Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Exorcist was a box office smash and was one of the most influential films of any day in the sense that its presence permeated every corner of the culture. In 1973 it was mentioned in Johnny's monologue night after night, and was the staple of hundreds of parodies and dinner table discussions. At the time the movie was released, I was working in a convenience store with a spinner rack of paperback books. We filled every single available slot with the paperback version of The Exorcist, and still could not meet the demand.

I guess that film marketers weren't quite as savvy then as they are now, because this cultural phenomenon took four years to produce a sequel. When the sequel finally arrived, it was a dreadful film which played out like a grade B 50's-style S/F film. I don't think it would be unreasonable to argue that Exorcist II: the Heretic is the biggest disaster in film history. It was the long-awaited sequel to a box office smash of cult proportions. It starred big names like Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, and Louise Fletcher. It brought back Von Sydow and Linda Blair from the original. It was directed by John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur). The pieces seemed to be in place, and the the film looks good, but is otherwise putrid.

The acting is almost uniformly awful, verging on high camp. Burton reacts to lines long after they are delivered, as if struggling to remember his response. Louise Fletcher maintains one all-purpose tone of voice for every line. And wait until you see Burton and Fletcher give each other a stiff hug. When the actors flubbed their lines, Boorman just left it in. (When Fletcher walks into her office and finds Burton there, she invites him to come in to her office.) The pacing is off. The storyline is incomprehensible, and neither the dialogue nor the F/X could be any cheesier.

Satan is virtually irrelevant this time, because it turns out that Father Merrin had been running around the universe after Pazuzu, who is not a Japanese car manufacturer, but a Mesopotamian god who was completely outside Christian mythology. This god possesses the spirit of a locust, and once you have been brushed by his wings, you are his. Unless, of course, you have access to one of the highly coveted good locusts, who can counteract Pazuzu's evil (or as Richard Burton likes to say, "ee-ville", dragging out the second syllable about four seconds, and rolling the "l's).


An African hooker is seen topless

Linda Blair wears some blouses which show off her magnificent breasts and almost seem like see-throughs

Kitty Witt is seen in a wet robe, through which her nipples are clearly visible.

Burton plays a defrocked priest. (Whoa, there's something new for him, eh? How many movies did he do that in?) His quest is to find the secret that Father Merrin was about to discover - the secret of defeating the evil locust god. In order to do this, he has to make contact with the mind of Regan Blair, the teenager who was once possessed by the great Pazuzu himself. He does this by hooking himself and Regan up to a mass hypnotizer - a silly looking contraption that shines strobe lights at both parties, while they wear some little dog collars on their foreheads. The dog collars are connected together by some wires, et voila! Instant Vulcan mind-meld. This allows the director innumerable close-ups of Burton and Blair wearing the dog collars, their faces lit and unlit alternately. Burton looks inside of Regan, sees Pazuzu in Ethiopia, and travels there in search of Kokumo, a good locust (James Earl Jones) who once defeated Pazuzu.

Burton decides to wander through Ethiopia without a translator, an odd move to say the least, because he doesn't speak a word of the local language. Well, he does try it, but with no success. Apparently, he has a pretty thick accent, because he wanders through Addis Ababa saying "KoKUmo? KOkumo?", and nobody seems to understand. The attendants at the Ethiopian Shell stations keep giving him road maps of Indiana. Finally, a couple guys look at each other, say "oh, KokuMO!", then elbow each other in the ribs, wink at Burton, more wink-wink, more nudge-nudge, and lead him to a bordello where he is offered the best hooker in town. There's a lesson for you youngsters. Get your accent on the right syllable, because the Ethiopian word for "James Earl Jones" is about the same as the word for "nookie". Come to think of it, that is true in most languages.

Now here's the big problem - Burton can't find the good locust by using his own God, so he calls upon the power of the evil locust to find the good locust. "Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!" It works, but that methodology turns out to be a big mistake later on, because devils have this way of turning your lack of faith against you, even though you had only the best of intentions. Darn those tricky ee-ville spirits.

It just gets worse after that. That was the more sensible stuff.

The movie was given no pre-screening for critics, nor big city advance screenings, but rather a "saturation release", trying to beat the word-of-mouth by opening the movie everywhere simultaneously. People were lined up around the block to see it: after all, this was the sequel to a bona fide cultural phemenon. I, too, went to see this in a theater when it first came out, and the audience was howling with laughter. Unfortunately, that happened at dramatic moments. Boorman tinkered with it after the disastrous opening night, reducing the running time, and attempting to minimize the cheese, but the 110 minute version proved to be even more incomprehensible than the original theatrical release at 117 minutes, albeit mercifully shorter.

Here's the amazon.com version of the story:

This sequel to the Oscar-winning horror film based on the novel by William Peter Blatty was virtually laughed off the screen when it came out in 1977. It was an unintentionally hilarious mishmash and received such terrible reviews that director John Boorman yanked it out of theaters. He reedited it, cutting eight minutes in hopes of getting the story (written by William Goodhart) to the point of coherency, to no avail. The film remains a kind of reverse gold standard for sequels. It's still a ridiculously overacted, although at times visually haunting, movie. Richard Burton stars as a troubled priest (something of a specialty of his) who is brought in to follow up on the case of Linda Blair, who is institutionalized, still troubled by her encounter with the devil (who wouldn't be?). By the time they confront Satan's minion in the final struggle, you'll be rooting for evil to win

DVD info from Amazon

Theatrical trailer(s)
Alternate ending
Widescreen anamorphic format. 1.85:1

I have heard that Boorman has a 180 minute cut lying around somewhere, but I've never seen it. I can't say that finding it is high on my to-do list.

The Exorcist franchise was a gold mine in waiting, like Star Wars. By ignoring the spirit of the original, Boorman and his associates managed to take that brand name and completely eradicate its worth. This movie was the New Coke of Hollywood. 

The Critics Vote

  • filmcritic.com 1/5

The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D. Some genre lovers like it, this rescuing it from an E. It is technically good - the score and cinematography are often excellent.

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