Tuesday, November 12, 2013


John Boorman, 1977
Starring: Richard Burton, Linda Blair, Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn

A priest, Father Lamont, is in South America performing an exorcism on a young woman. He is having a crisis of faith and is soon sent to examine the case of Father Merrin, killed while performing an exorcism on Regan McNeil four years before. The Church has decided that evil is no longer real and wants to charge Merrin for heresy. The now 16 year old Regan seems well adjusted and attends regular therapy sessions, though she claims not to remember her possession. 

Lamont travels to New York to meet Regan, who lives with her mother’s assistant Sharon and spends time at an outpatient program in a psychiatric institute. Her doctor, Gene Tuskin, has invented a biofeedback machine that allows a patient and therapist to connect brain waves, allowing the therapist to uncover repressed memories. During one of these sessions, Dr. Tuskin is almost trapped in Regan’s exorcism memory and must be rescued by Lamont, who is there observing. Lamont learns of Father Merrin’s earlier exorcism on a young boy in Africa, Kokumo, and travels to Africa to find him. 

Lamont learns that both Kokumo and Regan were targeted by the demon Pazuzu, because they have certain powers and are psychic healers. Merrin believed people like them were spreading throughout the world and must be protected. Lamont returns to Regan and they journey back to the house in Georgetown for one final confrontation with Pazuzu.

Infamous as one of the worst films of the ‘70s, The Exorcist’s writer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin both refused to return for this sequel, along with a number of other major players in the first film. The original protagonist was supposed to be Father Dyer, but Father William O’Malley could not return, so the character of Father Lamont was created. Kitty Winn returned as Sharon Spencer, stuck in the role of Regan’s caretaker because Ellen Burstyn (Regan’s mother Chris in the first film) refused to return. 

I don’t even know where to begin with The Exorcist II: Heretic. The film is known for being absolutely terrible, but it honestly makes such little sense that it has an almost surreal quality and anyone who loves really trashy movies will probably enjoy it a lot. And of course there are all of the accidentally hilarious parts. Let’s think about the plot. For starters, the whole premise is set up around the fact that Father Merrin is posthumously being charged with heresy, even though there are multiple scenes in The Exorcist assuring that Regan’s exorcism is Church sanctioned. Secondly, there is really no reason to think that Regan is possessed again. She is living a relatively normal life until Lamont shows up with a bug up his ass about Pazuzu. 

While the studio may have scored some quality actors, Richard Burton is drunk for the entire film, Max von Sydow begrudgingly returned to shoot some flashback sequences, and James Earle Jones is just ridiculous as the adult Kokumo. He has to wear a locust costume at one point and in a vision sequence, he is dressed as a shaman-like figure and makes a whole tomato materialize in his mouth. And then he spits the whole thing at Richard Burton, of course in slow motion. 

Then there’s Louise Fletcher, fresh from winning as Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who appears here as a doctor. In Cuckoo’s Nest she was Nurse Ratchett, probably the least trustworthy fictional medical figure of all time (next to Dr. Giggles, of course). For some reason John Boorman was chosen to direct. He may have directed Deliverance and Excalibur, but before The Exorcist II, he made Zardoz. What did the studio really think they were going to get? Boorman’s regular collaborator Rospo Pallenberg helped him do several script re-writes (and also some direction), which allegedly just made the script messier and messier, as re-writes continued throughout shooting. 

As with The Exorcist, the production was plagued with issues that allowed the idea of a cursed production to continue. The director and two stars suffered illness, the film stock was damaged, locusts died, etc. Probably my favorite story about The Exorcist II involves the opening night screening in New York, when audience members allegedly chased studio executives down a city street, they hated the film so much.  

The wonderful score from Ennio Morricone is probably the best thing about this film and goes a long way towards making some very silly scenes at least seem kind of mystical. For much of the movie, Boorman obviously tried to go for a dreamy, hallucinogenic feel, which he actually accomplishes in one or two scenes. There are some interesting moments, namely the swarms of locusts over D.C. and multiple cases of self-immolation that are CGI free and look pretty realistic. Blair refused to wear the possessed make up a second time and the least convincing double imaginable plays her Pazuzu-filled doppelgänger. The whole thing is unavoidably silly. A house collapses in the conclusion, Richard Burton makes out with possessed Regan, and did I mention that Regan suffers some kind of psychic attack while TAP DANCING? I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

I’m reviewing The Exorcist Complete Anthology collection, which includes both the original version of The Exorcist and the director’s cut, The Exorcist II, The Exorcist III, and the two prequels, Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. There are also numerous special features. I almost have to recommend The Exorcist II, which falls into that “so unbelievably bad you have to see it to believe it” category. James Earle Jones spits a tomato at Richard Burton. Enough said. 

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