ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B
starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn
screenplay by William Goodhart
directed by John Boorman
by Bill Chambers Possibly the worst film ever made and surely the worst sequel ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic is the last of an uneven trilogy to hit DVD. Understand that while I would only recommend a purchase to my arch-enemy, the picture is definitely worth seeking out in the way that one likes to see the Leaning Tower of Piza or Easter Island before leaving this world--it's the greatest unnatural wonder known to cinema. I've now endured it twice (please send my Medal of Honor for self-sacrifice in the line of duty in care of this website), the second time so that I could compile a list of my favourite bits; apologies in advance if this review reads too dada for its own good.
Exorcist II: The Heretic stars a particularly impliable Richard Burton as Father Lamont, an exorcist asked by the Catholic church--for reasons unclear no matter how often they repeat the word "heresy"--to investigate the final days of the exorcist, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow, reprising his role from the original film in mock flashbacks), necessitating that Lamont pay a visit to Regan (Linda Blair), The Exorcist's pre-teen victim and Merrin's surrogate killer. Regan--who's blossomed into quite the chipper Lolita (the film has none of the feminine disgust of its predecessor and indeed cuts away from ugliness at every opportunity to inappropriate tease shots of Blair--not that a moment of Exorcist II: The Heretic falls under "appropriate")--spends her afterschool hours as an outpatient at a mental hospital in (I think) New York City, where Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher, possibly cast to turn the character into a red herring (given her Oscar-winning evil-nurse role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest the previous year) but more likely for her physical resemblance to The Exorcist's Ellen Burstyn) is about to start her on a new treatment using a device with blinking lights on it that, yes, allows one person to stroll around inside the subconscious of another.
Witness to Regan's first run at this "synching machine," Lamont likes what he sees: "Your machine has proved scientifically that an ancient demon is locked within her." Tuskin smiles and nods. Every development in Exorcist II: The Heretic is an elephant in the room: probably the best example of this is Lamont being handed a sketch of a flaming skull by a nurse's aide, who then nonchalantly tells him, "Regan did a picture of you--she draws well." But the reason the film is so inspired-bad is because John Boorman, the most schizophrenic director in the business (he followed up Deliverance with Zardoz and Exorcist II with Excalibur), helmed it whole-souled--no mere hackjob could be as incoherent, laughable, or drippy as Exorcist II: The Heretic. If nothing else, the picture's conviction feels intense; you want to pat its head and say, "Good boy." That Boorman, he draws well.
Making a memorable entrance in a Julie Taymor mask and spitting hard-boiled eggs in slow-motion, James Earl Jones appears as the healer Kokumo, the grown-up survivor of an exorcism. ("Ah yes, Pazuzu. My mother told me," Kokumo recalls fondly of the hellspawn that once monopolized his carcass.) Tracked down by Lamont to Ethiopia, he is perhaps the key to solving what is evasively referred to as "the circumstances surrounding Father Merrin's death" until the bitter end, but instead the two discuss the habits of locusts. Back at Tuskin's offfice, Regan has a similarly fruitless meeting upon approaching a girl we know is autistic because she announces herself as such: "I'm autistic. I'm withdrawn." Now consider the rest of their exchange:
Autistic, withdrawn girl - "What's the matter with you?"
Regan - "I was possessed by a demon."
Autistic, withdrawn girl frowns.
Regan - "Oh, it's okay. He's gone."
When tribesman (pierced, spear-wielding villagers are a Boorman fetish; see also: The Emerald Forest and Beyond Rangoon) stone Lamont, a telepathically-linked Regan, tap dancing in a simultaneous Broadway revue put on by anything-but-mental patients, slips and falls off the stage. (Or is it at her high school--the film can't be bothered to establish a single one of its locations, with the exception of one mildly effective, near-iconic dolly-in to the word "Georgetown.") I don't know how exactly William Friedkin's brilliant The Exorcist bore a sequel featuring multiple scenes of Linda Blair in a tuxedo T-shirt getting showered with glitter and a Ned Beatty cameo (as the pilot of a crop duster who flies a path his passenger Lamont has travelled before--"on the wings of a demon!"), but there it is. Half of you wishes you understood what the hell Exorcist II: The Heretic is saying as the other half sighs in relief: what specialized dementia would that require? With a minute of opening credits "music" that sounds like Marge Simpson taking a shit (I love Ennio Morricone to death, but there are times when he's just a kid with a rattle), you can't say the makers of Exorcist II: The Heretic didn't try to warn you--and you can't say I didn't, either.
Warner Home Video's DVD presentation of Exorcist II: The Heretic vacillates between good and mediocre. The print used for the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is free of debris, but it looks worn all the same, with fleshtones on the pink side and an absence of deep blacks. Shadow detail is fair, though Lamont's trek through Africa offers subtle improvements on each of the above criticisms. The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio is actually quite clean; fidelity rarely sounds strained. Extras include an alternate opening that recaps the events of The Exorcist through freeze-frames and Burton voiceover--a 2-minute prologue whipped up for the TV version of the film; teaser and theatrical trailers for Exorcist II: The Heretic; and filmographies for Blair, Burton, Boorman, and screenwriter William Goodhart. Given his penchant for self-criticism in other commentary tracks, it's a shame that Boorman did not record one for this release. Originally published: August 1, 2002.
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