Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Directed by John Boorman
Written by William Goodhart

Everyone from your Uncle Paddy to your Aunt Patty thinks that Exorcist II: The Heretic is a shabby sequel to a great film, a spit in the eye of the brilliance and terror of William Friedkin's original.

To truly adore and fear The Exorcist, at least from what I understand, you have to be of a certain religious persuasion (most any branch of Christianity will do), and had to have seen it within a certain age range – say, anywhere from 6 to 16.

But, not being of that religious persuasion, and only first seeing the original at a doddering 19, I wasn't all that impressed. Perhaps a repeat viewing now, as a senior citizen of XX years old (a lady never tells!), would change my perspective, but for the purposes of this review, my opinion of The Exorcist remains skeptical at best.

Diving into E2, therefore, I had super-low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised to discover a solidly second-tier horror film with some creepy visuals, generally decent acting, and a totally whacked-out storyline.

E2 picks up four years after the end of the original (if you recall, Deacon Brown ate the magic mushroom and fought the evil Carnivorious in the Hall of Eternal Spirits, resulting in their simultaneous death/copulation).

Regan (Linda Blair) attends psychotherapy at the hands of Dr. Gene Tuskin (an obvious and telling reference to the Tusken Raiders football team), played by former Louise Fletcher, up a notch on the medical totem pole after Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and down one notch from playing God in the unreleased Oh God! 3-D: Got God?

Tuskin presides over a high-tech ward for children with emotional problems – actually, it's never quite defined what her organization does, all we know is there's lots of sliding doors and see-through glass cubicles filled with autistic and other disabled children playing with huge foam toys. The set design is only one of the many enjoyably incomprehensible aspects of this film.

Regan can't or won't break through the mental block that cloaks her demonic possession in deep memory, so in strolls strapping Richard Burton, as Father Lamont, brought in by the church to investigate the mysterious death of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), at the hands of Regan's possessed self.

Tuskin, alternately helpful and obstinate, tries to get Lamont to unblock Regan's memories through the use of some kind of dual hypnosis involving flashing lights that transports the subjects into each other's minds, or to other places and times they've never seen before. The hypnosis process made no sense, and yet perfect sense. No real explanation was needed to get the point across. The flashing lights and beeping sounds had me convinced.

We discover that Regan is still possessed by the ancient locust demon Pazuzu, and Lamont has to stop the demon and save Regan at any cost.

As the film progresses, it spins wildly out of control, and yet maintains a strange internal non-logic. A good portion of the film is devoted to locust imagery, which is both laughable, as with close-ups of the Pazuzu locust flying around, and skin-crawly, as with close-ups of swarms of real locusts feeding on everything in sight, including each other.

The film is suffused with a dusty brown light, rendering everything slightly unreal. Because the film is so convoluted – moving from a sleek high-rise apartment with so many windows it looks like you could fall out at any moment, to a strange church carved from an Ethiopian cliffside – the only thing that saves it from being pointless is the unearthly visual quality.

By contrast, the one thing that quite nearly derails the picture is Linda Blair's performance, which ranges from whiny to shrill. She ain't an actress, and it doesn't help that she's in that awkward stage of no-longer-a-tween and not-quite-a-woman, yet photographed in an overtly sexual manner that would probably work for the Olsen Twins, but is a bit queasy for the doe-eyed, fat-cheeked Blair.

Sadly, Louise Fletcher is almost as bad as Blair – though in her defense, some of the crap lines she's forced to utter, and the stupid situations she is forced to play within, would tame Dame Judi Dench like the ferocious fuck beast she likely is.

Burton, for his part, is quite convincing as a priest struggling with his faith. James Earl Jones puts in his only ever performance that didn't involve Darth Vader or CNN as an African tribesman/locust expert, while director John Boorman's buddy Ned Beatty (from Deliverance) squeals like a pig in a very brief but well-played cameo.

But the real heroes of E2 are the visuals, which even in this muddy soup of a story still have some impact. I defy the reader to keep the neck hairs in place when, late in the film, one of the lead actresses quietly and ecstatically immolates herself. Or not to cringe when someone steps barefoot on a pile of spikes and … let's just say you will cringe.

One wishes that a team like this would have taken greater pains to develop a story that made more sense, and yet the film plays like a bizarre drug-haze that has a quiet, consistent, irrational appeal. It's the kind of film you could easily slip into late at night, slightly drunk and stoned but wide awake, or in the middle of the day, as I did, not having had a good night's sleep in days, churning out reviews for the Loud Bassoon like some kind of crazy flapping locust-demon of reviews.

Review by Crimedog