The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Exorcist II: The Heretic

Exorcist II: The Heretic has a reputation for being one of the worst movies ever made. That reputation is very much deserved. It's inconceivable that anyone could have seen William Friedkin's original and thought this would in any way be an acceptable follow-up. Someone could make a slapstick comedy sequel to Saving Private Ryan and it would be no less faithful to the original than this picture is.

At the same time, the movie is often unintentionally hilarious and always terrible in a really fascinating way. That makes Scream Factory's extras-laden Collector's Edition Blu-ray -- hitting stores on Sept. 25 -- a noteworthy release.

Linda Blair is back as Regan MacNeil, now a teenager. She receives experimental therapy from Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher). The doctor has a special hypnosis device that allows her to connect her with Regan's most traumatic repressed memories of her childhood ordeal. Don't ask how that works, because you won't find out. Richard Burton plays Father Philip Lamont, a Vatican investigator sent to look into the death of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow, who appears in hallucination scenes). He believes Regan can help determine whether he committed suicide or was killed by a demon. The path also takes him to Africa (don't ask).

The big mistake made by Exorcist II: The Heretic is to introduce Tuskin's machine. That sets the story on a science-fiction path directly at odds with the almost documentary-style horror Friedkin brought to the original. It also ensures there will not be one single scare anywhere in the picture. None of the things audiences expect are here. No levitating, no spinning heads, no puking green ooze. Instead, we get lengthy scenes of Blair and Fletcher staring into the blinking light of the hypnosis machine, frequent closeups of a giant locust flying over things, and Africa-set scenes that were clearly filmed on cheap-looking studio sets.

At least you get to see James Earl Jones dressed up like that giant locust, so there's that. On the other hand, you also get some creepy sexualization of the teenage Linda Blair, so...eww.

Director John Boorman was not some hack. He directed great films before (Deliverance) and after (Hope and Glory) this one. The fact remains, though, that The Exorcist was about a little girl possessed by the devil, and Exorcist II: The Heretic is about a machine. One is a horror movie, the other a jumbled attempt to be cerebral science-fiction. Maybe a good story could be told from this film's premise, but certainly not one that's ostensibly a sequel to one of the scariest motion pictures ever made.

Burton, Fletcher, and Jones are all wasted, as is Ned Beatty in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo. Linda Blair does what she can, considering she has nothing worthwhile to work with. Max Von Sydow is only here briefly, giving a performance that practically screams "contractual obligation."

As awful as Exorcist II: The Heretic is, there's something oddly fun about watching it go so thoroughly off the rails. It's even more fun to imagine what the reaction of paying audiences was in 1977 when they realized they'd been duped.

Bly-ray Features:

Exorcist II: The Heretic comes to Blu-ray on Sept. 25. As is generally the case with Scream Factory releases, the bonus features are exciting, regardless of what you think of the main feature. Aside from a new 2K scan, there are two different cuts of the movie. The 118-minute theatrical cut has two audio commentaries -- one from director John Boorman, the other from Project Consultant Scott Bosco .

After its disastrous U.S. opening, Boorman went back and assembled a shorter cut of the movie for overseas audiences, which is featured on the second disc in the set. This 102-minute version has optional commentary from Mike White, former editor of Cashiers du Cinemart and current host of the Projection Booth broadcast. If you're familiar with White and his work, you will not be surprised to discover that he's a fount of information. His commentary really puts the shorter edit into context.

There's also a 20-minute interview with Linda Blair, who openly discusses the film's failures. She says the original script was excellent, but that it was rewritten a couple times, leading to the nonsensical final product. Changes were sometimes made on the fly, which led to Richard Burton relying on cue cards for his lines. Blair admits Exorcist II is a disappointment, while also acknowledging pleasure that it's built a cult audience anyway. There's also a 10-minute interview with editor Tom Priestley.

The bonus goodies are rounded out with the teaser and theatrical trailers, plus an extensive photo gallery.

For more information on this and other great titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Exorcist II: The Heretic is rated R for language, sexual themes, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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