31 Days of Halloween — Day 19: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) — by Dr. Shock

exorcist ii the heretic 1977

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.


“All these years later, 1973’s The Exorcist still ranks as one of the most frightening films ever made. How it spawned a sequel as bad as Exorcist II: The Heretic is beyond me.

Scratch that. This is more than just a “bad” movie; it’s a disaster of epic proportions.

Though it’s been four years since her brush with evil, Regan (again played by Linda Blair) continues to see her psychologist, Dr. Jean Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), on a regular basis. Saying she remembers nothing about the horrific events that claimed the lives of three people, Regan tries to lead a normal life, all the while knowing that the demon that possessed her still has a firm grip on her psyche.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has assigned Father Lamont (Richard Burton) to investigate the final exorcism performed by the late Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow). Once in America, Father Lamont visits Dr. Tuskin and sits in on Regan’s hypnosis therapy, during which he discovers that his mentor had a previous encounter with the demon that invaded the young girl’s body, a malevolent spirit that goes by the name “Yazuzu.”

To further understand the situation, Lamont travels to Africa in search of a man named Kukumo (James Earl Jones), who, as a boy, was also possessed by Yazuzu until Father Merrin exorcised the demon. But the deeper he delves into this terrifying reality, the more Father Lamont realizes that Yazuzu has not been vanquished; he lies dormant inside of Regan, waiting for his chance to return.

To save Regan’s soul, Father Lamont is prepared to battle Yazuzu, even if doing so means giving up his own life in the process.

I knew I was in trouble early on in Exorcist II: The Heretic when, while under hypnosis, Regan recalls a confrontation between Father Merrin and the monster that was inside of her. Instead of lifting footage from the first movie for this flashback, director Boorman decided to shoot a brand new sequence, which not only looks bad (the possession make-up worn by Linda Blair is almost comical), but also isn’t the least bit frightening.

And therein lies the problem: There’s not a single chilling scene in the entire movie. In fact, its convoluted tale of experimental hypnosis, ancient demons, locusts (one recurring image of Yazuzu as a locust, flying through the air, is too ridiculous for words), and the eternal struggle between good and evil is downright dull.

Instead of fighting demons, Father Lamond spends his time jetting around the world, meeting with anyone and everyone who had the slightest connection to either Yazuzu or Father Merrin, and nothing he turns up is even remotely interesting. Whereas The Exorcist kept you glued to the edge of your seat, Exorcist II is more likely to make you lay back and take a nap.

The real question, of course, is why? Why did the scariest movie ever made inspire one of the worst sequels of all time? It really is a mystery, especially when you look at the talented cast and crew that created this turd.

Its director, John Boorman, had turned out Deliverance a few years earlier, and was the man behind my favorite take on the King Arthur legend, 1981’s Excalibur. Richard Burton, though not above hamming it up, was a Shakespearian actor, and Louise Fletcher was fresh off her Oscar-winning portrayal of Nurse Ratched in 1975’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

What’s more, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair reprised their roles from the original, and James Earl Jones. Ned Beatty (as a pilot), and Paul Henried (as a bishop) make brief appearances as well. On paper, Exorcist II: The Heretic looked like a winner.

But it isn’t a winner. It sucks … real bad. And fans of the original should avoid it at all costs.”

—Dr. Shock


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12 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 19: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) — by Dr. Shock

  1. Doc,
    In a recent issue of the film magazine, Cineaste (the spring 2015 edition featuring “Inherent Vice”), Declan McGrath conducts an interview with director John Boorman. And I thought you might be interested in this exchange, where Boorman responds to a question about reviews like yours that panned “The Heretic.”

    Cineaste asked: Do you suffer when your films get bad reviews? I am thinking particularly of “The Heretic,” the sequel to “The Exorcist,” which was very badly received. Was that difficult for you?

    Boorman: Yes, it was. The audience was expecting something like the original “Exorcist,” but instead I gave them something quite different. I was foolish. Audiences and critics like to know the terms of a film, to feel comfortable in its presence. Quite rightly so, and if you lead them astray, they get upset, and sometimes I have been guilty of taking them into dangerous territory. Be consistent!

    Jay again: I believe his answer, but I still find it astounding that he’d think it was prudent to make a sequel that wasn’t, at least, “something like the original,” especially when the original was so popular.

    JOTD

    • It sounds as if Boorman believes audiences only hated The Heretic solely because it wasn’t just like the Exorcist rather than hating it because it’s just a terrible movie.

      If that’s what he honestly believes, Boorman is straight up delusional.

      • That’s exactly what I thought in reading this Sal.

        Thanks Jay. Always been interested to know what possessed (pardon the pun) Boorman to think this was in any way a good idea.

        It’s a shame Exorcist III doesn’t get the credit it really deserves. In my view this is a real gem. Unfortunately it got stuck between Heretic and those prequels.

        Blatty takes ownership and delivers as writer and director and although the ending isn’t great (in my view) there are some terrific moments, including one of the most scary scenes (in the hospital) I have ever seen a in horror movie.

        • I totally agree with you about Exorcist part III. I have been championing that movie around the HMP crew for a while now. Yes, that hospital scene is tremendous! We need a review of this great movie!

          • Thanks Grey Imp.

            I would certainly be interested to hear what the MPW team feel about this movie. I do blame Heretic for it not being truly embraced and celebrated as a sequel…but also take joy in the cult status which has grown around it.

            I’ve not seen ‘The Ninth Configuration’ (the other movie Blatty wrote and directed). Is it worth watching anyone?

        • When taken out of the “it’s not like Exorcist 1” microscope, E3 is a (typical?) Hollywood studio attempt to make a sequel and “fill out” the backstory rather than replicate the first, a noble idea. Boorman has always been more interested in the science and process of things in the background (Emerald Forest is strangely non-spiritual, Zardoz (yes David it is crazy) for its psychedelic trappings makes a kind of logical sense). While Boorman captures beautiful images, ultimately not the best choice for a film that needed a director less worried about technological solutions and more attuned to poetry and existential dread.

          That said I kinda love E3: The Heretic. Because it’s such a glorious expensive well-meaning, tone-deaf example.

  2. (Spoiler free)

    Day 19 – Late Phases (2014)

    As I already experienced earlier in the month with She-Wolf of London, the werewolf subgenre isn’t necessarily known for it’s quality. There may be a few stand outs like The Wolf Man, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and Ginger Snaps, but the rest are fairly lousy. If there’s one thing to say about Late Phases, it’s that while not quite as good as the other werewolf movies I mentioned, it is one that is actually worth going out of your way to see if you want to see a good flick featuring the creature that lives by the full moon.

    It’s next to impossible to watch Late Phases without thinking about 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep. Both films revolve around an old folk’s community with one old fart battling a classic horror creature. The biggest difference though is that Late Phases isn’t a comedy. None of it is meant to be taken lightly and maybe the best way the creators established this fact was with it’s hero, Ambrose McKinley. Ambrose isn’t some guy who thinks he’s Elvis Presley and that his roommate is JFK in a black man’s body. Ambrose is blind and is forced to try and survive these attacks against a deadly beast. Luckily for Ambrose, he has experience in the navy, the Vietnam war, and not once does he ever consider himself weak. At various points in the movie, Ambrose points out that he’s not a crippled. This is a man that despite his disability is still an utter bad ass. So he’s up against a powerful force that will likely kill him. If that’s the case, Ambrose is going to go down trying to take the bastard down with him. It’s actually pretty inspirational to not let this war injury cause him to lose his strength in himself.

    So for most of the movie, it’s just Ambrose and his “Charming” attitude as he prepares for the next full moon. Again, he’s blind, but he’s not helpless. He’s training, trying to learn as much as he can about the werewolf and which resident it could possibly be, learning about his neighbors, and even finding a guy to make him some silver bullets. Ambrose may be difficult to deal with, but the creators did such a fantastic job at making him likable. Since the vast, vast majority of the film are just scenes with Ambrose, the importance of Ambrose coming off as likable is that important. Hats off to Stake Land’s Nick Damici for pulling off the character of Ambrose.

    Creature design wise, Late Phases is just okay. I’ve seen plenty of werewolves that look far worse, but there’s points where the werewolves didn’t look too well in this. The main one I’m alluding to is the werewolf that looked more cat-like than wolf. The werewolves look imposing though and the main transition scene came off really well, even if there will never be a film that can beat An American Werewolf in London in that department. There’s some good gore scenes and kills, my favorite being when Ambrose stumbles into a house too late, with a victim that happens to have lost it’s head.

    If there was one part of the film that didn’t work for me, it was the subplot involving Ambrose and his son. There wasn’t enough time dedicated to the plot and there were points where I couldn’t understand why something mattered. For instance, Ambrose’s son goes off on his dad when he finally reveals that he had found his dad’s wedding ring after Ambrose had told him that he put it in the mother’s casket. Maybe I’m missing something, but I didn’t see why that lie mattered so much. At the end of the film, Ambrose finally comes clean and has a very honest message for his son. I had been waiting for the majority of the film for a big reveal to happen as they explain the relationship to make it more important. Instead, the message doesn’t add much and I felt underwhelmed. If you removed every scene involving Ambrose and his son, you would not alter the film in any way. I much preferred Ambrose’s scenes with Father Smith as that delved into Ambrose’s past and revealed why he might be as abrasive as he is. Let it be known that I didn’t have any problem with Ethan Embry, who played Ambrose’s son. The problem was strictly the lack of progression in the script for that subplot.

    Overall, despite some qualms with the movie, Late Phases manages to be an entertaining movie and one that manages to bring quality back to the werewolf subgenre. There’s some legitimate fear when you put yourself in Ambrose’s shoes and try to imagine what you’d do if you were blind and had to battle some sort of unstoppable beast. I can tell you that if I was blind and something came after me, I would be an easy kill. The anticipation only builds throughout the movie until we get to the big showdown at the next full moon. If you dug Stake Land, go out of your way to catch yet another really good movie featuring Nick Damici. It’s on Netflix and it’s not as if there’s any other really good werewolf movies from this decade to watch instead.

    I’ll be generous and give it an 8, partly because of the fact that there haven’t been many good werewolf films of the 2000’s.

  3. Quick correction: Above, I mention…

    ” Instead of lifting footage from the first movie for this flashback, director Boorman decided to shoot a brand new sequence, which not only looks bad (the possession make-up worn by Linda Blair is almost comical), but also isn’t the least bit frightening”

    I recently discovered it wasn’t Linda Blair at all, but a stand-in. Blair refused to wear any “Possession” make-up.for the sequel.

  4. I’ll give this weird “Compliment” to the movie. You’re set to do a sequel to one of the greatest horror movies ever, that actually has respect from the general public. To say it’ll be an uphill battle to make a movie that will live up to expectations to be an understatement. Instead, we get a movie so awful that it’s the poster child for being a bad sequel. Yet, that’s the exact reason why anyone even watches the movie. The movie is so well known for being bad that it likely has caused more people to watch it than had it had a decent reputation.

    In comparison, The Exorcist III is a good little movie, but since it naturally couldn’t live up to the quality of the original, it’s remained a cult classic sort of movie. Chances are, less people have seen Exorcist III than they have Exorcist 2.

    Exorcist 2 maybe a terrible movie, but it was a success in becoming memorable in spite of being a sequel to a classic film.

  5. Day 19: The Final Girls
    This is a horror comedy. I loved the cast and especially the characters in the 80’s movie. The relationship between the daughter and mother felt a little forced to me. Other than that it was pretty fun!

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