EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC went straight to hell without pausing in Fresno, earning reviews so derisive they would shame an imbecile genius with orange hair. Four years after you thought it was safe to go back into the attic, director John Boorman hit the Folly Gold Mine with this 1977 sequel, one of the worst-reviewed major movies of all time. It has interesting visual elements and Ennio Morricone gives the soundtrack some cool wails, but in the main, it’s atrocious.
Teenager ‘Regan McNeil’ (Linda Blair,17 in split-pea-barf years) has repressed her memories. A good thing in the short run, but a drag when the truth comes out, via a machine that can hypnotize two people at once and link their minds. Her brainwaves meet those of tormented theologian ‘Father Philip Lamont’ (Richard Burton, 53 going on 80), and it’s revealed she’s still possessed by demon spirit ‘Pazuzu’ (played by locusts: don’t ask) who killed Lamont’s friend ‘Father Merrin’ in the 1973 superhit. On the trail of the fiend, Lamont goes to Africa, where he meets scientist ‘Kokumo’ (James Earl Jones, dressed like a locust: sounds more menacing than “dressed like a cricket”). All Hell—or a good part of it—breaks loose.
“Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!”
The production went around $1.5 million over budget, up to a cost of $14,000,000. Boorman almost died after contracting a respiratory fungal virus. Thousands of collected and imported locusts did die, requiring the effects guys to augment swarm scenes by painting a few thousand Styrofoam packing peanuts brown and shooting them out of a large air blower.
The film has its champions: Pauline Kael (likely just to go counter to everyone else in the world), Martin Scorsese (the Catholic guilt thing raises its scepter again) and Quentin Tarantino (because, well, he’s Quentin Tarantino). *
Script, acting and direction make it fun in the way bad movies can be. The neat art direction is commendable, as is William A. Fraker’s cinematography. Critics spitting green bile and “that sucked” word-of-mouth from normal humans kept it from approaching the blockbuster throne of the first film, but it did make $37,600,000, 20th place in the Year of Our Lord Vader (Star Wars erupted the month before). For the booze-beleaguered Burton, that same year saw him get his 7th and final Oscar nomination for his good work in the disturbing Equus (which few bothered to see, it trailed at spot #99).
With Louise Fletcher, Max Von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid (his last film) and Ned Beatty. 117 minutes.
* William Friedkin, director of the original: “I looked at half an hour of it and I thought it was as bad as seeing a traffic accident in the street. It was horrible. It’s just a stupid mess made by a dumb guy – John Boorman by name, somebody who should be nameless, but in this case should be named. Scurrilous. A horrible picture.” “…the worst piece of shit I’ve ever seen…” “…a fucking disgrace.” “That film was made by a demented mind”.
Yeah? Well, quite a mouthful from the guy who gave us Sorcerer, Deal Of The Century, Cruising, Jade, Rules Of Engagement and Killer Joe.
Boorman: “The sin I committed was not giving the audience what it wanted in terms of horror … There’s this wild beast out there which is the audience. I created this arena and I just didn’t throw enough Christians into it.” “it all comes down to audience expectations. The film that I made, I saw as a kind of riposte to the ugliness and darkness of The Exorcist – I wanted a film about journeys that was positive, about good, essentially. And I think that audiences, in hindsight, were right. I denied them what they wanted and they were pissed off about it – quite rightly, I knew I wasn’t giving them what they wanted and it was a really foolish choice. The film itself, I think, is an interesting one – there’s some good work in it – but when they came to me with it I told John Calley, who was running Warner Bros. then, that I didn’t want it. “Look,” I said, “I have daughters, I don’t want to make a film about torturing a child,” which is how I saw the original film. But then I read a three-page treatment for a sequel written by a man named William Goodhart and I was really intrigued by it because it was about goodness. I saw it then as a chance to film a riposte to the first picture. But it had one of the most disastrous openings ever – there were riots! And we recut the actual prints in the theaters, about six a day, but it didn’t help of course and I couldn’t bear to talk about it, or look at it, for years.”
John Boorman: Deliverance, The Emerald Forest, Hope And Glory, The Tailor Of Panama. Suck on those eggs, Billy Friedman.