Calling Exorcist 2: The Heretic a horror movie is a bit of a stretch, but anyways. The only heretics to be found here are the studio heads that green-lit this script and the nimrod who edited it. This is a an embarrassment to the power of the first film and a weird (not in a cool way), hectic, inexplicable piece of wanton disarray. I don’t usually give out and certainly never enjoy these lashings but this one knows good and well what it did and had it coming.
Directed by John Boorman (who also did the solid Deliverance and the masterful Emerald Forest so maybe we shouldn’t fault him entirely here), this sees a now teenage Regan McNeil (a now teenage but still baby faced Linda Blair) afflicted once again by that pesky demon, or sorta kinda. The Vatican wants answers as to what happened to their first two dudes and so they send an investigative priest (Richard Burton) who teams up with Regan and her psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher) to stir some shit up. This all runs parallel to an expansion on Father Merrin’s (Max Von Sydow) exploits in Africa battling the very same demon and I know it’s supposed to all make some sort of intrinsic sense but the thing feels like it was written on an etch-a-sketch and edited with a jackhammer.
So what actually works? Well the film looks great, from Regan’s aggressively postmodern penthouse apartment to the spooky crags and mud huts of Africa. The visual atmosphere is great and permeates everything. And what doesn’t work? Pretty much everything else, really. Blair doesn’t have the same magnetism she had as a kid and both her lines on the page and her delivery feel detached and flat. The great Ennio Morricone takes scoring detail but I’m not sure what he was on that day because what he comes up with here is… I dunno. Where atmospherics should have been employed he’s used a soundboard of wails, howls, hollers, hoots and other nondescript aural diarrhea to the point where it’s laughable and distracting. The hypnotism and African stuff sort of work in isolated fashion but in terms of tying a coherent story together they’re used in a completely nonsensical way and there’s just so many “huh?” moments in the plot. I’m not sure what went wrong here but I’m sure there’s a reasonable story behind the mess, perhaps one more interesting than the actual film itself. Probably, because I feel like doing taxes would be more interesting and less confusing than this thing. Stick to the classic first one or also excellent third instead.
I saw William Friedkin’s The Exorcist for the first time the other night and it definitely lived up to its reputation, while also being totally not what I expected in a good way. I think that if you go a long time not experiencing a piece of art that is iconic and referenced everywhere in pop culture you kind of project your own image of what it’s going to be like and just assume, and then when you finally get around to it you’re sort of blindsided by the product itself. That happened here with a horror film where I’d seen so many memes, editorials, parodies, pastiches, reworking and ripoffs that when I finally got around to it I was pleasantly surprised at the result.
The main thing that augmented my expectations was pacing; I always Linda Blair’s Regan was to be possessed right from the get go and to see that famous establishing shot before the credits, then have the story progress from there. The film takes its time building character, that of Regan, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), the deeply unsure and fragile priest hired to do the deed. I enjoyed the fact that her mom was a famous actress working on a film and felt some touches of meta there, as well as a spooky prologue set in Africa where we meet Max Von Sydow’s Super Priest Lancaster Merrin.
So, did it live up to the hype of being one of the scariest films of all time? Well… that’s a complicated question and gets to the roots of what irks me about how we view horror films back then and now. Yes, this was a terrifying film and all the recognizable scenes of Blair being possessed still hold potency and crawl along the spine. They’re also placed well enough that you don’t necessarily expect them and as distill more shock. I’m not talking about a cheaply orchestrated jump scare, but simply cutting back on buildup or discernible beats and letting the disturbing imagery seem more organic. The head spinning around is a kicker. Thing is, this film was made in 1973 and there have been a thousand and one horror movies made since then that had this as a barometer for the envelope to push. So.. *back then*, yes, this would have been the scariest shit to grace the screen, but we gotta update our way of thinking and take into account what’s come since, and how our favourites have become dated whether we like it or not. Is it one of the *best* horror films ever made, scare-o-meter aside? There’s certainly a case for that, I found it to be an extremely well crafted, atmospheric, unnerving piece and for one that *was* made back then, definitely scary. I also appreciated the discussions had by characters around the concept of an exorcism and how science relates to theology, bringing it’s central premise into thematic conversation as opposed to simply framework for horror. One thing I was disappointed by though is the lack of that spider crab running down the stairs thing she does that I’ve scene in so many SyFy movie of the week promos. I’m guessing there are different cuts out there but that is a barnstormer of a scare moment and I’m not sure why they wouldn’t include that in every version.
I’m not huge on horror movies. But The Exorcist is brilliant, and easily one of my all-time favorite films in any genre. This movie actually kind of scares me, every time I watch any portion of it, no matter the time of day. It certainly gets under my skin; it’s relentlessly thrilling and so ruthless in its force and skill that it’s become one of those films that I study in terms of the nuts and bolts of its construction. I’m not a believer in the idea of real-world demonic possession, but, the scenario certainly has made for more than a few memorable cinematic experiences, but William Friedkin’s beyond intense vision is truly the stuff of nightmares. Owen Roizman’s carefully measured cinematography puts you on edge immediately, as the nearly wordless opening 20 minutes plunges the viewer into an exotic world with very little context, as Max von Sydow’s priest character unearths something terrible out in the desert. Ellen Burstyn was sensational as the actress/mother struggling with almost every facet of her life, with her biggest problem being that her young daughter Regan, the show-stopping Linda Blair, has caught the eye of the Pazuzu, an ancient demon. Jason Miller’s tortured performance as Father Karras is some of the most emotionally affecting work in this genre that I’ve come across; admittedly I’m no aficionado of the horror world, but Miller’s acting in this film has always resonated with me, and has always seemed to be a cut above for this sort of fare, which can tend to be overplayed for big, obvious moments. There’s a reason this movie has endured as long as it has – it’s truly horrific in all the right ways, vulgar and nasty, never afraid to go to some truly dark and disturbing places, while still paying respect to classic genre tropes. The Exorcist feels perfect from scene to scene, with each performance totally nailed by the incredible ensemble, and all of the craft elements aligning to create one of the most visceral and truly horrifying visions of cinematic terror that’s ever been presented.