Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Exorcist II: The Heretic is a legendary movie for all the wrong reasons.  Harry and Michael Medved, in their book The Golden Turkey Awards, placed it as the number two worst movie of all time, just under Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Keep in mind the book was written in the early 1980s, so much worse has come out since then, and I would say that there was much, much worse before this as well.  To the Medveds' credit they were also pretty much critiquing watchable bad movies.

I personally would not even say Exorcist II: The Heretic truly is a terrible movie.  It's not a good one and it certainly does not work as a sequel to The Exorcist, but it was the most expensive movie Warner Bros. had bankrolled at the time.  John Boorman had directed Deliverance, one of the most highly regarded movies of the 1970s.  Although most of the cast declined returning, Linda Blair was back as Regan (although it was due to being contractually bound after the script was heavily changed from when she agreed to be in the film) and Kitty Winn returned as her nanny Sharon.  The new cast includes Richard Burton and Louise Fletcher, as well as James Earl Jones and Ned Beatty in small roles.  

Richard Lederer, the producer, originally wanted a cheap retread of the original, using footage from the first film and just slightly altering the story.  With William Goodheart presenting a script which was heavily revised by Rospo Pallenberg, the movie grew into something quite different.  It also grew in budget and faced a number of problems, not the least being Blair's drug habit and Burton's drinking.  Making the movie was a mess, and the movie that resulted was a mess, and it unfortunately had the Exorcist name tied to it.  Without that baggage it would have been a big-budget failure, but not the laughing stock it became.

Four years after the events of the first movie Father Philip Lamont (Burton) is tasked by a cardinal (Paul Henreid) to investigate whether Father Merrin (Max von Snydow) had fallen prey to temptation and pursued heretical beliefs.  Regan MacNeil is still undergoing psychiatric treatment with the help of Dr. Gene Tuskin (Fletcher) who has developed a method of "synching" the mind of the subject and the doctor through hypnosis.  Through this method she hopes to find out what really happened to Regan, and Father Lamont hopes it will help in his investigation into Merrin's death.

The link reveals the truth that Merrin never gave into evil, but also reveals the demon as Pazuzu.  It also shows how Merrin had battled the demon before when it possessed a young African boy who had the power to fight the locusts troubling his tribe's crops.  Lamont goes in search of the grown boy named Kakumo (Jones) while Regan, due to the help of the synchronizer, helps guide him, sometimes with Pazuzu's assistance as the demon still dwells deep within her.  With Kakumo's help Lamont begins to realize what Regan really is and what is needed to expel Pazuzu from this world.

The set of the mud village and the cliffside church in Africa is realized with some great miniature work that I'm sure looked better back in the 1970s.  Burton unfortunately sleepwalks through most of the movie, while Blair puts in some effort even though she didn't really want to be there either.  Louise Fletcher seems to know what she's stuck in but still puts some effort into the role.  Boorman, as usual, provides a visually appealing film.

The problem is that, although the original concept for it was cheap, what the audience really wanted was more head spinning and green vomit.  They didn't want pseudoscience and half-baked discussions about good and evil and a bunch of stuff about locusts.  It just confused audiences.  It's not that the plot is that complicated - Kakumo pretty much explains the whole thing - but it is stretched out to two hours when it could have been 90 minutes and it does nothing to carry on the original story.  Maybe the movie that is here needed to be made, and would have turned into a cult favorite, but it remains a fact that the only true heir to The Exorcist is The Exorcist III, directed by William Peter Blatty and featuring side characters from the original.  It too investigates evil and good, but in a much better way and much more in the spirit of the original despite suffering from studio interference. 

Because of its length parts of this movie become tedious rather fast, and the whole synchronizer and psychic link thing is laughable.  This is more about Father Lamont's journey than it is about Regan, so Blair could have had a cameo role if everyone really wanted to connect it and then took us on a journey of discovery as Lamont regained his faith, knocking the whole ending off of this.  While there is a good concept in some force preventing everyone from getting where they are going the actual climax is just an excuse to show some special effects and really comes down to nothing, as by then we already know what Regan is meant to be. 

Until Blatty's movie, based on his own book, this pretty much killed the franchise.  What's come after in the years hasn't been much better, and I would even hazard to say the two different movies battling it out to be part four are far less entertaining than this one.  It is one of the few absolute failures of a film that I would still recommend watching because at least there is something at the core of it, even if one just watches in disbelief at the sheer audacity of anyone involved thinking this is what audiences wanted in a sequel. 

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Time: 117 minutes
Starring: Richard Burton, Linda Blair, Louise Fletcher
Directors: John Boorman, Rospo Pallenberg 



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