Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Satan's Cinema - Exorcist II: The Heretic

"Satan's Cinema" is a brand new feature here at Shit Movie Fest! I will be wading through Satan's stool samples to find the worst best in occult cinema.

Episode 1 - Exorcist II: The Heretic!
Starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Max Von Sydow, Louise Fletcher and James Earl Jones

“Exorcist II: The Heretic” is a great study on how not to make a sequel. The film is huge, much bigger than the first Exorcist, featuring an ultramodern megalopolis version of New York City and a Hyborian North Africa; both of which were made through beautifully constructed sets. This film is also much denser than its predecessor, visually and thematically. Exorcist II tells its story through layered visuals; combining sets, special make-up effects (courtesy of the returning master Dick Smith), trick photography and visual effects, to silently guide the audience along. Directed by John Boorman, Exorcist II is one of the most boldly inventive horror films of the 1970s, and is also one of the worst. Every wild artistic stroke chokes the life out of any suspense the movie tries to build and leaves no room for simple ideas, like plot or character motivation. But worst of all is while Exorcist II is completely reimaging the look and approach of an Exorcist film, its story is completely dependent on the original. Nothing would make sense if the viewer has not seen The Exorcist and not much makes sense for those that have.

What can be deciphered is this: Regan (the devil possessed tart from the first film) is a teenager living in Manhattan with her mother and live-in babysitter. She is going through extensive, state of the art psycho-analysis from Dr. Gene Tuskin (Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”). Although Regan seems completely well adjusted and claims to not remember anything from the previous movie her caretakers have her part-time institutionalized in Nurse Ratched’s Psychiatric Hospital. Regan is forced to confront her demons (literally by the end of this thing!) with a machine that can read dreams. Enter a priest from the Vatican, played by Richard Burton (thank the fucking lord!), an old friend of the deceased Father Merrin. Burton’s Father Lamont is trying to figure out how Merrin died all those years back.

So far, so good until…Father Lamont uses the dream machine while Regan is under hypnosis to “see” what happened to Merrin. What we think is going to be a dark investigation into a young girl’s psyche turns into Ed Woodian sci fi at its Ed Woodiest. The movie never recovers. Father Lamont travels to Africa, Washington DC and even THE PAST to hunt down the demon. Everything is revealed; the demon’s origin (an African mud hut), the demon’s driving force (the spiritual manifestation of a locust plague), the demon’s victim before Regan (A leopard printed James Earl Jones!) and even the demon's name (PAZUZU!). But what is never revealed? A plot!

Sure, the story is about Father Lamont's search for the devil. Although I don’t want to spend time exploring the futility of looking for a spectral being in physical locales (I mean couldn’t he just have meditated with some bath salts and a Gorgoroth record and found the devil that way?). But there is NO PLOT. No driving force to answer the question why. Why should Father Lamont risk his life traveling around the world to solve a 4 year old death? You guys weren’t that good of friends to begin with. Maybe it’s because of the young girl? But Regan isn't threatened by re-possession. So what if Pazuzu gives her night terrors? So does late night Chinese food. And her overall depression could be chalked up to her being a FUCKING TEENAGE GIRL! There is no physical threat by this supernatural force. Pazuzu never possesses Regan at night, forcing her to kill her fellow psycho ward kids. The demon isn’t even scheming standard movie monster schemes like “world domination”, not even the damnation of the lower east side. Nothing motivates the “horror” in this film, therefore there is no horror film.

If Exorcist II was a standalone film (like Exorcist 3) than the total stylistic change could have worked. But the story doesn’t stand by itself. The move enters with the understanding that everyone has seen The Exorcist and THIS is literally part two of that story. If Boorman has to accept the story of the first film then he is obligated to accept its tone. That may not be fair to the filmmaker, but it is a fact. The only way an audience can suspend its disbelief for a second time is if the sequel plays by the same rules. A direct sequel is just serializing the story. Original ideas need original stories!

So everything is lost. Boorman’s science vs. supernatural concept is lost. The old world's brutalism invading the safe modern/progressive world is seen as just silly instead of the Ken Russellesque psycho-trip it was meant to be.

By the end Father Lamont and Regan battle the beast back at the first film’s Georgetown house, hoping desperately to reconnect the sequel to the original film, but it’s too late. The movie ends in an awesomely bombastic set piece with thousands of locusts swarming into the house, tearing the walls apart. The set is spectacularly destroyed while little Regan rain dances in the middle of the chaos soothing the insect horde and her spirit, but instead of being blown away by the visual sophistication and high end concept I was left scratching my head thinking, “How did we get to Georgetown?”

The End

Watch the Trailer. It is almost as bananas as the movie!

"Satan's Cinema" banner created by Christine Larsen.
Background pentagram taken from:  http://carsonlacroix.deviantart.com/art/The-First-Pentagram-V2-0-93776511


  1. I don't know if you know it or not, but in that "classic" bad movie book "The Golden Turkey Awards", this movie was ranked the second worst of all time right behind Plan 9 From Outer Space.

  2. You know I never read The Golden Turkey book, but 2nd all time is a little over the top. I can think of DOZENS of movies worst than Exorcist 2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is one that comes to mind.