If the idea of seeing the great James Earl Jones in a locust costume sounds appealing then have I got a film for you. As everyone knows, sequels are fairly dodgy propositions as the failures greatly outnumber the success, for every Godfather Part II we have dozens of films like Speed 2 and Highlander II: The Quickening, and it’s in this latter category that we find John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, a film that isn’t so much a sequel to the William Friedkin classic as more a dare between creatively twisted individuals.
How do you follow the “Scariest movie of all time?” That is a tough question and a sequel of The Exorcist, director John Boorman decided that attempting to expand upon the terrifying world of demonic possession was the way to go. This is not an intrinsically bad idea, unfortunately, this particular expansion involved an incoherent mess of a plot that was nothing more than a haphazard collection of nonsensical ideas stitched together without regard for logic or coherence. It feels as if the filmmakers threw random concepts at the wall to see what would stick, sadly, nothing does. Taking place four years after the original, this sequel follows Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) as she continues to grapple with the trauma of her previous possession, with the aid of Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), who despite Regan’s claims that she has no memory of the horrifying events of the previous film, she is sure those memories are simply suppressed.
Note: Dr. Gene Tuskin’s psychiatric institute appears to consist of a series of transparent cubicles that allow absolutely no privacy for the patients, which seems rather counterproductive to the whole idea of doctor/patient privilege. This is equivalent to working in a fishbowl.
And exactly what kind of therapy does Dr. Tuskin practice? It seems she developed a device called a “synchronizer” which uses flashing lights and pulsing tones to synchronize a person’s brainwaves which allows them to share memories. If this sounds insane and about as scientifically realistic as sticking a fork in a light socket to learn about the heat sink of the universe, it’s actually dumber than it sounds and looks even worse in practice. Not only is this premise just a bunch of scientific gobbledygook but it also relies on the patient being able to hypnotize the doctor so that they can sync up in the “dream world.” This is when things go bad, with Dr. Tuskin almost dying during a session and only saved when Father Lamont (Richard Burton) jumps in and syncs up, despite him having absolutely no idea how any of this shit works. That said, the dream battle between Regan and her possessed alter-ego was kind of fun to watch.
However, instead of building upon the psychological terror and supernatural elements that made the original film so memorable, Exorcist II: The Heretic descends into a chaotic mess of pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo and nonsensical dream sequences. At the centre of this is Boorman’s incomprehensible decision to focus much of the film’s running time on the inexplicably inept priest, Father Phillip Lamont, who is tasked by the Cardinal (Paul Henreid) to investigate the events surrounding the death of Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow). For this, he embarks on a magical mystery tour of Africa to investigate the origins of Regan’s possession, which leads him on a quest to find Kokumo (James Earl Jones), a person who Father Merrin once saved from the demon Pazuzu, who is also the evil force that’s been giving Regan such a hard time.
• It’s hard to believe that the same year James Earl Jones lent his voice to create the iconic villain Darth Vader he also donned a locust costume in one of the most bizarre sequels ever made.
• Lamont keeps a picture of Father Lankester Merrin in his bible and I have to wonder “Is this part of a set of trading cards consisting of Vatican superstars?”
• Casting Nurse Ratched from One Flew of the Cuckoo’s Nest to play the kindly doctor of a psychiatric institute in this film was definitely an interesting choice.
• Regan’s psychic abilities detect a fire in the basement of the institute, which is a good thing because Dr. Tuskin apparently purchased a discount fire prevention system that can’t even detect a raging fire. Mind you, this does lead to Richard Burton flailing feebly at the fire with a stupid crutch, and that is cinematic gold.
• Regan lives in a penthouse apartment that sports a balcony, one that consists of only sporadic guardrails as a safety measure. This allows a sleepwalking person to conviently walk to their death if needed.
• The constant repeating of the names Kokumo and Pazuzu is not only hilarious but can make for a fun if dangerous drinking game.
• The character of Sharon Spencer, one of the few returning characters from the original film, inexplicably becomes a servant of Pazuzu and gets a rather unfair exit from the franchise.
• Father Lamont briefly succumbing to the allure of “Succubus Regan” is a little off-putting considering this is between an underage girl and a Catholic priest.
The greatest sin this movie commits is undercutting the sacrifice of Father Damien Karras from the original film. When Lamont tells Dr. Tuskin, “Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon locked within her!” This means that the sacrifice Karras made was all for not, as the demon is apparently still making its home inside of Regan even after Karras called it into himself before leaping to his death. In fact, this film never even mentions Father Karras, it’s like he didn’t exist and that Father Merrin was the only exorcist to help Regan. This is quite insulting and unforgivable. What this film lacks is a scene where we learn that Chris MacNeil never paid the Catholic Church for the exorcism and that Regan is being repossessed, I know, that’s an old joke but it’s still valid as this whole film is a joke.
The script by William Goodhart took a more philosophical and psychological approach, attempting to delve into the nature of evil and the human psyche and while this ambition is commendable the execution left much to be desired as the movie’s plot became tangled up in a web of dream sequences, metaphysical imagery, and weak character development, leaving audiences more puzzled than engrossed. Script issues aside, the performances in this abomination of a film were equally disastrous. Linda Blair, who once portrayed Regan with such conviction, now seems disinterested and detached while on the other end of the spectrum, we have Richard Burton as Father Lamont, who is so absolutely miscast that it’s embarrassing. His sleepwalks through his lines and fails to inject any semblance of life into his role and that was the nail in the coffin of this entire enterprise.
Visually, the movie is a disaster as well. The cinematography is uninspired and lacks the atmospheric brilliance of the original and where the special effects were meant to invoke horror and awe, instead, they come across as laughably cheesy and outdated. It’s as if the filmmakers threw any semblance of quality out the window, opting for shoddy production values and uninspired set designs. The film’s attempts at horror are laughable at best because instead of building genuine suspense, it relies on cheap jump scares and tacky special effects that have aged as poorly as Richard Burton’s liver. The once-iconic demonic presence of Pazuzu is reduced to a cartoonish sideshow, eliciting more unintentional laughter than genuine fear.
John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic also suffers from atrocious pacing as the film drags on for what feels like an eternity, with excruciatingly long scenes that serve no purpose other than to further confuse and frustrate the audience. The constant shifts in tone and style are quite jarring, leaving viewers bewildered and desperate for some semblance of coherence. Even the technical aspects of the film were abysmal. The cinematography is uninspired and lacks the atmospheric quality that made the original so haunting. The editing is choppy and disjointed, adding to the overall sense of disarray. It is clear that little effort was put into making this film visually appealing or engaging and seeing the once-great Richard Burton stagger through this movie is a shame.
One could accuse this film of being an absolute insult to the intelligence of its audience as it fails to deliver a comprehensive plot and relies on those cheap and predictable jump scares to keep the audience awake, lucky for us, this brings it into the “So bad it’s good” category due to the sheer absurdity of it all, and the attempts at philosophical musings and theological exploration just add to film’s pompous narrative mess and makes this entry laughably shallow and half-hearted as it adds nothing of substance to the overall narrative and certainly no scares. I’d say all of these actors deserve some form of acting award for being able to deliver lines from such a moronic script without bursting out laughing, or at least screaming for their agents. How can you not love such great lines of dialogue as “Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!” or one of Lamont’s greatest rebuttals “Don’t hide behind science, you’re better than that!” but the best example has to be when Regan’s newly developed ESP helps an autistic girl talk and she explains to her why she is at the institute.
In conclusion, Exorcist II: The Heretic is a soul-draining disaster that tarnishes the legacy of its predecessor. It is a muddled, confusing mess of a film, with wooden performances, laughable attempts at horror, and a complete disregard for storytelling. This is a film that failed to capture the spirit of its predecessor and fell victim to a weak script, disjointed narrative, and underwhelming performances. Fans of the original may find some interest in its attempt to expand the mythos, but overall, this sequel disappoints as a standalone film and even worse as a sequel, but for fans of bad movies this is quite a gem.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Movie Rank - 4/10
John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic is a cinematic disaster that tarnishes the legacy of its acclaimed predecessor. This abysmal sequel, directed by John Boorman, will leave audiences questioning the very existence of this unnecessary and poorly executed follow-up.