So a little while a go, the third Exorcist film featured in one of the usual marathons here, and like many other horror sequels it gets overshadowed by the first entry in the series a lot of the time. Of course depending on who you speak to about this opinions can vary, and there are obviously a lot of problems as a result of studio interference. Despite this I think it's a great movie in many regards, and while some elements are messy towards the end things are very sinister and dialogue is punchy, which makes it pretty entertaining overall. But what of the other films in this series? Well as much as I'd like to avoid them, let's take a look at the what diabolical offerings they have for us.
The original 1973 adaptation of Blatty's novel holds up because of the way the subject matter is treated. Like The French Connection, it's done almost completely without any expected genre conventions and there's a major focus on realism. It's no surprise that the most disturbing aspects of the picture are the real life sequences and not the special effects laden moments in the bed room. Brain scans and medical examinations, people with heart conditions - these are the moments which I've always thought were the most uncomfortable, and that the gruesomeness seen during Regan's slow metamorphosis was too much, well like a horror film. The big climax is iconic and of course the build up makes this all the more effective. But even the signature tune by Mike Oldfield is barely featured, like everything else it's saved up for particular moments.
It's a film which focuses on people and tries to build a plot around how this all might be dealt with in real life. Father Merrin's introduction as an archaeologist is based around non spiritual work, even with all the eerie moments of foreshadowing that come along in the Iraq prologue. Father Karras isn't shown working the altar, and instead his day job offering counselling builds up the character. Even all the movie production stuff and the divorce drama which could be seen as drawing out things too far in the first act adds a layer of the mundane to things. It's a counter point to all the foul language and violence that is to come, like they planned all this out in advance. The same kind of forethought cannot be found in the 1977 follow up...
Okay so to get this out of the way, The Exorcist II: The Heretic is laughably bad. Worse than you can imagine. Seriously, this is one of the most unintentionally funny things around, and it's supposed to be a sequel to a horror film. This isn't even in the same genre, never mind the same league. Mostly baffling, and often laughter inducing this is something which, rather than providing any answers about the original story or offering useful background to the characters, just piles up questions in every scene. Most of them being 'what?' and 'wait, what?' or 'what are they saying now?'
Blatty and Friedkin avoided verbally naming the demon involved in the first film, the name of the mythological character which Father Merrin sees carved into a small artefact in the opening. With good reason - it sounds ridiculous and doesn't work when adapting a book for the screen. Less is more right? In The Heretic, people say it out loud. All the time. However not content with this, John Boorman thought it was a good idea for lots of other absurd dialogue to make it into the film. Not only do characters keep saying 'Pazuzu' they also keep repeating the name of the previous possession victim 'Kokumo'. Sometimes in the same breath. Some of Richard Burton's lines are amazing to listen to as he reels of this kind of nonsense with the same super stoic expression and tone.
The story is a mystery all by itself. Regan is now in some kind of high tech therapy clinic after her ordeal, despite the fact she didn't remember anything about it at the end of the original. So they start to erode any effect the events of the film have had right away, and soon enough the exorcism itself seems to have been pointless and Father Merrin's legacy is not one as a heroic servant of good, but someone who might have used questionable methods. Father Lamont (Burton) is sent to investigate this claim, which is where things stop making sense altogether. Soon it introduces dual hypnosis scenes where two people can read each others minds by using a little desk lamp and a metronome... for some reason. Later psychic powers get dropped in at random as things fall apart as the script gets sillier and African tribal chanting starts to get overlaid onto the score. Ennio Morricone's music is decent enough but it certainly doesn't fit the material at all.
The whole thing is a big mess and has to be seen to be believed; I don't apologise for the headaches it will cause. Not only because of the visuals, from the crazy 70s interiors used in Regan's apartment or the therapy centre she visits and the sets used to depict Africa; but almost everything else. The whole subplot about locusts is nearly incomprehensible as it mounts up dream sequences and real life scenes that are just as bizarre. What's up with the tribal and modern version of James Earl Jones? How do these mind powers work? Who is the heretic? Kokumo? As Father Lamont said himself - 'It was horrible, utterly horrible... and fascinating'
As we've looked at the third instalment previously, it's time to check out the later releases which are two versions of the same prequel. It can't be any worse... right?
But first, something completely different.
(Intermission) (Part 2)