Based upon the best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist was a huge success. It earned over $66 million when it was released in 1973 and went on to become one of the biggest horror movies ever made. Adjusted for inflation, it is the top-grossing R-rated film of all time. Of course, there was going to be a sequel. But man, is it a hard movie to make a sequel from. I mean what can you do? The easiest thing would be to let poor little Regan get possessed again, but that seems boring. You could follow another possession in another town but then you’d lose characters the audience is invested in. Speaking of which, nearly half of the main cast died in the first one (sorry, spoilers), which poses its own problems. Creating a sequel must have been a tough nut to crack.
Try to crack it is exactly what English director John Boorman attempted to do. You certainly can't say he didn't go all out with it. If we are being kind, we’ll say the results were mixed. Exorcist II: The Heretic is generally considered to be the worst film in the franchise and is sometimes included in lists of the worst movies ever made. I came to it with low expectations. It is a bad sequel. The story sometimes tries to undo what the original put in place. It is completely different tonally and while The Exorcist was shocking and terrifying, its sequel isn’t scary at all. The thing is though, on its own terms Exorcist II is actually kind of awesome. I mean its still definitely a bad piece of cinema, but it is so stylishly bad I think I might love it.
It's four years after the events of the first movie. Regan (Linda Blair) is all grown up and doesn’t remember anything that happened. She’s living with her guardian Sharon (Kitty Winn) - her Mom is off somewhere for work and Ellen Burstyn who played the part didn't sign on for a sequel. Regan regularly visits a psychiatric institute where Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher) believes her memories have only been repressed. Meanwhile, Father Lamont (Richard Burton) coming off his own failed exorcism attempt, which ended in the girl being burned alive, has been tasked by the Cardinal (Paul Henreid in his final film role) to investigate Regan’s exorcism. They are considering whether or not to posthumously charge Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) with heresy over his controversial writings (and the Church wanting to modernize by distancing themselves from the existence of things like exorcisms and Satan himself).
Lamont visits the institute and finds Tuskin connecting herself to Regan via a very science-fiction-y device that shines a blinking bright light in their eyes and connects to both of them through little head pieces. This thing-y connects their brains together so that Tuskin can see what Regan sees. Through hypnosis, Regan goes back to the exorcism, allowing Tuskin to see everything that happened. But the demon Pazuzu sees them too and nearly kills the good doctor. Lamont then links in barely able to save Tuskin from having her heart stopped by the demon.
Later, Lamont is mystically taken away by Pazuzu to Africa in the past where he watches Merrin perform an exorcism on the boy Kokumo (James Earl Jones). Lamont then decides the adult Kokumo is the key to everything and he climbs up a precarious Ethiopian cliff where he meets a high priest who promptly wants to get rid of the devil-loving Lamont (because he admits he arrived by riding on the demons's back). When Lamont proves he's one righteous dude by not only knowing some other dude previously fell off the cliff, but shows them where the skeleton is (the bones rest in between two cliffs that would have actually been hard to miss, but whatever). This leads him a Muslim mud temple where he finds Kokumo dressed up like a giant locust. All of this happens in the first two acts of the film. The last act gets even crazier and I've not even mentioned how Pazuzu takes the form of Regan in order to seduce Lamont. It is a nutty, nutty movie. Exorcist II was made in the middle of what one might call John Boorman’s mad science fiction/fantasy phase. He made it just after the "Sean Connery wearing a red diaper" film Zardoz and before his take on the Arthurian legend in Excalibur. I really can’t explain just how insane the plot of this film is.
What sells it is the visuals. Nearly every seen is a real treat for the eyes. The Ethiopian church rests high up on a mountainside, the only way of which to enter it is to climb a steep cliff overlooking this gorgeous, and obviously painted, landscape. The locusts attacks (did I mention the locusts attacks?) are fantastically dream like. Even the institute is stunning to look at. All the walls are made of glass so that you can see all the other rooms filled with mentally challenged kids going about their eduction. The mix of fantastic visuals and nut-ball storylines is enough to make me want to start taking hallucinogenic drugs just to completely mess me up while watching.
Scream Factory has given Exorcist II: The Heretic the Collector’s Edition treatment. They did a new 2K scan from the original elements. It looks really great. There were a lot of visual effects done for this film and while they now look a bit dated, they look really clean. The colors really pop all over and the blacks are stark. There are a few scenes in which the details are a little muddied but overall, this is a nice new transfer. After the premiere received so many negative reviews, Boorman immediately re-edited the film chopping it down from 118 minutes to 102 minutes (while also adding in some new bits and completely changing the ending). Both are included in this set. Extras include a new commentary from Boorman, a commentary from project consultant Scott Bosco, and a commentary from critic Mike White. Also included are new interviews with Linda Blair and editor Tom Priestly, plus the usual still galleries, trailers, and deleted scenes.
Exorcist II: The Heretic is a terrible sequel. Where the original was shocking, the sequel is unintentionally funny. Where the original was terrifying, the sequel is downright silly. But as a good stand-alone science fiction/fantasy flick from the 1970s, it is really fun. The visuals are trippy and the acting totally camp. Scream Factory has given it the disk it deserves. Highly recommended.