Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, the kitchen sink, and a roster of talent more stacked than my last Tinder rejection.
More details here.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Father Lamont (Burton) is an exorcist who may or may not officially work with the Vatican to travel around the world saving kiddies from that nasty old Satan and his many minions. Unfortunately, his efforts, which includes sweating and looking nervous, go sideways and he loses one said kiddie. Whoops!
After this latest failure, Lamont is summoned by the Pope (Henreid), not to discuss losing a gal to Ol' Scratch but to investigate the death of Father Merrin (von Sydow) who passed away during Regan MacNeil's (Blair) exorcism in Washington, DC years ago. Suspicion has been raised that the child-possessing demon Pazuzu may still be lurking in the real world, remaining a threat to the dollar droppers in the coin basket every Sunday.
Meanwhile, Regan now lives in New York independently from her mother, attends musical theater school, and sees therapist Dr. Tuskin (Fletcher) at a clinic for the young and physically challenged, special needs children, and the former tormented by the hoary hosts of Hell. Regan is quickly approaching adulthood and is blossoming into a beauty, and honestly she can trickle down my economics anytime.
Tuskin experiments with hypnosis technology in the hopes of unlocking Regan's lost memories of her possession which piques the interest of Lamont who arrives at the clinic and wants in on the fun.
But things go haywire yet again when the experiment unleashes all-too real illusions of Merrin's encounter with Pazuzu-possessed Regan, the truth behind Merrin's death, and scenes from a better movie.
Lamont suspects that Regan could be the key to finding and eradicating Pazuzu's influence and recommends continuing Tuskin's treatment, though Tuskin herself remains skeptical. A side effect of the therapy is also Regan's incessant Calvin Klein-inspired dreams.
Lamont awakes from this strange string of weirdness and encounters the real Kokumo - Dr. Kokumo as a matter of fact - who is an entomologist who studies locusts and has discovered a way to control them by genetically engineering a "Good Locust" that influences the behavior of the other ones. Finally getting the author's message, Lamont travels back to Washington to the site of Regan's possession with Regan herself tagging along.
Or is it???
(Yes, it is.)
If you know me IRL, you know that the original Exorcist is the one movie that has haunted and terrified the living piss out of me for decades. I was too young to watch it in theaters during its theatrical run so it wasn’t until the movie’s heavily edited TV version aired that I experienced just the tip of the trauma it would afford me as a kid. I would lay awake in my bed wrecked by worry, but not about whether or not I would get that Snoopy Good Grief Glider for X-mas, or whether Nana Tremendo’s albondigas would make my pants squishy, or whether Jaclyn Smith would prefer a church wedding over eloping to Vegas. Naw, man, my big worry was whether Mama Tremendo would be able to afford to bring in an exorcist to help avert the inevitable consuming of my soul by El Diablo. Those were some sweat-soaked nights, my friends. And after watching the full unedited version on video later, things got worse.
To this day, the late, great William Friedkin’s demonic epic echoes vividly in my brain whenever I wake up in the middle of night lost in fright having imagined faint but harsh whispers of Mercedes McCambridge uttering “Your Mother sews socks in heck!”, “What’s a Weebles Marina, you moron?” and “Whatever it is you are doing, you are doing it wrong”. I did not dare own a copy of the film until very recently and I think it’s somewhere in my home still sealed, un-played, and probably lying under a pile of crucifixes. Friedkin’s film is a reminder that though I may have become jaded by all the horror films I see now, there is still one that will make me squirm, shudder, and fatly weep despite the passing years. The Exorcist is a monumental piece of cinema that elevated the horror genre to the Academy Awards and critical acclaim, impacted the cultural psyche with that haunting score and vivid terrifying imagery, and widened the path to dare future horrific works to keep up with the scariest film ever made.
So why in the hell does The Exorcist II: The Heretic exist? Good question. Consumer demand? Money grab? Capturing the zeitgeist? Coke bill? I have no specific answers, but I will say this: am I ready to declare that this generally despised film considered to be among the worst sequels in movie history is tragically underrated? To put it mildly, FUCK NO, but with some exceptions. What we have here is a complete 180 degree turn from sophisticated terror and a study of faith to a ponderously stylistic psychic archeological mystery that blows up like a Burger King bathroom in Hell. The production is stacked with talent from director John Boorman (Deliverance), cinematographer William Fraker (Bullitt), master film composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), returning stars from the first movie Blair, Winn, and von Sydow, screen legend Burton, Academy Award winner Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), and cameos from the great James Earl Jones and Ned Beatty. Plus Boorman brought in writer and frequent collaborator of his more stellar works Rospo Pallenberg, perhaps the greatest real fake name of all time.
But in the end, all this immense potential churned out a confusing, stiff to the point of amateur, and overly ambitious 117-minute spectacular fail. Blair is cute as the nearing adulthood Regan but her bubble headed, never fully explained psychosis muddies the story. Burton appears fully committed and because he's Richard Burton he commands his every onscreen moments of nonsense. The normally outstanding Fletcher is unbelievably bad, shambling from scene to scene like a soap opera zombie. Winn returns as Blair's assistant and shouty confidant who gets a fiery bum deal in the end. Morricone's ethereal score cannot mesh with the mess on screen. Fraker's imagery may have looked great on the big screen forty years ago but every digital and DVD copy of this film I've seen is grainy, dark, and is as pleasant to look at as (Insert obligatory pea soup reference here). Although the third act is menace to all that is decent, the movie is nearly saved by the always dependable Jones who briefly classes up the joint. Oddly and most frustratingly, Father Karras (Jason Miller) from the original film is never discussed or mentioned despite that his actions saved Regan in end. But - aha! - that's another story for the next installment in the franchise.
A hugely scandalous and/or sad story may lie behind this production, one too long or boring to reprint here. A more compelling story could have evolved out of what was attempted as there are some interesting ideas at work that expand the notion of faith in the modern world and myth versus science. But whatever happened behind the curtain certainly killed that subtext with a spray of holy water. The Exorcist II is so bad it's avant garde. It is a repudiation of the squirms, shudders, and tears that the great horror movies deliver. It's someone's murky memory of a movie recalled after waking from a Richard Burtonesque three-day bender. And it could have been something better had they listened to Ms. McCambridge's raspy volcanic voice whisper "Do better" in the middle of the night.
As far as your Halloween marathon, I completely do not recommend watching this one. Not a single scare to be found unless frustration, boredom, and confusion makes you shit your pants.
As of 10/4/23, The Exorcist II: The Heretic is streaming on Max.