Retro Review: Exorcist II – the Heretic (1977)

The Exorcist is considered horror royalty, even if the writer William Peter Blatty and director William Fredikin hate the film being called “horror”.  But, really and as we all have said, horror is different to everyone.  But let me tell you, The Exorcist is a horror movie, not a theological thriller.  The Exorcist is on the Horror Syndicate’s Horror Hall of Fame.

Exorcist II: the Heretic is something else, it has to be a hard thing to do, following up on the “scariest movie of all-time?”  This is not the way.  I guess when it comes to sequels most people want to follow the story of the main characters.  I think this may be where Exorcist II fails.  Linda Blair is back as Reagan and she is at a clinic and being monitored at a psychiatric institute by Dr. Gene Tuskin, who is played by Louise Fletcher.

The movie beings with Father Lamont preforming an exorcism on a girl as it goes wrong and she burns.  This might be the highlight of the movie.  This should have set the tone, but it just gets very strange.  Dreams of a Locust swarm and a young boy being exorcised by a younger Father Merrin and we finally learn the name of the Demon who possessed Regan, Pazuzu.  This kind of ruins the effect of the first movie a litte…it is not “the Devil himself”…no, its Pazuzu.  I have known this for a long time and it doesn’t take away from the original movie at all, we do make Pazuzu jokes often.

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Let me go ahead and talk about some good points of the movie.  There are some truly chilling scenes in the movie, Merrin’s first exorcism with Kokumu is very scary in many ways.  There are scenes with Linda Blair atop a skyscraper in New York City, thy are very beautiful, mixed with the score, I do like those moments.  Speaking of the bizarre score, it goes back and forth from an African tribal sound to a beautiful, yet haunting sound.

They return to the house in Georgetown a couple of times.  This devices has to play on the audiences nostalgia for the first film.  The scenes in Africa are very cool as Father Lamont travels to Africa to meet with Kokumo, played by James Earl Jones.  Kokumu seems to not believe he was once possessed by Pazuzu.

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But, what do I think of the movie…hmm…It has such a bad reputation it is hard to go against the grain.  I think most people look at it against the original.  But they are very different films and serve different purposes.  Sure Exorcist II does not hold a candle to the original film at all.  But to call it terrible or a piece of shit, it may be too much.  Maybe there are issues with naming the demon and the use of the locusts as a plot device.  I don’t know, but something about the movie leads me to not hate it as much as most or as I once did.  Linda Blair was great in the movie and could be very creepy.

The ending was not too bad at all.  I am starting to believe one of two things.  Either I am a fool for movies or this may be a misunderstood movie.  I don’t know, the census says Exorcist II is terrible.  I am not willing to agree at this point.  I see influences from other horror sub-genres and a way, as strange as it is, to move forward with Regan’s story.

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I think another issues with the movie, it had many road blocks before production.  William Peter Blatty and William Friedikin did not want to have anything to do with the project.  According to the film’s co-producer Richard Lederer,

Exorcist II was conceived as a relatively low-budget affair: “What we essentially wanted to do with the sequel was to redo the first movie… Have the central figure, an investigative priest, interview everyone involved with the exorcism, then fade out to unused footage, unused angles from the first film. A low-budget rehash — about $3 million — of The Exorcist, a rather cynical approach to movie-making, I’ll admit. But that was the start.

Funny to think about that, copy the formula of the first and do a rehash.  That sounds very horror to me.  But they did not do that at all, the production crew did not play it safe.  They made their movie and it was to simply be called, The Heretic.  The movie would center on the battle of good and evil in the human consciousness.  There is a hypnosis machine that you enter into others minds and see the past.

Linda Blair comes back, but she refused to wear the demon make-up.  There was a scene near the beginning of the film of her exorcism, it would have required her to where the make-up.  They uses a double and Chris McNeil was written off as Ellen Burstyn refused to come back.

The movie could have been different with some of the actors from the original movie, but the few that were asked, did not return.  But to me, it was better without them.

Exorcist II: the Heretic, it is not terrible, it is not a shitty horror film as I said prior to my most recent viewing.  I ask again, “How do you follow the scariest movie of all-time?”  The original idea was rehash of the original…should we have seen that?  I say yes.  I talk about horror series breaking free of following the same damned characters, it is an easy escape.  I get it, the audience likes the cast, they sympathize with Regan or whoever.  When the sequel comes we expect to see what happens to the characters from the original.  This is why Halloween III failed.  But, would you have rather seen, the Exorcist II with a different cast, but a rehash, followed by the Exorcist III, rehash and an all new cast?  Through the 1980s we get four or five Exoricst movies.  I think that is what could have happened and been ok.  I think an Exorcist anthology could have been cool, different story, different people.

Exorcist II is not perfect, at all.  But I do not think it is terrible.  Look at the movie with fresh eyes, don’t think of the original movie’s sequel.  Think of it as a continuation to Regan’s story.  If you don’t feel a little different…then it is a shitty movie.  I say, it is in the middle of the pack.  But Exorcist II is a pure 1970s horror movie that sits in the shadow of the scariest movie of all-time.

IMDB.com has a rating of 3.7 or Exorcist II: the Heretic, I give it a 6.2.

Give it another shot, with fresh eyes.  Let us know what you think.

 

About Ray Marek III 375 Articles
I have been watching horror films since I was 6 years old. The story, one Saturday night, my mom and I were watching movies and she fell asleep on the couch. We had the channel set on HBO and the movie we were watching ended and the next one, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. This was some time in 1986. I watched then entire film, I was sitting on the edge of my seat. When my mom woke, she asked me what just ended and I told her, “Freddy”. That was all I talked about for weeks and finally she broke down and rented more horror films for me. She rented, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2, Re-Animator, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives and Halloween II. I watched all and fell in love with horror films forever. 5 Horror Films to Watch Inferno (1980) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) The Beyond (1981) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) Horror of Dracula (1958)