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Review: The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

by Trey Lawsoncelluloidsheep.wordpress.com

Best Bad Quote:

“I’ve flown this route before. It was on the wings of a demon.”

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First, a confession: The Exorcist is my favorite horror film ever. I even really enjoy a couple of its sequels (check out my review of The Exorcist III – a very good movie – on my blog). It is one of the most successful horror films of all time, and any attempt at a sequel was going to have a tough act to follow. That said, Exorcist II: The Heretic is in some ways a different kind of bad movie from the kind I am used to watching and reviewing. A lot of times, “bad” movies suffer from low budgets, amateurish or untalented casts, shoddy production values, etc.  Taken separately, The Exorcist II has all the makings of a solid film – John Boorman directing, a cast that includes Richard Burton, Max Von Sydow, and James Earl Jones, a great score by Ennio Morricone, and all the special effects Warner Brothers could buy.  But don’t let those things fool you, because despite what directors (whom I otherwise adore) Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante say, The Exorcist II: The Heretic is a really bad movie.

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You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned the script yet. That’s because the plot is where the whole mess starts to unravel. Exorcist II is a film with no logical center to hold onto. It’s never quite clear why things are happening or what sort of cause-and-effect, if any, is at play. The movie continues the story of Regan, again played by Linda Blair, now living in New York and seeing a therapist who attempts to dig out her repressed memory of the exorcism. Meanwhile, Father Lamont, played by a Richard Burton (who looks at best drunk, and at worst really unhealthy), is the token “priest questioning his faith with prior experience performing exorcisms.” He is called upon by the Catholic church to investigate the the events of the first film because the deceased Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is facing charges of heresy. This is the first warning sign that something is wrong with the movie – the original film actually goes out of its way to show the church GIVING PERMISSION for the exorcism, and Merrin is in fact sent by the church to assist after the possession is determined. If anyone, Father Karras, the priest/psychiatrist who examined Regan and ultimately completed the exorcism, is the one who would be under investigation – not that it would make much sense anyway.

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In any case, the investigation is really just a pretense to get Father Lamont to New York, where he becomes fascinated with the possibility that Regan MAY STILL BE POSSESSED BY THE DEMON PAZUZU, or something. See, the psychiatric institute where Regan is treated has a high-tech device called a “synchronizer” which simultaneously hypnotizes two people and allows one person to enter the subconscious of the other. As they get closer to being “in sync” the light on the device flashes more slowly and the accompanying tone becomes slower and deeper. (note: If you think this plot device sounds a lot like the recent sci-fi thriller Inception, you deserve a Pazuzu-shaped cookie.) As both the psychiatrist and Father Lamont synchronize with Regan at various times, they see versions of the exorcism of the first movie (curiously omitting Father Karras), as well as evidence that the demon may still be lurking in Regan’s mind. As if the psychic hypnosis machine pseudoscience wasn’t enough, the movie proposes that everyone who has ever been possessed by Pazuzu (I’ve always wondered exactly how many people like that there are supposed to be. Do they have a club? Reunions?) now has mystical healing powers. This includes Kokumo, who was exorcised by Father Merrin in Africa some time before the first film. Played by James Earl Jones (and in flashbacks by a younger actor), Lamont finds him working as a scientist, studying how to prevent locust swarms. This is symbolic, or ironic, or something, because throughout this film Pazuzu is depicted as a swarm of locusts.

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There is a final confrontation between Father Lamont and Pazuzu, because, well, it’s an Exorcist movie and these things have to happen. More locusts, temptation of a priest, doppelgangers, self-immolation, and general destruction ensue, but rather than being scary the whole thing wavers between awkwardness and silliness. As for resolution, it’s very unsatisfying. Was Merrin a heretic? I don’t know, and neither does Father Lamont because he gave up trying to find out pretty quickly. What is the nature of Regan and Kokumo’s powers, and what do they have to do with God or the Devil? That also isn’t really explained. As with the rest of the movie, things just happen without much interest in revealing how or why.

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When I first saw this movie, I absolutely hated it. It wasn’t long after I’d seen The Exorcist for the first time, and I naively and enthusiastically put in my dad’s VHS of Exorcist II expecting something just as good. It’s clear that nobody involved with Exorcist II: The Heretic had any clue how to go about recapturing the magic of the original film. Unfortunately, their solution was to fill it with unnecessary psychobabble and pseudoscience, dumb dialogue, and hope that everybody would be too in awe of the pretty pictures and special effects to notice. That said, I re-watched the movie for this review – I have the Exorcist franchise box set and had up to this point managed to avoid the second film – and I had a blast. It takes itself so seriously, and is so random/stupid, that I just couldn’t help but laugh at it. Every so often it dips into a bit of philosophy or meditation on the nature of good and evil, and I am reminded that it had the potential to be a very good movie. Usually that would be followed by Richard Burton stumbling through a bit of psychobabble and the moment would be lost. There are actually so many bad lines in this movie I had trouble choosing one to accompany this review. I picked the line that made me laugh even when I hated the rest of the film, but runners-up included “Satan has become an embarrassment to our progressive views” and “I was possessed by a demon. Oh, it’s okay. He’s gone!” Exorcist II: The Heretic manages to technically be better than a lot of bad movies just by having a huge budget and a competent cast/crew, but with Halloween quickly approaching it is a solid addition to any bad horror movie marathon.

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Rating:

2 out of 5 James Earl Jones’ Trying to Look Serious in Homemade Bug Costumes

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5 Responses to “Review: The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)”

  1. KyloDarf says:

    Ahhh I was so excited to watch this I was a huge fan of the first one but it took several viewings to make it through this movie I’m just glad it was giving to me as a present on a brighter note I’m simply gaga over the 3rd one

  2. Jennifer Christner says:

    Just watched this film again (why do I hate myself so much?) and the line about “I was possessed by a demon. It’s okay…he’s gone,” made me laugh so hard I almost had soda come out my nose. I love that this was her response to an “autistic” girl who just began talking. This film is amazingly bad on every level. From James Earl Jones in the locust costume, to drunk Dick Burton’s overacting, to Kitty Winn’s constant neck-craning, to the ridiculous overlays of demon Reagan’s face over the “angelic” Reagan…aye yay ay…this film is just a mess. And for what? There are no answers to any of the preposterous questions the film raises. We never know why Richard Burton was investigating anything. Nor why Reagan’s goodness, or her uncanny and ability to get swarms of locusts to chill the f*ck out matters at all. And then there are more questions…like, why does Gene care so much about Sharon at the end? Sharon was a minorly possessed bitch who wouldn’t help her out of a burning car. Who gives a crap about Sharon? This films is annoying. It has nothing to do with the original, the acting is really bad, and the plot is ridiculous. The only reason to watch this film at all is because Ennio Morricone provided an amazing film score. That’s about it.

    • troy says:

      read trey lawrsons review on exorcist 2 and i enjoyed it. and i was gonna watch it 2nite, id like to sign in 4 his reviews, never done this b4. thx, troy

  3. Vishal says:

    Highly disappointing after watching this movie. Just saw it to watch Linda Blair. Kitty Winn as Sheron disappoints so as Richard Burton, Linda Blair acted well where Louise Fletcher act as a show piece.

  4. AlphaOne says:

    It was pretty good; or rather i liked it – it was genuine, took the character and setting of the original and tried something new, that was more often than not interesting, always visually so.
    Burton was solid, and compelling at times (usually when talking about goodness overcoming/being present within evil,) Blair was charming and almost entirely consistent; a memorable slip after the scene with the autistic girl shows what this movie could have been if she was poor. Some silly lines and scenes, I think Burton says something like ‘don’t hide behind science’ at one point, and the fire searching puzzled me somewhat.Here however, was a telling moment, Burton still had my attention when his face was still and his voice alone was acting… you simply can’t call a film one of the worst of all time when there is a solid frame, which I think is present and mostly redeems the failures. The scene with the falling body; masterful, the tone, the camera as it simply follows the tumbling form in an objective way. The aerial shots, Boorman makes the front of a jet look sinister… v. good. direction. The scene with the autistic girl, genuinely touching and natural, without a trace of sentimentality, as well as encapsulating the screwball absurdity that often accompanies problems in mental health.
    The bad of course; weird melodramatic moments like the beginning, which is abstract in tone from the proceeding developments; Reagan’s guardian, esp. her confession in the house. Also the connection between Reagan and Lamont when he is being attacked didn’t make any sense to me; but it allowed continuity for her tap dancing and the presence of her weird guardian I suppose.
    Overall it was more interesting than the original; it didn’t develop and plod toward the floating bit and the deaths at the end of the first (and that dodgy policeman who hits on priests for film/lunch dates? Maybe I misunderstood friendliness/empathy for weirdness.) This film jumps around and is unafraid of ambiguities, but is not especially vague or riddled with inexplicable occurrences. It just has a few silly moments (the locust mask is NOT one of them – fevered dream sequence of course? , J.E.J. not reacting to the news or specific circumstances of Merrin’s death, the nun’s scene until he leaves the plane, the gratuitous appearance of the children with downs syndrome after the fire, the necessity of climbing to reach that church… etc.) that in no way mark this as a spectacularly bad creation. I think it says far, far more about people’s expectation of a sequel and the special relationship people seem to have with the initial film.
    But, yeah, I would take a ropy Richard Burton, over head spinning most days.

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