Feelin’ Spooky: Exorcist II: The Heretic

By Christian DiMartino

Contrary to my review of A Nightmare on Elm Street yesterday, I had actually never seen Exorcist II: The Heretic until a few days ago. Obviously I’ve seen William Freidkin’s provocative, Best Picture nominated masterpiece The Exorcist, and I actually watched it again last Halloween. My assumption with the sequels though is that, since Freidkin himself didn’t take any part in them, clearly they couldn’t be good. What’s shocking about Exorcist II is that despite Freidkin’s absence, there is still a plethora of talent involved in it… and it’s still pretty bad.

Before diving into the talent, I’ll say that I was aware of the hatred for this film… and my understanding of the hatred was something of an underestimation. When this film was released in 1977, not only did people hate it, but people really REALLY hated it. Apparently, about 30 minutes into the press screening, the laughter and mocking began, and it didn’t really let up. Freidkin and the author/screenwriter of the original both openly denounced the film to begin with, and then continued to mock the film for the garbage it was. Some claimed it was the worst movie ever made, and let’s just say that, Pauline Kael aside, the reviews weren’t exactly kind.

Having witnessed the movie for myself last night, well… yeah, it’s pretty awful, in that it’s not only a deeply unsatisfying sequel but also you watch it and constantly wonder what the point of the whole thing was. And yet, one star rating and all, I find myself being kinder to it than most. It is bad, but as someone who takes pleasure and goes out of their way to seek out horrible movies, I can’t even hesitate to say that I’ve seen worse than Exorcist II. I certainly have. That, and upon reading into the trivia behind the film, the intentions are certainly well meaning. Hell, even Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino have an admiration for it, so that’s something of a flex. But… it is a humongous blunder, especially considering the plethora of talent that is both behind and in front of the camera.

Sitting out on the action (quite wisely I should add) is the legendary Ellen Burstyn, who refused and refused. Also a part of the refusals was Linda Blair, who eventually caved after the script was to her liking. After re-writes and what not though, she claims that the film was to be an absolute s**tshow, but she was already contractually obligated. Who else did they get? Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher, who two years prior gave an all-time great performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (she also, it never occurred to me, looks strikingly similar to Burstyn). The film also nabbed the legendary Academy Award nominee Richard Burton, who claimed this was a paycheck film. Aaaand for the cherry on top was the film’s director, John Boorman (Deliverance, Hope & Glory, Excalibur). All of which joined forces to make… this. Not the worst ever made, but an undeniable mess and something of a snooze.

The film takes place four years after the events of the original, and the main focus of the film centers on young Regan (Blair) as she attends therapy sessions with a Dr. Gene Tuskin (Fletcher). Through these sessions we see that apparently a spirit of the sorts is still alive through her (flashback sequences are done with a double, and honestly somewhat convincingly). A priest named Father Philip Lamont (Burton) also spends his time during these sessions because he is in search of the answers involving the late Father Merrick (Max Von Sydow, who is present for the flashbacks), who of course died in the end of the first film.

This isn’t a sequel that completely rips off its predecessor, as it was probably geared to do from the second it was announced. But rather, the issue with Exorcist II is that it doesn’t really do anything of interest, either. The original film was harrowing, disturbing, and unforgettable. This film often feels like it was made to pass the time. As it turns out, Boorman went out of his way to make sure that Blair wasn’t being exploited, seeing as he (and multiple others, with understandable reason) felt as if Blair had been put on way too much display with the first film. So it was Boorman’s decision to veer away from that, and it’s one that I can admire.

However, he hasn’t replaced vulgarity, disturbing imagery, or the explicitly disturbing content with anything that is remotely interesting, either. What do we get in Exorcist II? Well… there is a lot of B-roll footage of tribal Africans. And… a lot of locusts. Don’t get me wrong, there is something kind of creepy about locusts, but, this movie really puts all of its chips in on locusts and… sure there was probably an explanation as to why they’re in the movie, but I don’t recall what it was. So you get a lot of footage and a lot of locusts and it all looks so fake and lurid and silly that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Boorman isn’t an idiot; he knows how to craft a movie, let alone a disturbing one (and I’m not referring to the one with Sean Connery in the bikini). But it is easy to see the faults in Exorcist II. It takes what worked wonders in the first film and it makes it come across as silly and overdone. You can tell at times that some of the actors probably had to knock back a few shots or so before filming. Is Exorcist II a hot mess? Oh yes, certainly. Is it the worst movie I’ve ever seen? Oh God no, but I have sat through a lot of crap.

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