Thursday, October 15, 2015

#1,886. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Directed By: John Boorman

Starring: Richard Burton, Linda Blair, Louise Fletcher

Tag line: "It's four years later...what does she remember?"

Trivia: During the filming, director John Boorman contracted San Joaquin Valley Fever (a respiratory fungal infection), which caused filming to be suspended for five weeks

All these years later, 1973’s The Exorcist still ranks as one of the most frightening films ever made. How it spawned a sequel as bad as Exorcist II: The Heretic is beyond me.

Scratch that: this is more than just a “bad” movie; it’s a disaster of epic proportions.

Though it’s been four years since her brush with evil, Regan (again played by Linda Blair) continues to see her psychologist, Dr. Jean Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), on a regular basis. Saying she remembers nothing about the horrific events that claimed the lives of three people, Regan tries to lead a normal life, all the while knowing that the demon that possessed her still has a firm grip on her psyche.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has assigned Father Lamont (Richard Burton) to investigate the final exorcism performed by the late Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow). Once in America, Father Lamont visits Dr. Tuskin and sits in on Regan’s hypnosis therapy, during which he discovers that his mentor had a previous encounter with the demon that invaded the young girl’s body, a malevolent spirit that goes by the name “Yazuzu”. To further understand the situation, Lamont travels to Africa in search of a man named Kukumo (James Earl Jones), who, as a boy, was also possessed by Yazuzu until Father Merrin exorcised the demon. But the deeper he delves into this terrifying reality, the more Father Lamont realizes that Yazuzu has not been vanquished; he lies dormant inside of Regan, waiting for his chance to return. To save Regan’s soul, Father Lamont is prepared to battle Yazuzu, even if doing so means giving up his own life in the process.

I knew I was in trouble early on in Exorcist II: The Heretic when, while under hypnosis, Regan recalls a confrontation between Father Merrin and the monster that was inside of her. Instead of lifting footage from the first movie for this flashback, director Boorman decided to shoot a brand new sequence, which not only looks bad (the possession make-up worn by Linda Blair is almost comical), but also isn’t the least bit frightening.

And therein lies the problem: there’s not a single chilling scene in the entire movie. In fact, its convoluted tale of experimental hypnosis, ancient demons, locusts (one recurring image of Pazuzu as a locust, flying through the air, is too ridiculous for words), and the eternal struggle between good and evil is downright dull. Instead of fighting demons, Father Lamont spends his time jetting around the world, meeting with anyone and everyone who had the slightest connection to either Pazuzu or Father Merrin, and nothing he turns up is even remotely interesting. Whereas The Exorcist kept you glued to the edge of your seat, Exorcist II: The Heretic is more likely to make you lay back and take a nap.

The real question, of course, is why? Why did the scariest movie ever made inspire one of the worst sequels of all time? It really is a mystery, especially when you look at the talented cast and crew that created this turd. Its director, John Boorman, had turned out Deliverance a few years earlier, and was the man behind my favorite take on the King Arthur legend, 1981’s Excalibur. Richard Burton, though not above hamming it up, was a Shakespearian actor, and Louise Fletcher was fresh off her Oscar-winning portrayal of Nurse Ratched in 1975’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What’s more, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair reprised their roles from the original, and James Earl Jones. Ned Beatty (as a pilot), and Paul Henried (as a bishop) make brief appearances as well. On paper, Exorcist II: The Heretic looked like a winner.

But it isn’t a winner. It sucks… real bad. And fans of the original should avoid it at all costs.


Eric Gilliland said...

Yes, one of the most baffling sequels ever made. I feel like there was potential for a good story somewhere in the mess that became the final product. Martin Scorsese put Exorcist II in his list of top 10 horror movies - go figure! Oddly enough, whenever I catch this one on TV I end up watching it. It's like did John Boorman or Ed Wood direct this?

Dave B. said...

Eric: "Baffling" is a good way to describe it. Why take what was one of the most frightening movies ever made and follow it up with a theological mystery? Why Scorsese would hold this movie in such high regard is a mystery in and of itself.

Thanks for the comment!

Huw Lloyd said...

The Exorcist is my all time number one film period. I have never seen the sequel as I consider The Exorcist 3 to the only real sequel. The Legion which would become The Exorcist 3 is as equally chilling as the original.