(Release Date: June 17, 1977)
Since all that has been said and since I am far from disagreeing on any of these points, most of what I say has already been canonized by my betters. However, let me take a few moments to point out what was good about this film.
For one thing, the gathering of talent here is hard to make light of. With the return of Linda Blair, along with the re-appearance of Max Von Sydow (now playing to his age) and new players like Sir Richard Burton as the "New" Exorcist, Louise Fletcher as a woman of science and even James Earl Jones as an adult survivor of possession, the cast had more talent than you could shake a bottle of scotch at (and Burton reportedly repeatedly did just that). Throw in the direction of John Boorman (who brought Deliverance squealing to the screen) and the musical score of the very talented Ennio Morricone and it's hard to see how this film could lose. Warner Bros. certainly expected a winner, as this was (at that time) the most expensive movie they had ever produced. There are a few moments here and there that show the glimmer of something that could have been great. The "prequel" aspects of the later films were arguably done better and more consistently here. A great deal of the mystical aspects of Catholicism are seen in this sequel, which takes on a much grander and expansive role than its localized predecessor did. Further, Boorman and his credited screenwriter William Goodhart try to uncover some of the mysteries behind the possession and tell a much more revealing story in a way that (they hoped) original writer William Peter Blatty might have agreed with. To this end they infused the script with much of the theories of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who reportedly inspired the character of Father Lankester Merrin).
Yes, it's safe to say that all the ingredients for success were right there! This makes the ultimate failure of Exorcist II: The Heretic all the more of a sad disgrace, not to mention a public disappointment and even embarrassment to the studio, the cast and the crew. It's hard to even begin to describe what all is wrong with this film, because this movie has more problems than a MATH BOOK!!!
The dialogue is goofy, the sets are obviously false and the acting is really melodramatic. Richard Burton often looks completely out of it as if he wandered onto the set and wasn't even sure he was in the right movie. At 18, Linda Blair came off as a cross between the little Regan MacNeil and a budding sexpot (attributes Boorman exploits for the sensationalism of this film). The "science" is far-fetched, the mysticism is buried and the tension is forced. Often an "epic" scene of a character standing before an expansive backdrop is just that... an actor standing in front of a rear-projected image on a studio set. Warner Bros' most expensive film to (that) date, a sequel to the highest-acclaimed horror film in history... and this is what they came up with.
Well, we've sunk this far, why don't we delve down into the possessed plot? Well, okay, I can think of about a million reasons "why not", but this is what I do, so we're doing it for fuck's sake!
After the death of Father Merrin, the Catholic Church sends a fellow exorcist named Philip Lamont (who might as well be called "Lament") to investigate the girl whose exorcism led to the famed Priest's untimely end. This makes sense, seeing as how the Church approved Regan's exorcism in the first flick and assigned him to do it. However, either Boorman and Goodhart (along with uncredited cowriter Rospo Pallenberg) conveniently forgot that, or they were hoping that nobody had seen the first film in four years, so making some crap up wouldn't make any fucking difference. Guess you slow-pokes didn't see Home Video coming around the horizon, did you? See, in the universe of The Heretic, Father Lank was a Crank who did his work as something of a renegade and... ha ha ha... might actually have been a Satanist. Yeah, that makes sense. I guess nobody in the Catholic Church watched the first film either. Or, at least The Cardinal (Paul Henried in his final role) didn't when he sent old Burton's Fr. Lamont to check out "The Regan Administration".
After an opening exorcism that both sets the stage and... looks cheap... Father Lamont shows up to check out Regan... possibly because she's lookin' pretty good now. Okay, moving on! Regan is in therapy (wouldn't you be?) under the care of Dr. Gene Tuskin (Fletcher), who is trying to help Regan deal with her repressed memories of her possession using an almost science fictional new method of joint hypnotherapy. By the way, as Ellen wasn't "Burstyn" at the seams to be in this film, Regan's loving mother is completely absent from the film, so she has no say in how fouled up things are about to get for her daughter. Luckily the first film's Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn) is still in the picture for the occasional walk-on. Actually, that's far from "Lucky"! This only succeeds in making the film more convoluted!
Through this whacked-out hypnotherapy Regan, and soon Lamont, begin to see visions of Africa where Father Merrin performed his first exorcisms and first encountered the monstrous demon we now know as Pazuzu! Incidentally... I wonder if we didn't hear that name in the first film because it sounds funny. Sort of like "Pazuzu the Clown"? Hey, there's an idea!
These revelations inform Sharon, Lamont and Regan that Pazuzu is still flapping its nasty wings somewhere within Regan, regardless of how skeptical Doc Tuskin is. This pushes Lamont to seek out the surviving African Exorcism Patient named Kokumo.
Yes... "Kokumo". Lamont gets there fast and then he takes it slow.
It's not easy as many of the villagers actually think Lamont is a devil worshipper and they try to stone him. Ironically, Burton was already stoned. Okay, I'll stop.
Once he finds Kokumo, the kid is all grown up and played by James Earl Jones. Yeah, and this flick came out just shy of one month after Star Wars. Well, he had his high and low points that year, I guess. From there the film goes from a bit dense and scattered to a complete incomprehensible mess. Strangely some of the flashback sequences that feature Von Sydow are of pretty good quality and are actually interesting. I can imagine ol' Max going to work each day thinking he was making a decent film only to wet his pants when this thing was released. These flashbacks are intertwined with the main plot that goes from drama to horror to adventure to experiment in bad taste and melodrama made all the more tragic by the fact that there was such potential to be seen here.
The sound effects are annoying and comical, the makeup effects, though effective, can't hold a candle to those of the original and some of the special effects look like something out of the 1960s versions of Star Trek or Doctor Who... far from the most expensive sequel up until the late 1970s! The absolute truth is that for all the possibilities that could have gone into a sequel to The Exorcist, the end result is a taint on the legacy of that great film. It stands as one shining reason that the first film should have stood alone!
Seriously, where the first film was a transcendent, crossover drama set so firmly in the horror genre, yet watched and praised by non-horror fans, this first (and worst) sequel is a joke. Here are a few "great" lines:
Of course, this would all be forgivable if the actual well-written lines in the film could be taken seriously, but regardless of what they must have looked like on paper, 87.6 percent of them come off as ridiculous in their delivery.
So where does the fault lie with this film? I wouldn't hazard a guess, but I can tell you that Boorman, for all his talent in other areas, surely has an albatross around his neck thanks to this bomb. Make no mistake, there are fans of this film and for all my derision I personally can point out a few jewels in the rough that is Exorcist II: The Heretic! However, instead of helping to elevate this sequel to a higher level, these blips on the cinematic radar only serve to make the film overall that much more of a messy wad of rubbish that, very sadly, gets a DOG! On one hand the exploration of the back story of this film did lead to a deeper tale in the Prequel(s)... then again, the Prequel(s) were almost as poorly received as this flake of torn celluloid. What a waste! Then again, a "Waste" is exactly what we need to start off the 2009 Summer of Horror! So until you're possessed by a demon and then decide to see if someone else might fit (see the lame finale of this film to get what I mean) I'll see you and your flapping wings in the next reel!
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