Exorcist II: The Heretic
Director: John Boorman
Starring: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max Von Sydow, Kitty Winn
Spiritual P.I. dispatched to dredge up the case of Regan from the first movie.
Okay, let's get this started early. Truth be told, I'm not even halfway through this film yet [although I had seen it once before], but there is just SO MUCH wrong with it—in every way, on every level—that I already have one page, front and back, covered in notes, and I figure I'd better get a start on putting them all in order. This is one of the most notorious bad movies of all time—it was Warner Brothers' most expensive movie to date, it was apparently laughed off the screen during its first showings, and director Boorman withdrew it to re-edit twice. It ruined Linda Blair's career—not like her utter lack of acting ability wouldn't have done that soon enough—and just left a trail of devastation in its wake. And it deserves every awful thing said about it, because the fact is, it's worse than you could possibly imagine. You know that recurring bad movie question "What were they thinking?" Well, this movie is so senseless, originating on Planet X and banged up by asteroids on the way to Earth, any attempt to determine what might have been happening in Boorman's mind will reduce your brain to boiling sap that will come running out your ears. Do not attempt it.
We begin with these portentous red titles as we hear this wailing, and I must say, if there was one word that would sum up the tone and performances here, it would be portentous. We notice that Linda Blair now gets top billing, above Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, and Max Von Sydow. By the end of the credits, the squealing has gone on so long it has passed from the faintly eerie to the ridiculous. It just goes on too long with nothing else to pay attention to. We meet Father Lamont [Burton] on his way to see some possessed native girl. He has a picture of Father Merrin in the book he's got with him [although I'm sure the caption in the book says Marris]. The possessed girl knocks over all these candles and the place starts going up in flames, and does anyone, let alone Father Lamont, try to stop it? No, he just cowers away, and the possessed woman goes up in flames in the first stupefyingly cheesy special effect of the film. And at this point you're probably still trying to be polite and not laughing. Then—cut to Regan!
We meet her at her dance class, where we start the distasteful sexualization off right away by showing the now 18-year-old Blair in a halter top that clings to her breasts. She does a special little tap routine for this flirty sax player [embarrassing], then repairs to this futuristic lab for… well, what IS it for? Everyone else there seems to be full-on retarded, so why is Regan there? We'll come back to that, but… WHAT is this lab? It has this whole hexagon theme, with hexagonal rooms with glass walls [and very Star Trek sliding glass doors] and hexagonal lights in the ceiling. Regan comes in to her appointment with Dr. Jean Tuskin [Fletcher], and lays down on a couch for therapy… in a GLASS room? Where EVERYONE can see her? It seems that Regan has been having some bad dreams—this, by the way, is her ONLY problem, before more are dredged out of her, and it seems like at best a minor inconvenience to me—and doesn't remember anything about her possessed time from the previous film. Jean has this machine that is pretty much two small halogen blubs on a post, which is supposed to be this mind-meld machine—only it really looks like two light bulbs on a stick. This has me amusing myself the rest of the night by modifying a line of Tuskin's dialogue to say: "Regan, I've got two light bulbs on a stick here, and I think it can help you with your dreams."
So we see Lamont meet with some guy from the "Society of Jesus," who tells him to get to New York and investigate Regan in order to protect the reputation of the church or whatever. Seconds later he's in Tuskin's office, where he spies Regan and we can't help but notice that Tuskin wears the huge baggy tent-clothes that were so popular among sensitive, left-leaning middle-aged females in the 70s. Jean turns down the lights in the rest of the lab so she and Lamont can talk—but does this mean that all those retarded kids in the other rooms have to play in the dark? That seems pretty cruel. I suspect we're supposed to believe that she has some super-advanced glass that can darken itself, which points to another odd decision this film makes… the first one played the fantastic situation against the real world by taking place in a fairly nondescript house… and this one is taking place on the Starship Enterprise? I mean, WHAT is happening here? Anyway, Lamont wants to talk to Regan about the exorcism, and Tuskin says the exorcism made the problem worse [and you're like "WHAT? WHAT PROBLEM? Because she seems perfectly well adjusted to me…"], and she really doesn't think Lamont should talk to Regan at all when, why, who should come into the room right then? None other than Regan, because she just HAD to tell Tuskin that she wants to do the light bulb machine, and just HAD to tell her RIGHT NOW, she just HAD to interrupt her therapist's important private conference to tell her RIGHT THEN, and furthermore she says that Father Lamont, who she has merely exchanged a glance with prior to this, can sit in, too. And this is enough to overcome any objection Tuskin might have had, so it's on!
Okay, so after a brief rest at home [check out the décor around 14:39… are we in the 25th century?] Regan [in clingy white "virgin sacrifice" dress] comes in to be hooked up to the light bulb machine, which is officially called the SYNCHRONIZER. Please take note of the real, serious name, as that is the last time you will see it in this review. So first Regan gets on, and makes her halogen lamp flash slowly [directly into her eyes—I believed they aged her retinas 10 years making this movie] and electronic tone go lower, which I guess means she's under hypnosis. Then Tuskin puts on the special headgear and goes under hypnosis herself, which involved her rolling her eyes up into her head at one point. Then the nurse hands control of the session over to Father Lamont, and I was like WHAT? They JUST met this guy, Tuskin has serious reservations about him being involved in Regan's therapy at all, let alone her first time on this highly experimental hypno-synchro thing, and suddenly he's put in charge of the session? He asks if Tuskin can see Regan's room, and she says yes, and then we start to have FAKE FLASHBACKS with Max Von Sydow back as Father Merrin and I have no idea who plays young possessed Regan, but one thing is for sure—it ain't Linda Blair.
Now okay, I was waiting for the right moment to tell you this, but apparently THIS is the scene where, back when the movie was in theaters, audiences would start laughing and never stop. And the synchronizomometer is bad enough, but then you get this OBVIOUSLY fake Regan who speaks in a TOTALLY different voice than the one in the first film, and somehow even the room looks like the Universal Theme Park version—and I hate to tell you this, but we have NOT gotten to the most ridiculous part yet! Now Tuskin starts breathing heavily, and the nurse announces "She's fibrillating!," which she determines by merely putting her ear down near Tuskin's clothed chest. Then Regan comes out of the hypnosis and Lamont goes under to mind-meld with Tuskin—yes, Lamont who they just met, etc.—and THEN we start seeing possessed Regan superimposed on the other side of Tuskin from where real Regan is standing, with superimposed Father Merrin on the other side. Possessed [P] Regan reaches over to grab Tuskin's heart, where good, non-possessed [NP] Regan is also touching. We now see Tuskin superimposed with Merrin when she breathes in, and NP-Regan superimposed with P-Regan. So then—wait a minute—am I watching P-Regan and NP-Regan totally groping all over Tuskn's boob while we hear a wet 'slop slop' sound? YES I BELIEVE THAT I AM. Turns out that P-Regan has her fingers digging right into Tuskin/Merrin's heart, and it looks like she's got that thumb jammed pretty far in there, when Lamont, who has been sitting there not doing anything but staring wide-eyed, suddenly says "In God's name!"—that's IT, that is ALL he says—and P-Regan gives up her hold on Tuskin's heart, and the good doctor wakes. And then, why, look how relaxed and cheerful everyone is! Just another day at the office!
And ladies and gentlemen, we are only 24 MINUTES IN to this 2-hour movie.
Okay, so later, Regan is out playing with the "differently abled" and draws a picture of Father Lamont that her assistant, Sharon [from the first film] presents to him. She gives it, and he receives it, as though it's a sweet little picture of him holding a puppy next to a house with a bright sun overhead, neither of them finding it a bit odd that it's actually of the tortured Lamont with giant red flames shooting out of his head and neck. So then Lamont runs down Tuskin in the halls, yelling "Doctor! The flames! They're getting bigger! We have to put them out!" Okay, now SHE'S the psychologist, and they ARE right smack-dab in a mental institute, and it would not seem remiss to me if Tuskin were to motion to the guards at this point, but no, she just follows Lamont down into the basement. There, they find a fire! Pazuzu is a pyro! Next he'll be making crank calls, like the Amityville Horror ghost. Anyway, don't miss the shot in which Tuskin sees real flames carefully arranged to match the flames Regan drew in her drawing. At this point I have written in my notes: "Tuskin and Lamont are in two different movies."
Okay, so then we see this flying footage and up in Regan's bedroom. She is living in some super-swanky 70s apartment in a New York high-rise with a balcony that has NO railing in parts [this is actually against the law, I believe]. This is the setting I mistook for the bridge of the Enterprise earlier, and apparently belongs to her mother. My issue is that it does not at ALL reflect her mother's decorating tastes as seen in the first film. But we'll endure. So we hear a voice say "Come, Regan, we're going flying!" and then she has a vision of a flying locust that it so cheesy, the mere viewing of it has driven grown men to insanity. But what follows it is THIS PICTURE BELOW, 200 times worse in live-action, because then you see Blair squinting and pursing her lips:
Meanwhile, on some astonishingly fake Africa Playset, a swarm of locusts is menacing this faux village, which looks about as real as the "African Village" section of your local zoo [the Bronx Zoo actually has one of these—maybe that's where they filmed this]. We intercut between Regan and this guy in the village swinging a rope around which is supposed to… do… something, and Regan, wearing a sheer white "Virgin" dress, her big ol' braless tits hanging out in a way that is really rather over the line. She walks to the ledge, and almost falls off, but when Sharon shows up, responding to Regan's screams, Regan is sitting there tending to the WHITE DOVES that roost in the mirrored dove house right there on the patio. First of all, there are no white doves in New York City that are not in captivity. I know this for a fact. Secondly, I'm guessing that Regan's Mom keeps this grand patio for entertaining her Hollywood friends, and somehow I doubt that she wants pigeons shitting all over them during a party [not to mention her drunk guests falling to their deaths from the railing-less balcony]. But who knows—maybe she does. The point is, this film never met anything symbolic that it didn't like.
SPOILERS ??? >>>
So then Lamont meets Sharon on the staircase, you know, THE staircase, and they go into the original house [in Georgetown] for some reason. Lamont goes in the bedroom, where he fails to notice the TWO-FOOT LONG locust hovering in the corner. I know, it's supposed to be regular size, but you have to KNOW that, because the bitch looks two—if not three—feet long. Then Lamont goes back to NYC and is chillin' with Tuskin when she asks if he ever misses a woman, tells him she lives alone and "it's hard to live alone." Uh… WHAT?! Tuskin's horny for Lamont? Please stop right there. Then Tuskin, reservations gone, apparently, lets Regan synch with Lamont, and soon they're having visions of a locust swarm attack on Father Merrin, then he and others are climbing up this rock crevice to this high church—none of it has been introduced so NONE of it makes sense—and they get attacked by locusts, and one of them falls—in what must be a contender for worst-executed "fall from high place" effect, mostly just because he's falling so SLOWLY, and it goes on so LONG. And of course, in some shots he's falling straight down, in some he's spinning. God, it would have been fun to hear some of the gossip this crew must have had about their director on this film. Then Lamont has a long conversation with Pazuzu—who wasn't all that chatty in the first film—and who now speaks with a snotty woman's voice that is just more funny than anything. Then we have footage of Pazuzu as a locust flying over hill and dale, scaring man and animal alike. Like, we seriously have footage of herds of zebras running away from ONE locust flying in the sky. Which makes sense if the locust is three feet long but… oh God, I'm in pain… anyway, this whole flying scene, in which the movie stops DEAD, goes on for at least a minute. Then there's now a swarm of locusts [perhaps the shots of the one was supposed to signify the entire swarm?], attacking the Bronx Zoo African Safari exhibit, until they get to James Earl Jones' house and he smacks 'em down with his panther breath.
Okay, so up until now the best word I could come up to describe most of the prominent scenes here would be: SENSELESS. But, my friend Joe, who was actually the impetus for me to re-watch this film and review it for the site, wrote me this to explain what was going on, and a little thought proved him absolutely right:
"Putting the movie back into context (mid to late 70's), keep in mind that that "New Age" stuff was on the rise. Age of Aquarius, mass/ group consciousness, and all that. This is explicitly acknowledged in the scene where Regan and Sharon watch the televised clip of Uri Geller bending the spoon. Notice how Sharon is rapt by it, and Regan is unimpressed. Regan goes so far as to demonstrate the sleight of hand behind what she correctly sees as a parlor trick.
"In the movie, the locusts are a manifestation of Pazuzu the Demon. Under its influence, they terrorize the African village, until Kokumo settles them down (in doing so, overcoming the influence of and defeating the demon).
"Locusts are symbolic of the epitome of the "me" thinking of the era. Locusts do what? Pass through and eat (i.e., consume) everything in their path. According to Lamont, Father Merrin believed in a mass conciousness, and that humanity is at a tipping point. It can either revert back to a mob mentality, or rise beyond that to an elevated sense of spirit. High road versus the low road and all that. I think that Merrin's alternative beliefs may explain "The Heretic" subtitle.
"Regan McNeil is "the good locust" as later exposited by James Earl Jones, the one in touch with all the others and can calm the rest before they swarm. Her burgeoning mental abilities (the admittedly crude but precognitive drawings of herself and Lamont, her ability to "help" Lamont while he's in Africa and she's in NYC) illustrate her developing abilities and show her as a gal who's not only sensitive to but can influence the mass consciousness right down to an individual level. This is most significantly illustrated in the scene with Sandra, the autistic patient at the institute. Not only does she bring the girl out of her shell, but Regan also explicitly acknowledges the possession that she claimed not to remember in her first scene with Jean. One can argue that that is when Regan begins to understand who and what she is,and accepts it by expressing the desire to help other patients.
"So-- more spiritual than religious, E-2 is clearly at odds with the original. It manages to undermine the religious (i.e., Catholic) component of the first film, while simultaneously depict a greater struggle of Good versus Evil. And this, I think, could make the sacrifices of Father Merrin and Father Karras even more affecting.
"There are many, many flaws with The Heretic, the first being that Regan herself seems unaffected by all this commotion. There's never any real sense of impending doom or anything else. Maybe news reports of this or that failed disarmament talk, or more background street crime...
"Not everyone's cup of tea, but I give more points to a poorly executed but interesting idea than to a perfectly executed piece of shit. TRANSFORMERS, for example."
That last little bit forced me to look inside and feel a little bad, because it seems that I am guilty of violating perhaps THE most important unspoken precept of this site, which is that we should not let the cheesiness of a film's presentation affect our engagement with the film's IDEAS. And I am guilty of that, in this case. And I am willing to submit to my over-the-knee spanking as soon as Triple H is ready.
Okay, I must also confess that this movie constitutes the longest I have taken to get through a movie and its review in my site's 4-year history. I got the movie on 11/4 and returned it 11/28, so it took me 26 days to finally get through the movie itself, and seeing as today is 12/16, we're coming up on seven weeks this movie has been tormenting me. Get away, Pazuzu!
Okay, now we can continue. So Lamont goes to the Natural History Museum here in New York, which just happens to have this famous rock church painted into the backdrop of one of its dioramas! You know, and I NEVER noticed that! Lamont tells Regan that Father Merrin was concerned about telepathy and how we're moving toward a "world mind"—uh, I don't recall Merrin talking about any of that—and how if this takes place before mankind is ready, we'll all go toward Satan instead of God. These crazy, NON-Catholic Church-approved New Agey sentiments are what Joe was talking about. Anyway, now Lamont wants to travel to Africa to locate Kokumo [the one the Beach Boys wrote the song about], but his boss at the church things he's lost his marbles and FIRES him!
Lamont goes to Africa anyway, and climbs up all the way to the rock church [fairly arduous, not recommended for pregnant women or those with heart problems], where he participates in this ceremony that has some pretty advanced chanting music that I'm going to guess was written by Ennio Morricone, and not the natives, racist as that may be. Lamont has a little mini-breakdown ["I had to look away!"] and then—Yo father! Go easy on that wine! There are OTHER people here you know! Soon after he has a vision of where this guy landed after falling off during this previous scene, and all of a sudden climbs DOWN the whole church thing! Me, if I had climbed up all that way, I'd be there for the month. Now, I was enjoying this movie more now that Joe explained it and it didn't seem completely senseless, but still, there are large portions where you're just sitting watching the screen, ready for anything.
But what of Regan? Well now she's having her big tap dancing show—you recall she was rehearsing back when—well anyway, when Lamont finds the body he climbed down to get, Regan spontaneously has an attack on stage, and falls into the crowd! So she's in the hospital on a drug drip to prevent her from dreaming. Meanwhile Lamont accepts a helicopter ride from Ned Beatty, and makes casual conversation by saying such things as "I've flown this route before. It was on the wings of a demon." He is kind of a master of the inappropriate statement, always rattling on about demons and possessions to people he doesn't even know are hip to such things. He needs to consider him some context. Anyway, in NYC, Regan stops her drug drip so she can dream, and she and Lamont form a little psychic connection, with Pazuzu on the party line, and lead him to Kokumo. I confess I can't recall, after this time, why Pazuzu wants him to find Kokumo. And I don't really know what he accomplished by meeting Kokumo, since he doesn't bring him along for the final showdown or whatever. By the way, have I mentioned that Komumo is played by James Earl Jones? Yeah. He's having a bit of a locust problem—oh, maybe that's his importance, as he explains that Pazuzu travels on the wings of locusts, and how he's breeding "good locusts." Oh right, just like Regan is like the good one, and can teach the other demons or souls or whatever to just chill. It's all coming back.
Okay. Now here's a mind-blower I've been saving for JUST the right moment. In the background of Kokumo's lab [he has a scientist incarnation, although he doesn't sound very scientific going on about locusts' being "evil"] are huge, floor-to-ceiling cages full of locusts. Only, it was really expensive and impractical to use real locusts—not just here, in this WHOLE MOVIE—so what did they do? They spray-painted a bunch of packing peanuts and just blew them around. This is one of those things that, once you know it, you can never un-know it, and can never NOT see it as you're watching the film. The cages in the background here just have a constant upwelling and falling off around the sides, looking nothing like locusts in flight, but looking a LOT like some innovative Christmas window displays.
So Lamont comes back to New York, and Regan escapes from her hospital—in a SHEER white silk nightie with no bra underneath. She meets Lamont in the Port Authority and they repair to a sleazy motel room with the synchronomomizer and have themselves a little time. Lamont has a vision in which Merrin officially hands over the care of Regan's soul to him. You will also note a crazy-pattered shirt he must have picked up in Africa. Lamont is now officially in a trance, and the two of them take off for the old house in Georgetown for the Satanic Showdown!
So Jean and Sharon are also hot-footing it down to Georgetown, as Jean now thinks Lamont is a big creepy [and add up the picture, it does look a bit odd]. They fly, enduring some useless, supposedly satanic turbulence, then have a hell of a time getting a cab! Lamont and Regan arrive in a bus that stops directly at the bottom of the famous staircase, making you wonder if Father Merrin in the first one just REALLY had to catch that bus. The cab goes out of control, there are locusts on the bedroom, Sharon turns out to be evil and burns herself up [couldn't she, like, have DONE something evil, first?]. Meanwhile, Lamont and Regan are in her old bedroom, and some of the creepy molester subtext comes out as evil Regan appears on the bed, and tells Lamont he can do her if he just kills the good Regan. Then the walls burst open and packing peanuts fly in! The whole house starts coming apart! Then Lamont leaps on bad Regan and rips her heart out! Then good Regan gets down and starts swinging her arm around in the air as though she has one of those African locust-calming things—but no, she has nothing. It really must be seen to be believed. Anyway, they calm down and it's over. The street is littered with locust carcasses, the entire house has fallen apart and burnt to the ground over the course of several minutes—and suddenly NOW all of a sudden the neighbors and police come out to check on what happened. Maybe Pazuzu was keeping them away. Anyway, now I suppose Lamont, Tuskin and Regan are free to form a family!
< < < SPOILERS END
Director John Boorman made a commentary on the disc for notoriously OUT THERE sci-fi film Zardoz [made just prior to this one] and said "If you don't enter into the spirit of the thing, it can seem quite ludicrous." It was true there—if you don't make a SERIOUS EFFORT to follow all of Boorman's crazy ideas, it looks like the DUMBEST SHIT YOU HAVE EVER SEEN, and I'm afraid it's doubly true here. You can kind of get into this movie if you really try to follow the ideas—which themselves are pretty screwy, new agey kind of stuff—but if not, there are not W's, T's and F's in the world large enough to convey the WTFs?????? You will be experiencing.
On the other hand, you kind of have to love Boorman for going off the deep end and not being afraid to make something that looks like crap, features cheap-ass effects, and makes about as much sense as a Chia deer carcass on a Persian rug in the middle of the mall. These kind of wingnuts [I class Boorman somewhat with Ken Russell] seem to be uniquely British, and while maybe I don't want to sit through everything they do, I am glad they exist.
Nevertheless, even if you're trying to follow the ideas, this is some kind of bizarre trip. There's a heapin' helpin' of obvious symbolism, with more than a dash of faux-symbolism just because something might come off kind of neat or give a slight "ooh!" effect. And then there's the performances. Richard Burton reaches desperately for dignified seriousness in every single scene, even when he should be playing it a lot more loosely. Louise Fletcher simply cannot act. She's horrendous. Not to mention that she's a piss-poor psychologist and who can't make any effective decisions about what to do with Regan. And poor Linda Blair… I will maintain that no one was really aching for her career to continue after he original, and she just appears as fatally OFF in every shot. Which is not to mention the UNCOMFORTABLE attention that her teenage breasts receive. Uh, gross, okay?
Anyway, this is one of those bad movie crucibles. So bad, it passes "so bad it's good" [two or three times] and digs ever-further into being awful. It's the kind of thing that can become so senseless you may just have to tear large chunks of your own hair out and shove them into your mouth. And the only remedy for this is to try to get into the ideas, so it seems like there is at least SOME sense. Without that, you're lost.
OH, and by the way, here’s a small sampling from the IMDb of the common wisdom about this movie:
> From the surreal African landscapes to the dizzying heights of ultra-modern New York, from the present and into the past you will journey with director Boorman as you unlock the mystery behind demonic possession in order to glimpse the future and what lies in store for humankind because of the exorcist.
> Boorman's masterful direction gives it a gravity and emotional resonance that bring it close to the level of Dreyer's Vampyr.
> And the concept of: "if U touch my wings U are now mine" it's so realistic of what is going on in our everyday, I think.
I would think long and hard about that one. Definitely try to have at least one friend on hand, and copious booze. Please take time to remove any sharp items and blunt objects.