Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) Review by RevTerry

Barring a lengthy discussion on the two different versions of the prequel film, The Exorcist Series, in my mind, is comprised of 3 films: The Exorcist (1973), The Ninth Configuration (1980) and The Exorcist III (1990 more recently the directors “Legion” cut specifically). It's one of many unofficial film groupings that I prefer to the official canon but also the most valid, as not only does it carry common actors, characters, and themes but the original source author, William Peter Blatty, was instrumental in the production of all three films as well. They fit together adequately to create a grim epic on the topic of human suffering, the existence of “Good” or “Evil” and religious guilt. As far as I'm concerned, the three films, while not perfect, make one complex but complete thought, with no further need for any of the 3 other filmed works in the official series. When I am in the Exorcising mood and make the plunge into the long dark journey made up by those three preachy ass chapters, I like to pretend the others don't even exist (except possibly one prequel). A Linda Blair type of night, however, is a whole fucking different beast altogether. Outside of the original Exorcist, the rest of her cult classics are far less cerebral than the depressing combo of The 9th Configuration, and Legion. The official Exorcist sequel, for which she returned in 1977, is probably the furthest you can get from the spirit of this series and has even been called “one of the worst films ever made”. I don't know about that extreme wording, because while it really has no place among those more thoughtful works, on certain nights (let's say between flicks like The Chilling and Grotesque), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) feels just right and makes for some more than watchable supernatural trash.
The film opens with the slightly unsure priest, Father Lamont (), performing an exorcism on a young woman in a Latin American country. Shit goes south pretty quick when the young girl lights herself on fire and does her best impression of Judge Doom at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (only without as much melting and 11 years earlier). We then jump to Regan MacNeil (), who seems to have forgotten the ordeal of her possession by the demon Pazuzu four years before. She spends her time visiting some kind of extremely high tech (for the 70s) psychiatric institute, where her status is monitored by a Dr. Gene Tuskin (). Tuskin, who seemingly helps youth to overcome various handicaps with technology, believes Regan is just repressing the memories of a psychosis induced traumatic event and wants to hook her up to some kind of magic biofeedback/mind melding machine, to which Regan declines initially. The film cuts back to Father Lamont, who has just been charged with investigating Father Merrin’s death (from the first movie), by the higher-ups at the Catholic church. You get the hint the church wants to kind of sweep the whole thing under the rug and doesn't really want the word getting out that sometimes they battle demons. He isn't keen on the idea having had botched an exorcism recently himself, but the cardinal gives him little choice, in a scene reminiscent of something you would see in a cop drama between a renegade detective and his Sargent. The padre reluctantly visits the institute were Regan is being studied and initially receives, mostly, pushback from Dr. Tuskin, who doesn't want to cause any further damage to Regan's mental state. Within a few minutes though, and after Regan pops her head in the room, they all decide the best course of action is for everyone take a ride on the biofeedback machine into Regan’s head. The next day they meet up and everyone takes turns wearing goofy probe- attached headgear and poking the evil that still resides inside Regan's mind. Of course, that shit doesn't go well at all, and old Pazuzu gets back into his shenanigans and fucks with everyone, only this time with the sensibilities of a Sting solo album, complete with faux-African chants, healers, and other new age bullshit.
While the story connects to the original with little issue, its tone is completely changed. Even at its most bleak, the movie feels more like a follow up to The Omen (1976) than the original Exorcist but with strangely uplifted spirits. The first half slips into a weird, almost sci-fi like setting that includes Star Trek style automatic doors and unbelievable leaps in hypnosis technology. It exhausts little attention on the central priests struggle with his faith or “worthiness”--the only real tie to the original’s type of drive, and it never really flushes out enough details for that conflict to be felt over the swirling optimistic pseudoscience. Its attempts at surrealism fall in more closely to low-grade Italian trash cinema than anything Blatty ever wrote. The effect of these moments is mostly created by fade-ins and repetitive chanting, as if a 90s soccer mom was having an acid flashback while hopped up on holistic medicine. As it leans into the religion angles, harder towards the middle, it also brings with it an almost adventurous note, with the priest globetrotting for clues and Regan's infliction becoming more superpower like. The magic elements leave the Catholic religion subject altogether and venture into new age mysticism. Instead of the puke covered physical and mental war between good and evil of the first, it opts for what mostly boils down to hokey “dream” battles, like some kind of ignored/lost precursor to Nightmare on Elm Street 3’s gimmick.
It's pretty fucking uneven, but, in a way, the clashing makes it feel a little ahead of its time. The mixed-bag, horror stylings feel a lot like the various genre sequels that would come out later on and into the middle of the 80s. It's very much the quintessential cash grab follow-up. It has the distinct flavor of a rushed slightly original script that has been stepped on and rewritten several times. Ideas are all over the place and mostly severed. Supernatural forces run rampant in this alternative universe, and all religions are truly one. It tries to fit in so much mysticism, laced with soft lighting that it ends up completely erasing the terrible bleak world the first Exorcist built and replaces it with one of powerful magic. An alternative overly religious place where the holy and divine always seems to outgun the eternally malicious. The mess plops out at the other end as an overall surprisingly fun film. This is also probably one of the reasons it gets so much hate. The dream powers and happy ending feel incongruous when placed between the more morbid, angry bulk of the series. It is a complete failure of a continuation, but without that cross to bear, the well worked over, confused schlock makes for a good but goofy ass watch.
Despite the fact that plot is mangled, the technical production is mostly solid, as it was still a major motion picture for its time. While apparently still made on the cheaper and streamlined side of things, and obviously to turn an easy profit, its production values are mostly on the higher end. A Lot of the movie is brightly lit and draped in yellows. It's a terrible design scheme for an “Exorcist” movie, but it creates a kind of dreamlike feeling that works well with the mysticism and psychic abilities that have been thrown wildly into the plot. One of my biggest real complaints is the sound levels for the layered chanting and screams that accompany the surreal sequences. I spend all fucking day watching movies where people are screaming, and I had to turn down the cacophony that manifests at certain points in this film. It's mostly on the volumes used against the rest of the audio, but also it’s extremely repetitive and sometimes seems out of place.
Both William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty washed their hands of the rush job sequel. Instead, the film credits John Boorman as director and William Goodhart as the writer, although there is a good chance they had a lot of unwanted help from the studio. Linda Blair agreed to return (sans any demon makeup), and spends most of the film with a huge smile on her face, despite her characters supposed internal battle. It's far from her best, or even her best bad work, but she is one of the film’s main sources of engagement. The corny aired role almost acts as a sneak peek to the Blair we will get into the 80s, as she leaves the Regan role behind and takes her true place in Cult Film Sainthood. Legend Max von Sydow comes back as Father Merrin in the film’s many flashbacks, giving only about 30% of the powerful character he portrayed in the first. Outside of Kitty Winn (who returns as Sharon Spencer), the rest of the characters are new additions to the series. Richard Burton plays the new priest assigned to the case. Another veteran, his character plays well with the new, brighter environment even if it’s a little undeveloped. There is actually quite a few familiar faces, including James Earl Jones, who plays the grown Kokumo, another of the film universe's magic healers. Oh, and I'm pretty sure I saw Ned Beatty in there somewhere… or was that The Unholy (1988). Maybe both-- Its possible Ned Beatty fights demons in real life.
I can't argue that Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) is a good sequel. It's a terrible sequel. In a lot of ways it's the worst kind of sequel, it completely misunderstands the first film and even does it's best to sour up some of its finer points. It's far better when viewed as a stand-alone, corny supernatural thriller. There is a fun trashy satan-ploitation flick in there when you're not worried about how it compares to the more “true” films in the series, or if anything makes sense. So-the-fuck what if it's not great for the those Exorcist type of nights? It fits wonderfully on Linda Blair Night or, maybe even, Bad 80s Sequel Night, despite its late 70s release date. It's certainly not one of the worst films of all time as some might proclaim, not even fucking close. You tell anyone that says that to come see me, because I have some movies that they need to experience before they go running around saying shit like that. Seriously tell them. I'm lonely and own a whole fucking bunch of really bad movies.
1h 58min | 1977
Director:John Boorman


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