Exorcist II: The Heretic
There must have been a time in the mid-1970s when filmmakers all over the world were wondering how to jump on the coattails of The Exorcist and either make a film inspired by William Friedkin's masterpiece or make a direct sequel. There were an absolute slew of Exorcist rip-offs from around the world including Abby, a blaxploitation version, L'Anticristo, an Italian rip-off and Magdalena: Possessed by the Devil, a German film inspired by the biggest horror hit in years. There was no sequel until John Boorman, probably in 1976, managed to convince the powers-that-be at Warner Bros to let him make a film following on from the 1973 movie.
If you know anything about The Exorcist then there are a number of cast members who would not return for a follow-up film but Linda Blair was up for it and has had some trouble securing work because she was such a phenomenon that people didn't want their film dogged by people saying that it featured "that girl from The Exorcist". Also up for the sequel was Kitty Winn, who reprises her role as Sharon Spencer who is now Regan's guardian as the screenplay has her mother working out of town but, in reality, Ellen Burstyn flatly refused to take part in the film.
The basic premise for Exorcist II: the Heretic is that a Catholic priest who, like Father Merrin in the original, has had an encounter in Africa with Pazuzu, the Demon that possessed Regan. Father Philip Lamont has been sent to investigate the circumstances of Regan MacNeill's exorcism, particularly the death of Father Merrin (who is now open to posthumous heresy charges) and whether Reagan herself is responsible. Reagan has been having therapy with Dr Gene Tuskin who has been using a 'mind meld' machine called a 'synchronizer' in which she puts Regan under hypnosis but can control her via her own mind and bring her out of the chance if she is in any trouble.
Beyond this, the film is a mess of monumental proportions, with much of it defying logical explanation and, as it reportedly did at the premiere, unintentional laughter. When Father Lamont ends up synchronising with Regan, he ends up in Africa when Father Merrin first encountered Pazuzu and a plague of locusts had descended on the local crops. A rather ambitious flying sequence brings him into contact with Kokumo, an African scientist who tries to banish the locusts from his land but ends up possessed and dressed as a giant locust!
From there, and for absolutely no reason whatsoever, Father Lamont takes Regan back to her old house in Georgetown where they are followed by Dr Tuskin and Sharon Spencer. You have all sorts of weird and wonderful things going on such as Pazuzu turning up as a succubus which looks like Regan, offering him unlimited power, a plague of locusts descending on the house and Sharon immolating herself for reasons best known to the screenwriters.
Aside from the laughter at the premiere, the film was a critical and box office failure (even for its limited budget) and, when Michael Medved and his brother Harry wrote a book called The Golden Turkey Awards in 1980, they made Exorcist II: the Heretic the second worst film ever made as a runner-up to Edward D. Wood Jr's Plan 9 from Outer Space and declaring Richard Burton to be the worst actor of all time. The Medved's awards are obviously slightly flawed but I have absolutely no respect that this film or Richard Burton as a cinematic actor. The fact that he looks as if he is slightly drunk throughout this movie doesn't help and Linda Blair looks decidedly board with proceedings. Why Louise Fletcher, an Academy Awards winning actress, agreed to such a wonderful script is beyond me and her role as Dr Tuskin is way beyond her ability.
When I first saw the film I stuck with it despite the terrible acting, incomprehensible plot and wilful direction waiting for it to improve until the camera zooms in to the adult Kokumo and you have James Earl Jones standing there dressed as a locust at which point I just went "Oh, come on!" and just gave up completely.
I really couldn't bear to sit through a great deal of supplementary material but would wonder what John Boorman had to say for himself but all at the disc contains is the theatrical trailer.
Overall, the picture quality isn't bad and the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer does a pretty good job despite some heavy graining in parts and far from convincing visual effects. The cinematography is nothing to write home about and John Boorman's direction is so awful that I don't blame any of the crew for putting in substandard work.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is clear enough (there are also mono options in French and Italian) as the film doesn't have the complex sound design of The Exorcist which does benefit from a surround soundtrack. Ennio Morricone's score, which ranges from European liturgy to African tribal music is, for the want of a better word, 'interesting', without reaching the heights of the great man's work.
As a psychological horror and sequel to one of the greatest horror films ever made, Exorcist II: the Heretic fails on every level but, if you treat it as a comedy there are quite a few laughs to be had. It is a terrible film but if you go into it expecting the worst and expecting laughs rather than shocks then you won't be as disappointed as I was always years ago.