WARNER BROS. PICTURES (1977)
Director: John Boorman
Starring: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, James Earl Jones
Crafting a sequel to any movie is seemingly challenging enough, having to overcome comparisons and creating an original story whilst attempting to capture the first films successes is not an easy task. It’s made even tougher when the original is a cinematic classic (and in this reviewers eyes, a masterpiece) and ended with a seemingly conclusive end.
Step forward Warner Bros. and John Boorman to continue the story of The Exorcist whilst creating a movie to rival the original's brilliance.
Unfortunately Boorman has other ideas. This movie is utterly ridiculous. Devoid of any of the first movies layered storytelling and strangling tension, Exorcist II: The Heretic presents us with dream machines, James Earl Jones dressed as a massive locust, some of the worst dialogue in cinema history, terrible exposition and Richard Burton. This does not begin to touch on the absurdity of this movie. I love films that take a chance, that challenge the norm, and this one certainly does that, but it falls so far from the mark it’s bizarre.
Simply put, the movie's plot is that the demon thought to have been exorcised from Regan McNeil still resides within her (sigh...) and the death of Father Merrin is to be investigated by Father Lamont (Burton). Neither proves to be very interesting, one is almost glossed over and the other is lost to absurd storytelling.
It can be applauded for not simply rehashing the premise of the original story and attempting something different. There is no real ‘exorcism’ throughout the movie so to speak – the movies admittedly decent intro handles this – and we are provided with an interesting premise – it’s been four years since Regan McNeil was rid of the demon within her, what were the lasting effects? Unfortunately, this isn’t treated as worthy of much more than a few scenes and remarks. The movies denouement deals with this in a ridiculous manner.
Nobody emerges unscathed from this movie, mainly due to the dialogue and the preposterous situations offered. I like Louise Fletcher, she’s a fine actress (here playing Regan’s shrink Dr. Gene Tuskin), but having her convulse from a dream machine whilst being groped by Linda Blair is not something that should be used as a tribute to her portfolio. Blair looks close to believing in the lines she is fed at minimal times during the movie. Then there’s Richard Burton as Father Lamont. Star of such standards as Where Eagles Dare, Equus and Becket, a multiple Academy Award nominee reduced to staring, grunting and sweating. His performance is absolutely incredible for how awful it is, not even booze could save this showing. A Z-rate Father Karras.
Boorman and William Goodhart managed to conspire to write some vomit-inducing dialogue to drag the movie down further, such benchmarks as Regan telling an autistic child “I was possessed by a demon. Oh it’s OK, he’s gone!” as if it was as normal as buying some milk. James Earl Jones threatening “if Pazuzu comes for you I will spit a leopard” sounding like Darth Vader’s electronics went haywire. Then Father Lamont got to talk, here are a few of his howlers:
“Your machine has proven scientifically that there’s an ancient demon locked within her!”
“You've got to fight that demon that's inside her! It's preventing her from reaching full spiritual power!”
“When the wings (of the locust) have brushed you... is there no hope once the wings have brushed you?”
And my all-time favourite:
“I've flown this route before. It was on the wings of a demon.”
I don’t like using bullet points within reviews, but this warranted it. Imagine Burton shaking and sweating in a priest costume repeating those lines and you’re part way to imagining the pure idiocy of them.
The movie isn’t all bad. At times it looks beautiful – the rooftops shots of Regan overlooking the city are beautiful – and it also has a bonkers soundtrack from Ennio Morricone, featuring the sublime “Regan’s Theme” (a theme he would revisit for 2015’s The Hateful Eight) and a wonderfully loopy trailer composition (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFspymGVZLY). I thought the intro was a pretty decent setup to the movie - a young possessed girl in South America is pleading for the help of Father Lamont, only the demon inside her has other ideas, including immolation. Sadly, it’s a tone that unfortunately didn’t reflect during the rest of the movie.
An unnecessary sequel with diabolical acting and dialogue is saved only by trying to be different and harnessing a bizarreness that makes this movie almost watchable. Entertainingly bad, but a slap in the face to the original – Blatty, Friedkin and Ellen Burstyn wisely steered well clear of this.
It is advisable to watch this movie in full Richard Burton mode: Pissed and sweating.
June 22nd 2017