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In Defense of ‘The Exorcist II: The Heretic’

As the 40th anniversary of the release of The Exorcist II: The Heretic arrives, it is tempting to remember the film only as a misguided sequel to a superior film that barely doubled its $14 million budget; not so impressive, compared to the over $400 million made by the original. However, the film can be a worthwhile, interesting, and possibly very fun one to the right viewer due to a few elements worthy of recognition.

First, it’s amazing that the film even exists.

Being the creative team that followed up the groundbreaking, award-winning, highly profitable original was an unenviable task. The brave soul who would take on that task had so many likely bad outcomes: being less profitable, retreading familiar ground, or even retroactively robbing the original of some of its power. It’s not a coincidence that it took 23 years to get a sequel to Psycho, and Rosemary’s Baby has never had a filmic sequel. Films of that era weren’t automatically franchised, and it was John Boorman who accepted this impossible challenge.

Second, while the film isn’t a great sequel to The Exorcist, it is a GREAT continuation of the daring career of director John Boorman. In a single decade, from 1972 to 1981, Boorman directed the backwoods terror of Deliverance, the trippy sci-fi of Zardoz, the New Age spirituality of Exorcist II: The Heretic, and the decidedly offbeat King Arthur film Excalibur. His dazzling visual style, insistence on unconventional stories, and narratives about men in spiritual and existential crises makes the second Exorcist film a perfect fit for his filmography.

Third, this movie is BONKERS (in an entertaining way)! Building off the possession in the first film, Boorman and the film’s writers somehow found a way to incorporate a complicated metaphysical plot about human evolution. He tied the Regan possession into a previous possession Father Merrin encountered in Africa, showed audiences a biofeedback machine that could put people’s brainwaves in sync.

The wacky follow-up also includes plagues of locusts, a very uncomfortable seduction sequence with Linda Blair as a succubus doppelganger, and…

… James Earl Jones, a serious and well-respected actor, dressed like this and somehow still keeping a straight face.

Fourth, The Exorcist II beat Alien by two years in changing a lead male role and recasting it for an actress. Alien cast Sigourney Weaver in a role originally written for a man in 1979; but in 1977, Boorman took the male role of Dr. Gene Tuskin and filled it with Louise Fletcher, still highly sought-after due to her Academy Award-winning turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As usual, horror and science fiction were well ahead of the curve on giving substantial lead roles to women.

And even if you hate The Exorcist II, you can probably appreciate that the excellent third film in the series, Exorcist III: Legion, only exists because novelist and screenwriter for the original film, William Peter Blatty saw Boorman’s film and thought it was laughable. Before the release of the second installment, he had no desire or concept for another entry in the series. However, he was unwilling to let the confusing and, in his eyes, unintentionally hilarious second film be the last thing movie-goers remembered about The Exorcist – so he created Legion as a book. He eventually directed the sequel film himself, which has brilliantly scary moments, the return of Jason Miller, and yet another great Brad Dourif performance.

It’s a better movie that wouldn’t exist without this one, for what it’s worth.

So in celebration of forty years of befuddlement and awkward laughs, let’s bring John Boorman’s gonzo work of art in from the cold and enjoy it for the few things it does right and the many things it does entertainingly, spectacularly wrong.

At the very least, you can’t accuse it of being conventional.

 



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COMMENTS

68 Comments
  • Lorne Dixon

    There’s no defending Exorcist 2: The Heretic, except as an excuse to get together with friends and laugh. One correction to the article: not sure what “filmic” means exactly, but Rosemary’s Baby did have a sequel: Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, made for television in 1976 but released in many countries theatrically. It’s horrible, too, but more boring than The Heretic.

    • Chris Vander Kaay

      Lorne, I did know about the movie and thought it was only a TV release rather than theatrical film (didn’t know about the foreign theatrical release). Was that one based on the really awful book sequel that Levin wrote, or was it a different awful than that?

      • Lorne Dixon

        It’s not based on the Levin’s Son of Rosemary (which is really a dark satire in the same chord as Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho). There was also a television series a few years ago based on the original novel- but I can’t speak to that as I didn’t see it and doubt I ever will.

      • Monkeymanbob

        Always found it odd that TV programmes and made for TV movies got theatrical releases. Anybody know why?
        The Rosemary sequel appears to have been released in theatres in Spain, something to do with the censorship laws? But it also got released in Sweden.
        Meanwhile in the UK we made do with repackages of the Hulk & Spiderman tv shows

  • Aaron King

    I wish we could read the original script. As for the final product it’s an interesting failure.

    • Dylan Gutierrez

      Agreed, Linda Blair mentioned how different the original script was that had her sign on in the first place before numerous rewrites resulted in the final product. The idea is good but the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired. As much as I want to like the Heretic, there’s just so much working against it. The demon’s voice is pretty much an impression of Eartha Kitt throughout the entire movie, the Yokono moaning in the opening credits and throughout the whole movies, the absurdity of some scenes are so glaring that whatever point it wanted to make is lost with the poor direction on Boorman’s part, this man wanted to do the complete opposite of the first film as he hated it. Still, the soundtrack and the cinematography are amazing for this much maligned sequel.

  • Necro

    Yeah that’s the one thing I could always give this film is Boorman’s balls to take on an ‘Exorcist’ sequel. It’s funny how things go, this film was that much of an embarrassment to Blatty that he squeezed out ‘Exorcist lll’. Truly one of my favorite sequels of all time (part 3). So without 2 no 3. Fate perhaps? On part 2 itself I didn’t hate it but, it just flopped, no matter the excuse provided. Being the Horror fan I am I’ve always respected part 2 and the daunting task that Boorman faced, and if his failure with that film meant the success of another sequel or another one of his films entirely, than I guess his experience doing part 2 alone could’ve been worth it.

    • Chris Vander Kaay

      Great perspective, and one I share. I try not to look at films, especially franchise films, in a vacuum. Each one has an effect on the others in some way or another!

  • Munchie

    The only thing defensible about this film is how hot Linda Blair is in it.

    • Vesuvian Villain

      Exactly, the amount of boredome and mediocrity I was willing to suffer to stare at her was remarkable. It’s like eating a slim jim. Every bite the back of your mind goes, “Dear God, what is this thing?!” but yet you keep on chewing.

      • Creepshow

        A main ingredient is “mechanically separated chicken”. So…Slim Jims are made by robots that tear chickens apart. Sounds like a trashy B movie.

        • Vesuvian Villain

          Hearing the level of violence involved makes me really want to eat more slim jims. Seriously. I’m going to the store. What am I doing with my life?

          • Creepshow

            At least you don’t have to pay sales tax on them. Live free or die.

      • Dan Warren (Forgottenretroworl

        Shouldn’t that be Boordome? Not as good as Thunderdome.

  • Buddy Repperton

    The Exorcist 3 rocks and proved time and time again that George C. Scott was a truly fascinating actor to watch. As for Exorcist 2, it’s hard to tell whether doing this movie or sleeping with rick james was the lowest and most self degrading event in her life.

    • Vesuvian Villain

      Hell yes. Exorcist 3 is one of the most underrated horrors I know of, Dourif is badass, Scott is badass, the humor works, the horror works, and there’s this creepy vibe throughout. Everything just seems off in a weird way. Like the scene where Kinderman’s daughter goes to the fridge for a drink and her movement looks reversed. The sound of the old lady in the opening scene is scary as hell and it’s never even shown, all suggested. And let’s not forget the nun with the scissors following the nurse. Holy shit.

      • Wil McMullen

        That scene with the nurse scared the shit outta me and half the theater when I went to see this.

      • Saturn

        Not sure whether I’d agree that it’s underrated these days, as it seems that most who view it love it.
        I actually have a friend who considers it to be the highlight of the franchise.

        • Vesuvian Villain

          I think I have pretty equal love for 1 and 3 in different ways, I couldn’t really put one over the other. The level of crafting that went into the first movie to give a sense of unease is phenomenal, I have so much respect for it. I think you’re right about underrated being the wrong word. Because it’s true, I haven’t met a horror fan who saw it and disliked it. But I do think there’s not nearly enough people still who are aware how great it is because 2 did so much damage to the franchise.

    • marshally

      Scott is equally good in The Changling

  • Vesuvian Villain

    Props for “top shelf trash-tas-tic”, Wil. Couldn’t describe this flick any better.

  • Carl Chrystan

    Motherf***er! You almost convinced me! Almost. Great article. Please now post an explanation on why the most important horror film of the 1980’s is ‘Silent Night Deadly Night 2’

    • Chris Vander Kaay

      This sounds like a challenge I should probably accept. Let me see what I can do…

  • Tor from Yucca Flats

    At least Linda is back, and the girl we all know as that possessed child is now a sexy 18 year old… a little unsettling.

  • guest

    biggest sequel bomb ever!
    srsly did they even watch the original?

    • Dylan Gutierrez

      The director admitted hating the original so he went towards making something the complete opposite thus the end result.

      • guest

        brilliant plan. lol.

  • Matty Ice 2016

    Not feeling you at all……2 was rubbish…..3 was boring rubbish….The first is the most disturbing shocking horror film ever made….It still is…Next!!!

  • ScriptGiverrrr

    No.

    • Tor from Yucca Flats

      when did you see it last? I remember seeing Halloween 3 when I was a small child and not remembering it later on and hearing people bash it for over 10 years I just went with the flow, then I decided to re-watch it and was shocked how good it is. Revisit it, don’t listen to the hate wagon.

      • ScriptGiverrrr

        Or you can accept that I can think for myself and in doing so think the movie is shit.

        • Creepshow

          Unacceptable. Request denied.

          • ScriptGiverrrr

            I love dopes like him. Has anyone figured out why they always run to use the word hipster? Like, it doesn’t even make sense. Ever.

          • Buk Lau

            Hipster and poser are their two favorite words.

          • ScriptGiverrrr

            No doubt. They’re also idiots.

          • Saturn

            Hipposerter?
            Nah, sounds too much like a Greek goddess.

          • Creepshow

            They learn their vocabulary from their dip-shitster buddies ranting on message boards.

          • ScriptGiverrrr

            Then throw their shit at each other.

        • Tor from Yucca Flats

          I doubt it. You haven’t seen the movie in years admit it, you just let others opinions cloud your judgment. I bet you are one of the ELM2 haters, because you’ve refused to rewatch it after listening to your hipster buddies ranting on message boards, when it is actually one of the better sequels actually giving us a terrifying Freddy.

          • ScriptGiverrrr

            So since I hate it it means I can’t think for myself yet at the same time you need me to agree with your opinion… Are you always this stupid?

            I like Elm 2. So what now douchetard? Good lord get over yourself.

            Anyone that still uses the word hipster shovels poop with a large wooden spoon into their own mouth. Congrats.

          • Tor from Yucca Flats

            arrrgh!

          • Saturn

            For years I always thought Elm St 3 was the best of the sequels, although I always enjoyed 2 – but, recently I feel that Elm St 2 is the best of the sequels, probably more to do with Elm St 3 being waaaaay too familiar these days (I must have seen it around 300 times over the years, originally back in the day on vhs when owning movies was a big deal, and you were lucky to have a collection of more than 30 movies!),
            I still respect 3, and remember how much I loved it, but I’ve seen it too many times now.
            Strangely enough though I’ve seen the first 2 Evil Dead movies around about the same time and still never get bored of them.

      • Saturn

        I’ve never understood why Halloween 3 got so much flak – I’ve always loved it.
        It’s probably my favourite of the movies that followed the original.

  • dukeblues

    Part 3 is my favorite.

  • LRF

    And the score. Don’t forget the score. I love this movie, but in the same way I love Showgirls. It’s fascinatingly and entertainingly bad.

  • B.

    I’ve a soft spot for this one. I admire sequels that expand on the originals and try something new (hit or miss, they are at least interesting), and I love 70s/80s psychedelia: Altered States being a highlight.

  • Ben_Jammin

    I’m sorry but it was just utterly pitiful. The third was passable but unnecessary. The real story, the WHOLE story begins and ends with the The Exorcist, both the Blatty novel and the 1973 classic.

    • Saturn

      Have you seen the tv show yet?
      If not, then you really should, as it’s pretty good stuff.

      • John Walker

        I agree, the Exorcist TV show is excellent. And although I like exorcist III, I feel the TV show is an even better sequel. I’m so glad it’s coming back for a second season!

  • Almost all sequels are quite simply unnecessary (Exorcist II being the primest of examples)!
    And to infer that Exorcist III was a brilliant film is very debatable.
    It was a masterpiece compared to part two. It featured some worthwhile actors. It even managed to create a dark foreboding tone that is vital to a movie in the horror genre.
    But it was merely average at best.
    It’s uneven plot with weighty unconvincing dialogue eventually becomes nothing more than a common serial killer movie.
    It has no cohesive terror and absolutely none of the movies spawned by “The Exorcist” (including the duds following Exorcist III) deserve to be associated with it whatsoever…

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    Nice write-up. Refreshing to read an objective take on BD that doesn’t contain an abundance of exclamation marks and some goofy guy shouting at everyone in a feeble attempt at getting the reader to conform to his own opinions. I enjoyed this pragmatic approach to a film I’ve heard nasty things about over the years, but have only ever seen a couple brief clips. I might give this a full watch now. Thanks.

  • Simon Allen

    I find it a completely fascinating mess …..i’m a huge Exorcist fan and this movie and it’s history has always piqued my interest , like you say in the article the fact that it actually happened at all was kind of a minor miracle .
    If you are interested in the Exorcist series at all or even in general in the making of film there was a compelling companion book “The making of Exorcist 2 – The Heretic” that was available and it’s a pretty amazing read if you can get your hands on it as it illustrates brilliantly the pure hell Boorman and his crew went through making this movie .
    There are many cuts of this movie but it is rumoured that the original cut before studio interference was a bit of a masterpiece …..I guess we will never know .

    • Saturn

      For years we thought that we’d never get the “director’s” cut of Nightbreed or Exorcist 3 – so there is perhaps hope.
      I’d be interested to see how the movie was meant to be.
      It’s quite sad really that one of the greatest horror movies of all time has such a chequered history when it comes to it’s sequels and prequels – at least the tv show has done a lot to make up for some of it.
      It would be interesting if in season 2 (or, if things go well, season 3) they show a little love to Exorcist 3, which is pretty damn good – a masterpiece in comparison to 2!
      Still, even though many consider it to be one of the worst horror movies ever (it’s far from that, although not brilliant) I still give it a spin every couple of years or so with a few cans of beer.

      • Simon Allen

        Fine words my friend .

    • John Walker

      I had that book, but over the years it got lost. I remember reading, that when Linda Blair read the original script, she thought it was excellent. But she said many changes were made to the script throughout the shooting process. The end result is a fascinating failure!

  • SilentHillSiren

    I love The Exorcist III and I even have a fondness for The Exorcist II: The Heretic and all its glorious cheesiness.

  • Sky Commander

    I met Linda Blair at a comic con and she is the rudest celebrity I’ve ever met. I had her sign my copy of the Exorcist and it is literally the only signed film in my collection I’ll ever consider selling and it’d be at cost $60 buck 20 for the DVD 40 for the signature and that’d be purely out of spite.

    Here’s what happened first I’m the only person in line. I saw she was eating so I was content to wait until she finished but the volunteers and handler insisted I go up so I was like “okay if you’re sure.”

    So I go up to her and make with the standard pleasantries and she still continues to eat barely acknowledging my existence, then I request for her to sign the DVD in silver because it was a dark cover but she insisted in signing it in black saying how “She decides what color she signs it in” and then I’m talking about how I didn’t see the Exorcist until a special screening when I was 15 and not to take this the wrong way cause it’s still a great movie but I love it so much because it’s what I consider to be the greatest comedy of all time and she gives me what can only be described as “The Stink Eye” and says “You just didn’t understand the movie!”

    Which is bullshit I understood it perfectly because what is scary in the 1970’s is not necessarily scary today and come on when a girl is speaking in tongues, shit is magically flying around a room and she’s floating 6 feet above the covers and their response is give her ritalin or seeing a priest beat the living shit out of a little girl who goes immediately back to normal it’s funny to be like she wasn’t possessed she just needed a good ass whooping to get her shit in line.

    So after she says that I didn’t understand the movie I was like fine and just took my item thanked her and left.

    • John Walker

      Linda was right, you DO NOT understand the movie!

      • Dylan Gutierrez

        I met Linda back in 2014 and had a great experience with her. She only seemed to get annoyed with questions like “Can you spin your head around” or something like that. It was pretty harsh hearing people saying things like “She’s aged badly” to the point she could hear it from where she was sitting. She was very sweet and I told her I loved the cover art for Exorcist II and mentioned her work on Scariest Places on Earth which she seemed shocked I remembered that. I didn’t take a photo at her table since I had a photo op but she was very kind, talkative and humorous. She does mention her charity a lot so that’s a given when meeting her. When I did my photo op with my partner at the time, she gave me two hugs and wished me good luck on my finals since it was two days later, so my experience wasn’t terrible at all. I had read horror stories but she seemed kind to me and very genuine.

      • Sky Commander

        I understand it. If you’re scared by it congrats, me I’m not scared by it at all save for the spider walk scene. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s good. It’s a well acted well written entertaining film for it’s time. Times change though and what was scary then isn’t necessarily scary now and that’s what YOU don’t seem to understand.

        • John Walker

          The majority of horror films today have lots of gore, plenty of jump scares and fast moving action and fast cuts, that films like the Exorcist do not. The Exorcist has a slow building, character building, theological story that is different than many other horror films. It’s rare that a horror film Is nominated for best picture, as the Exorcist was in the 1974 academy awards.
          If you believe in God and the devil, the Exorcist is much scarier and intense, than if you don’t.

    • stickytroll

      I met Linda about 12 years ago and she was great, really friendly and happy to sign my Exorcist and Hell Night DVDs with lengthy comments. I’m guessing you caught her on a bad day…

    • Batmanfanboy

      Calling The Exorcist a comedy is really insulting, i’m glad she treated you like she did. I think she is also correct that you are not mature enough for the film, as it is still genuinely more shocking and terrifying than 95% of horror movies that have been made since.

      • Sky Commander

        Dude the entire audience was laughing during the screening I went to at the moments I mentioned. It’s still a great movie but it was nowhere near as scary to me as other films of the genre. The only and I mean only part that scared me was the spider walk scene. At the time of it’s release I totally understand why it was scary but again these days the tropes and cliches are well known and not as effective as they were 40 years ago. So what was once scary can now be funny. Also if I’m paying money to meet someone and they act like a rude prick then they are exactly that a rude prick.

        • Jasmine Martinez

          I saw this film in the 90s for the first time and it scared the shit out of me and it still does today and I cannot understand how people find this film funny… But to each his own.

          • Sky Commander

            Okay let me frame it for you this way a girl is doing all this crazy paranormal shit (Head’s doing a 360, Shits flying around the room, she’s floating 6 feet in the air, speaking in different voices, ETC) and the Doctor’s response is give her ritalin an ADHD drug it’s like the bitch ain’t having trouble paying attention she’s fucking possessed that’s hysterical. It’s the absurdity of there response that made it so funny.

  • Daxtreme

    No defending, this movie is trash and never should been made. The first is one of my favorite horror films of all time.

  • Dan Warren (Forgottenretroworl

    This film was crazy as fuck but entertaining in a way.

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