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Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
~Review by Grawlix (November 2019)
Four years after the events of The Exorcist, a Father Lamont is assigned by the Catholic Church to investigate the facts of the exorcism that claimed the life of Father Merrin (late of the first film). Seems that some of Merrin’s writings were discovered after his death which included some possibly heretical ideas and Merrin’s reputation has suffered as a result. The church, deciding they don’t need the bad publicity (heh, if they only knew) tasks Lamont with separating truth from rumor. Lamont tracks down Reagan McNeil, the formerly possessed girl to whom Merrin had administered the famous exorcism, who is now undergoing regular psychological counseling. She’s fairly well adjusted, considering, but this is mainly because she has no memory of her possession, and her therapist fears that her past won’t stay buried forever. When Lamont assists in an experimental treatment of Reagan’s that is identified as hypnosis but acts more like astral projection, he has visions that ultimately lead him to Africa, to one of Merrin’s previous exorcism subjects, and to insight that may allow him to defeat the demon once and for all.
I’ll give Exorcist II credit – as a sequel, it had the right idea. Not only does it bring back most of the surviving characters from the first movie, but it continues their stories in plausible ways, and it expands on ideas from the first movie without repeating them. The writers clearly did some research on the Pazuzu of Mesopotamian mythology (Pazuzu was the name of the demon from the first film, but the name was likely chosen more for how it sounded rather than what it meant) and locusts are a recurring presence. Unfortunately, none of these ideas go anywhere all that interesting, and all of its attempts at scares fall flat. Father Merrin appears in flashbacks, but we already know when and how he dies so we know he’s never in real danger. Reagan has a few trance-induced close calls and Lamont risks a stoning after mentioning Pazuzu to the wrong people, but these scenes are brief and have no lingering effects. The original Exorcist was a master class in slowly building tension, with well-prepared protagonists facing off against a powerful and wily foe. Exorcist II spends ten minutes on characters getting stuck in traffic (no, seriously).
This is doubly strange because, on paper at least, Exorcist II gave itself a lot more to work with. The original film put a lot of effort into providing a solid medical and psychological foundation to the story before hitting the gas on the supernatural stuff, and benefited greatly from the contrast. Exorcist II jumps into psychic phenomenon with both feet early on (I think I saw a clip of Uri Geller on a TV, as an appetizer of what’s to come.). Reagan’s experimental therapy resembles a strobing box with attached electrodes and Lamont and Reagan share something of a telepathic bond after using it. But the movie then continually shows unwarranted restraint afterwards, seemingly wanting to have it both ways. The result is a collection of scenes that end just as they might get interesting.
And it’s all too bad, because there’s a lot of talent being wasted here. There’s some nice camerawork, particularly in a few dreamlike sequences that make good use of African locations. Linda Blair has charisma to lend and looks absolutely cherubic without all the possession makeup. And James Earl Jones appears in what amounts to an extended cameo playing a multifaceted character who should’ve gotten far more screen time.
Exorcist II seems to be the stepchild of the franchise, doing disappointing business and garnering overwhelmingly derisive reviews. Being that it had the rotten luck to open less than a month after Star Wars, it was probably going to take a beating regardless of quality. For my part, I can’t say I disliked it, necessarily, but I can’t really recommend it either. Things do happen, mostly in the final reel when it almost seems like the filmmakers overcompensated after remembering, too late, why the audience probably bought their tickets. But at a glacial two hours, the trip just isn’t worth it. The Exorcist II isn’t a poorly made film, but it is a boring one, and that may well be worse.
Final Score: C-
The Exorcist II succeeds at being different, and almost succeeds at being interesting.
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