Review Date: October 15, 2006
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 8/6/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
After The Exorcist
became the highest grossing movie ever made (a title it would hold for little over a year in lieu of Spielberg’s shark) a sequel was unavoidable. William Friedkin was lost deep in Mexico as he trudged through his maligned pet project, Sorcerer
, and Ellen Burstyn was now a bonafide star after the success of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
. Blatty’s negative experience with the profits and artistic control being seized from him on The Exorcist
had soured him from participating and even Linda Blair, the set piece of the original, refused to come back unless she was promised no scenes in heavy makeup. So right from the start, with the abandonment of most of the first film’s principals, Exorcist II
: The Heretic
was doomed for a rough ride.
Little did people know that that ride would consist of swarms of locusts, James Earl Jones dressed as a bug, Richard Burton hallucinating to strobe lights and most telling of all, the uproarious laughter with which audiences the world over greeted the film. At that time the most costly film ever made by Warner Brothers, and only pulling in less than a tenth of the original’s gross, The Heretic
was a big fat bomb. It’s been thirty years, and director John Boorman still remains much acclaimed, so why not give The Heretic
a second chance? Put away the pea soup...this is going to get messy.
The story picks up four years after the events in the original, with Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair
) now undergoing counseling at a children’s hospital. Her doctor, Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher
) attempts to make Regan aware of the demonic events she underwent, but Regan remains happy and oblivious. Then enters Father Lamont (Richard Burton
) a cowardly and spiritually conflicted priest. He is mandated by a higher-up in the Vatican to explore the events that happened to Father Merrin in the original, and thus it is back to Georgetown. It was speculated by the church that Merrin lost his faith in his final moments, and whether the priest is shunned or given sainthood depends on the findings of Lamont. What Lamont finds though is more than just a few simple answers, he finds a swarm of them!
Lamont finally meets up with Regan, and the two partake in an advanced form of meditational communication. Both have probes placed on their foreheads, and to the blinking of a light, they are transported to some disturbing places. One such place is the East African plains, where Merrin (played in flashback by Max Von Sydow) worked as an archeologist (to be explored further in the prequels). In Africa, a swarm of biblical locusts attack the land as the demon Pazuzu possesses a small African boy. Another meditation takes Lamont, Regan and Gene back to that haunting bedroom from the original, where they witness the extent of Merrin’s actions.
Simply traveling through meditative meetings is not enough for the priest however, and Father Lamont instead demands Regan conjure the demon inside of her once again to rid the world of the unholy beast. Slowly, Regan begins to address the possession she had suppressed all those years, and in so doing allows the devil to overcome her. The world will need more than just a priest to exorcize her though, and both Lamont and Gene must bridge both religion and science to put away Beelzebub until the next sequel.
really is a piece of work. The acting is awful, with Richard Burton little to do than pensively stare at the camera and Louise Fletcher delivering her lines as if she forgot she had just won an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
. The pacing is probably even worse, with an almost unbearable opening and several pointless interludes throughout the film thereafter. The script is filled with bad movie gems, like my personal favorite, upon being asked why she is staying in a kids help center, Regan responds matter-of-factly with “I was possessed by a demon…it’s okay though, he’s gone!” The much touted production budget, too, is wasted, with some of the most generic costumes and shoddy effects work to grace a big budget film of its ilk.
The biggest travesty of the film though, is how dumbed down and tame the possession sequences seem. All of the heretical obscenities and virilities that made the original so shocking were replaced with diminutive séances with little real effect. In a way it takes “The Scariest Film of All Time” and renders it into a children’s story as it follows Regan on her path to healing children and feeding stray doves. At times it takes a sentimental turn so steep it is the difference between Cat People
and The Curse of the Cat People
Yet, no matter how ill conceived and executed the majority of the film is, there remains still several moments of some truly strange imagery. There are enough insert shots of locusts to make the harvesting scenes in Days of Heaven
look bare, and the sheer randomness of events brings forth an uncomfortable tone. Images of locusts flying head on into the camera are mirrored by incredibly long shots of airplanes doing the same in some sort of artistic way at converging the prophecies of the bible with today’s modern society. Director John Boorman probably only knows the meaning, but when such scenes are scored with some insane Morricone caterwauling and tribal chanting, such scenes no doubt leave an impact.
The film gets crazier as it goes along, with shots of beating hearts being pulled from chests, locusts devouring each other, and some excessively random shots of herds of zebra and wapiti running along the plains. So while The Heretic
never really makes cohesive sense (and the bits that do are too boring to remember), it surely provides a memorable cacophony of off-putting weirdness. It is no wonder the film got laughed off of screens when it was first released, it for the most part is a massive failure. But its images still linger, like the eye slice in Un Chien Andalou
. Those locusts never sleep.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The transfer, originally minted in 2002, is now several years old, and its age shows. The entire picture exhibits a soft visual quality. There is a fair bit of grain as well, and considering the amount of optical effects work done in the film, the noise is all the more noticeable. The print is relatively clean, with dust and specs popping up occasionally. There are some instances of inconsistent colors, noticeable especially on the back of Lamont’s head at around the 39 minute mark. Still, the picture is anamorphic and relatively clean, so while it could be better, it could be much worse.
The film is presented as it was shown in English mono. Morricone’s soundtrack lacks depth but never borders on being shrill. Dialogue sounds very clear, and the track never gets overwhelmed by music or effects. There is no distortion or hissing present, but considering how great Morricone’s music is, one wishes this track was a whole lot more.
: The Heretic
comes only with an alternate opening and a couple trailers, but all three are just as bizarre and amusing as the finished film. The opening ties the film with the original using more archive footage, but provides a context that the finished film lacks. The trailers though…wow. The teaser is probably scarier than the entire film, as it takes some macabre pieces of art and starts transforming and morphing them together as that ominous trailer announcer voice repeats the title several times. The trailer though, is one hallucinogenic trip, with Morricone’s music just blaring as a quickly cut montage of footage bombards the screen. Like the film, it’s something else.
For the most part a justly ridiculed misfire, John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic
still manages to resonate with some truly bizarre imagery, from the endless insect close-ups to James Earl Jones dressed as a large locust. Much of it has to be seen to be believed, all to the tune of Ennio Morricone’s psychotic score. The image quality is decent, although it shows its age. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix basically sounds like mono in a different set of clothes. The extras are limited, but having the wild trailer is gift enough. For bad movie buffs and exorcist completists only, the movie that was laughed off theater screens can now be laughed off home theater screens for the tender tune of $7.98.
Movie - D
Image Quality - B
Sound - B-
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 57 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- French mono
- English subtitles
- Portugese subtitles
- Japanese subtitles
- Cantonese subtitles
- Mandarin-Taiwan subtitles
- Thai subtitles
- Korean subtitles
- Alternate opening sequence
- Theatrical trailers