Our review of The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology, published November 6th, 2006, is also available.
An ages-old evil returns for another round.
In 1974, director William Friedkin adapted author William Peter Blatty's novel of supernatural evil into the smash hit The Exorcist. People flocked in droves to witness a small girl (played by Golden Globe nominee Linda Blair) flail around a bed while simultaneously spitting up pea soup. It was, to say the least, a visceral experience. The movie was enough of a hit that in 1977 director John Boorman (Deliverance, Beyond Rangoon) both produced and directed the sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. Possibly one of the worst sequel ideas in a long list of bad second innings, Exorcist II: The Heretic makes its DVD debut care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Regan (Blair), the young heroine who battled inner demons in the original Exorcist, has been plagued by nightmares four years after her ordeal. Regan has been in the care of Jean (Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), a research specialist who's been using some kind of hypnotic telepathy machine (or something of that nature) to dig deep inside Regan's subconscious. Jean doesn't believe that a demon lives, or lived, inside Regan at all; could this have all just been in her mind?
At the same time Vatican investigator Father Lamont ("Mr. Elizabeth Taylor" himself, Richard Burton) is snooping around to see just what happened with the late Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow, reprising his role from the first film) and his work in exorcisms—particularly Regan's. It seems that Merrin had done battle with the demon Pazuzu years before in Africa before it entered Regan in America. Father Lamont soon meets up with Regan and they utilize this hypnotic telepathy machine to find out just what happened on that fateful night in 1974 (I think). It appears that with this machine Regan and Father Lamont are able to go inside each other's thoughts and memories (I think). Father Lamont is soon riding "on the wings of the demon" and meets up with James Earl Jones, who is dressed as a locust and living in a straw hut.
So much for the cohesive nature of filmmaking. If you think this is confusing, imagine how I felt watching it.
Father Lamont then thinks that the demon is still inside Regan, repressed and dormant (I think). He is convinced that good must battle evil, and soon everyone is doing the hokey pokey at Regan's old apartment where the original Exorcist took place. Now it's good vs. evil vs. Burton's booming voice in a war that will be fought across the heights of heaven and the depths of hell!
I'm not sure if I got that plot description down correctly, but it's the best I could do with the movie I was given. Exorcist II: The Heretic is a bad, baaaad movie. Really bad. Confusing bad. Boring bad. Laughably bad. Bad, bad, bad all around. Director John Boorman should be strapped to a bed and forced to eat pea soup for a week for churning out this debacle. Linda Blair takes equal responsibility for making the decision to return as Regan for a second outing with the devil. In fact, now that I think about it I'm up for rounding up anyone who worked on this film and shipping them off to a desert island with only a TV and a grainy copy of Exorcist II: The Heretic as their company. Those who have seen the original Exorcist know that it stands as a benchmark horror film. It's a truly scary, visceral experience with all around great performances and ambiance. Exorcist II: The Heretic is not scary. Nor does it have great performances. What it does have is a giant superimposed locust flying around and Richard Burton sweating gallons of perspiration. So much for being a classy thriller.
As one watches Exorcist II: The Heretic, a single question keeps popping up: what went wrong? The cast is certainly first rate (for 1977)—Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Louise Fletcher, Max Von Sydow—and the director was the acclaimed John Boorman. How could all of these talented people botch up this movie to such a royal degree? The answer, of course, is an easy one: some stories just shouldn't be continued. Legend has it that original director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty actually met to work on an idea for a sequel but couldn't come up with a decent storyline. Instead of churning out a sub-par film, they smartly walked away from the project. Everyone involved in Exorcist II should have followed their example.
Richard Burton plays a priest who appears to be mimicking Richard Burton. Linda Blair is now a teenager, and the filmmakers take full advantage of her age by making sure her cleavage line plummets south for almost the entire film. Her relationship with Burton's character seems to have shadows of Stanley Kubrick's Lolita. Max Von Sydow returns as Father Merrin, though he only pops up on screen once in a while to recant a prayer. James Earl Jones looks to be doing a dramatic version of his comical King Joffe character from Coming to America. The rest of the cast, including a returning Kitty Winn as Sharon and Louise Fletcher as Regan's keeper, seem all but lost in the murky, muddled screenplay. Exorcist II: The Heretic is just too confusing as a movie, much less a sequel. Whereas the first film was a claustrophobic nightmare set mainly in Regan's bedroom, Exorcist II hops around from continent to continent. We're in New York, then we're in Africa. Then we're flying above the desert and suddenly we're in Regan's apartment. It's as if screenwriter William Goodhart didn't have a clue how to patch a cohesive story together.
The most disappointing thing about Exorcist II: The Heretic is that it includes not a single solitary scare. Unlike the first film, which scared that crap out of audiences in '74, Exorcist II was laughed at upon its initial release and continues to be an uneasy chuckle in the long history of cinematic horror. Let's hope that future filmmakers will take heed of Exorcist II's age old lesson: it's a rare occurrence to witness lighting striking twice.
Exorcist II: The Heretic is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. For such a cruddy film, Warner has certainly put forth some effort into making sure this transfer appears mostly clean and crisp. Certainly this isn't a perfect looking image—often I felt the colors looked too dark while a good amount of edge enhancement showed up during a few key scenes. However, the bulk of this image appears to be in solid condition with only a minimal amount of grain or dirt showing up on the print. Overall this is an above average transfer by Warner.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono and is, not surprisingly, lifeless and boring. Directional effects were completely absent while fidelity was hovering at right about zero. While the soundtrack isn't anything to write home about, the music, effects, and dialogue are all free of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, and Chinese subtitles.
We can release a sigh of relief that the devil had no part in putting together an extensive "special edition" of Exorcist II: The Heretic. Thankfully, the extra features here are thin—included on this disc is an "alternate opening" sequence that's a little different from the original (though not by much), a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer for the film, and some insubstantial info on the cast and crew.
As horror sequels go, Exorcist II: The Heretic ranks a close second as "The Worst Story Continuation Ever Captured on Film," snapping at the heels of the even worse Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Warner's work on this disc isn't great, though it's far above what the movie deserves.
Exorcist II: The Heretic is found guilty of being a paltry sequel to a superior horror classic!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Alternate Opening
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