score on film. The main EXORCIST II theme is disco heaven, with its "DAAA DAAA DAAA" heard over and over and over. It should annoy me, but it's catchy as hell and can't help but dance to it. I like "Regan's Theme" as well, which is a slower piece and sounds great. The locust score, however, is pretty annoying - especially since it's played a whole lot during the middle portion of the film. No "Tubular Bells", but I guess it's a product of its time.
- The mess that's called a screenplay. Oh man, I have no idea where to begin here. I know it must have been stressful to craft a narrative after such a popular and iconic horror film. I'm not sure people even wanted an EXORCIST II since the first film is fantastic on its own. But if a sequel had to be done, there were probably several ways of doing it. You could have done a new story, with a different family and a new exorcism that could connect thematically with the first film. Or you could continue Regan's story, but this time showing her struggle with what happened to her - maybe she's afraid it'll happen again, or the demon tries to attack her again or something. It could have been a great character study of an innocent woman who still doesn't know why she was possessed in the first place.
Or you could do what EXORCIST II did - undermine everything the first film had established. The first film is still great because, even with the masturbating crucifix and the pea soup stuff, it was still fairly subtle in terms of the information you were given. This sequel is anything but subtle. In fact, it decides to take everything we learned in the first film and change it until it's no longer recognizable.
One of the main things that bugs me is learning how Father Merrin supposedly died. Now in the first film, we're never sure what caused his death. Was it his established heart issues? Or did Possessed Regan kill him to send a message to Father Karras [who isn't even mentioned in this film - REALLY?]? We were never really sure and that was great. But EXORCIST II tells what happened - Regan killed him by attacking his heart. Why did we need to know this? It takes away the effectiveness of that scene in the first film. And don't get me started on the re-enactment we see in this film. So ridiculous. Ticks me off.
We also learn that what possessed Regan was an African demon named Pazuzu. I have no idea why a demon from Africa would want to possess an American girl, even though this film tells you why. Even stupider is how Pazuzu travels - via locusts. Every time characters in this film see locusts, they run for their lives! Or maybe it's because of that annoying song that plays every time they appear. And only Kokumo can stop Pazuzu's travels - by growing like a tiger.
Not only that, but there are bad locusts [Pazuzu] and good locusts [Father Merrin?] in the supernatural world.
And while Pazuzu is the real name of the king of the demons of the wind from Assyrian and Babylonian mythology, the name just sounds silly. Each time a character says his name, your urge to laugh increases. It's just not a threatening name and makes "Captain Howdy" seem scarier. I respect that it's a real mythological creature and William Peter Blatty even uses it in The Exorcist novel, but hearing it out loud just seems too comical than serious.
I think my biggest pet peeve about EXORCIST II is how Regan suddenly has psychic powers of some sort. Supposedly this is the reason why Pazuzu possessed her in the first place, because the demon felt she was a threat to him. But this is never established in the first film. Regan is a great character in THE EXORCIST because she's just a normal girl who just happened to get possessed. Not knowing why makes the whole situation scary and unpredictable. Giving a reason for her possession pretty much destroys the mystique created by the first film. There doesn't need to be a purpose as to why Pazuzu takes over Regan. Maybe the demon is just evil and wanted to spread it through a human shell. But no, Regan has special powers that allow her to talk telepathically with Father Lamont [who also has psychic powers - yeesh], sense each other's presence, and fight off evil spirits. It just makes the story more complicated than it needs to be. In fact, it takes the EXORCIST story from one about faith and religion to one about supernatural abilities - it just doesn't mix. It's also implied that Father Merrin had already known this during Regan's exorcism, almost as if sacrificing himself to possess her spirit in order to fend off Pazuzu. Why did all this shit need to be added in? Why couldn't the spirit just want to possess her again because...I dunno...it failed the first time and wanted to finish the job? It's ridiculous.
Don't get me started on the whole synchronizer thing that's used to connect two minds together. Even for 1977, this piece of "technology" is less advanced than the wheel. I've seen Pet Rocks that could do more damage than this synchronizer. And what kind of therapy uses this sort of thing? What happened to using a pendulum to hypnotize people? And supposedly one has to be trained in using this thing, but Father Lamont pretty much uses it five minutes after he sees it. Speaking of which, if Tuskin was dying because of Regan using the thing with her, how is she not brain dead as Lamont is trying to save Tuskin? Their minds aren't connected! Regan and Tuskin's minds are! Why am I trying to make sense of all this? My brain hurts...
The characters are no better. Regan is likeable enough, but she comes across as way too nice for me. For someone who went through a traumatic episode as a kid and is haunted by weird ass dreams, she acts way too normal. There's no dimension to the character and I don't find her believable. Linda Blair is probably a sweetheart in person and she's probably acting as herself here, but the Regan character needed more edge and more emotional conflict. Luckily, we do see her as Possessed Regan during the final act, using her feminine wiles to seduce Father Lamont. I wish I saw more of that Regan in the film. She was foxy!
Father Lamont is also written pretty comically, ranting and raving like a lunatic in almost every scene. If he was my priest, I'd probably change religions. I get that he's desperate to find answers about what happened to Father Merrin...FOUR YEARS AFTER THE FACT [some friend he is...], but he's almost bordering Dr. Sam Loomis HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS territory here. Besides, why would he even bother risking his life to find these answers now? Why hasn't he done this for four long years? I don't buy this character at all, and him having some sort of psychic rapport with Regan just makes him sillier.
Dr. Gene Tuskin is annoying as the scientific skeptic. She sees weird shit go down, yet still doesn't believe it. I'm surprised no one slapped her silly so she can come to her senses. And Sharon, the babysitter from the first film, is no Chris MacNeil. And what happened to her character towards the end of the film? Talk about a dramatic shift for reasons unknown. And Kokumo - growls like a tiger, knows his shit about locusts, and likes to spit tomatoes at priests. He's probably the most three-dimensional character by default!
And the dialogue is just bad. I think the worst one is this exchange:
No reaction, huh? I guess getting possessed by demons happens more often than I thought. Ugh.
This could have been a decent screenplay since I do think some of the ideas presented as interesting. From what I read by people involved with EXORCIST II, the original version of the script was actually pretty good and had interesting development for the characters involved. But the script was constantly being rewritten after all the actors signed on, even while filming. So that explains why the story turned to shit with this one.
- The acting. I'm not sure if the acting in EXORCIST II is bad, funny, or both. Linda Blair is a mixed bag. She's obviously trying to carry this film, but the material she's working with is holding her back. Still, she's very sexy in this film. Richard Burton is just way over-the-top here as Father Lamont. Was he drinking during this film shoot? The dude was all over the place here! Louise Fletcher is decent as Tuskin. She's always had that "70s style" acting for me, where her performance is good during that specific decade but wouldn't work before or later than that. But she was one of the better actors here. Kitty Winn is decent too, but kind of annoying by the end of the film. Max Von Sydow isn't given much to do, but he does it as well as possible. And James Earl Jones is just...I can't even explain his Kokumo performance. I'm sure he had fun wearing a grasshopper outfit though. A really great cast on paper, but there were drugs somewhere during this production.
- The editing and pacing. John Boorman is known for his kooky films, but EXORCIST II might be his kookiest and worst film on his resume. While he does bring style, his editing needs a lot of work. Scenes take way too long here, which stalls the pacing and makes this near two-hour film feel longer than it actually is. The middle section, in particular, is pretty dull and will give you that urge to fast forward.
Plus, there's no tension or suspense in this movie. From what I hear, Boorman actually hated the original film and wanted to create the opposite of horror with the sequel. Um, didn't you sign on to direct a HORROR sequel? EXORCIST II is horrific, but for all the wrong reasons. And when the film got laughed at during its premiere, Boorman created two other versions of the film - all of which were also laughed at. When a movie sucks, it fucking sucks! I can't believe this was the same guy who directed DELIVERANCE. What the hell happened here?
THE FINAL HOWL
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC is a hot mess of a film. While it does look nice and has a groovy musical score, the rest of it is just horrible. John Boorman and screenwriter William Goodhart crafted one of the most confusing, insane, and weirdest sequels to a horror classic - a sequel that deserved to be better than it actually is. Maybe it's because I don't understand this film in the way that Boorman and Goodhart do. But I honestly think this film is a disappointment and an interesting failure that has its moments. Is it the worst sequel ever? No. But it's definitely bad and should be avoided, unless you want to laugh at the unintentional comedy.
0.5 Howls Outta 4