Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

JUNE 17, 2008


The trailer for Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the most breathtakingly ridiculous trailers ever made. The techno music, the “what the FUCK?” selection of shots (chanting voodoo folk, cheesy “mind machines”, lots and lots of bees and locusts, etc)... it all leads you to think that the film is just a completely bonkers fever dream; a complete 180 from the clinical and cold original. But sadly, that is not the case – they attempt to COMBINE those things with the dry documentary feel of William Friedkin’s film, resulting in one of the most unfocused films I’ve ever seen.

Apparently, the original script was good enough for Linda Blair to sign on, after she initially refused to do a sequel. But that script was heavily rewritten and she was unable to back out (luckily, everyone else stuck to their guns all the way through). And Christ, does the rewriting show. Scenes and story ideas come and go without ever really being developed; Regan gets ESP and healing powers – goes nowhere. Regan sleepwalks and almost plunges to her death – goes nowhere. Ned Beatty shows up – goes nowhere. There’s no such thing as a completely bad Ned Beatty movie, but to waste him is unforgivable. They are all explained, but in a very clumsy (and quick) manner, as if a line of throwaway dialogue was enough to justify an entire unrelated sequence.

And there’s no goddamn exorcism! Hell, it’s not even clear if Regan is possessed again anyway – there are two of her during the climactic (and only) battle, not sure what that’s all about. But she doesn’t show any of the signs of being possessed (no urinating, no swearing, etc). She passes out during a tap dance recital and draws a guy on fire, and that is the extent of her “problems”. Yet everyone is seemingly more concerned for her health this time, trying to “help” her when we aren’t even really seeing her in any sort of danger. Whatever. There’s actually no real horror/action in the film at all until well over an hour into it; the first hour’s sole “spectacle” is a brief fire sequence, which is hilarious. The fire is small and contained in a small box, but in the process of trying to put it out, our hero manages to set about 6 other things on fire. Nice work dude.

And poor Richard Burton, who has the majority of the film’s silliest moments all to himself (including the fire). His trip to Africa results in him wearing a “native” silk shirt under his priest coat for the film’s final act, and that is the least of his problems. Speaking of “Africa”, it is the absolute worst set I have ever seen. Supposedly this was the most expensive movie in Warner’s history at the time it was made, but it certainly doesn’t show. I half-expected to see a few grips or maybe a studio tour walking around in the background whenever they show us the little African village in flashbacks that take up far too much time in the film (then again, maybe since I know that the 4th film deals with this “prequel” story, it feels a bit pointless in the here and now).

It’s also just blatantly obvious that certain characters that SHOULD have been in the film are not due to the actor not wanting to come back (this is back when recasting a character was taboo). Ellen Burstyn is ridiculously absent – she’s supposedly shooting a movie, but she can’t come back and be with her child during this time of extreme stress/danger? Where is Father Dyer? Oh, the actor didn’t come back, so now we have Burton’s character in the same capacity. Kinderman? Lee Cobb died, so he’s not even mentioned at all (neither is Father Karras, for some reason, even though HE is the one who actually exorcised Regan, not Merrin). And since Blair returned but refused to do makeup again, we have an obvious standin for possessed Regan, giving the film even MORE of a knockoff feel. Even odder, Max Von Sydow, the one actor who you wouldn’t expect to return, actually does, for flashbacks.

Still, it’s not entirely without merit; after all, an uneven film has to have good points as well. The film gives Louise Fletcher one of her rare sympathetic roles, and the basic concept is fine (the priest is investigating Regan to see if her exorcism was warranted, as Merrin is being blamed for heresy). And the finale, baffling as it may be, is pretty exciting, and features the sad death of a character we have come to really like. With some more focused writing and maybe the complete removal of Merrin’s flashback sequences (10-15 min to tell us what we already know – that Merrin performed an exorcism), this would actually be pretty good. No one was expecting it to surpass the original, but there’s no excuse for the quality to drop this low.

The disc’s extras are disappointing, just the amazing trailer and an “alternate opening sequence”. I wasn’t expecting a tell-all doc or even a commentary by John Boorman, but there’s an entirely different ending, plus other scenes, that were released on video before, so why they are not included here is just strange, especially since it’s in the deluxe box set. Oh well. On to part three!

What say you?


  1. "There’s no such thing as a completely bad Ned Beatty movie, but to waste him is unforgivable."

    quote of the year!

  2. The classiest thing Boorman ever did was Excalibur. That trailer being crazier then Kathrine Harris running for the Senate should not have come as a shock.

    You did see Zardoz, right?

  3. Wow, you're right: that trailer is money, and if the movie had the bizarre energy of the trailer it would have been great. Eager to read pt. 3 - the book on which it's based, if I remember ("Legion"), was interesting enough - the movie, well...love that last scene.


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