Friday, December 13, 2013

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977): Randomness is not Scary

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
dir: John Boorman

This week of "Outside a Director's Wheelhouse" returns to 1977, with a sequel of truly epic proportions. It's almost hard to imagine that cocaine didn't play a part in the making of this movie. Alcohol was definitely a part of this movie, as Richard Burton is constantly drunk or in the throes of DTs for the course of this movie, but the film was subjected to the hands of John Boorman.

John Boorman had leapt to fame with Point Blank in 1968, and then Deliverance in 1972. Deliverance was a nominee for Best Picture and Best Director. And, then John Boorman lost it. Boorman followed Deliverance with the Sean Connery-in-a-harness sci-fi psychadelic Zardoz, but not being satisfied with having lose his mind with Zardoz, he was hired on to do Exorcist II: The Heretic.

There were plenty of problems facing Exorcist II. The first problem is that Linda Blair didn't want to be in makeup again, so we couldn't have her play as a possessed made up demon. The second is that neither William Friedkin (featured earlier with The Boys in the Band) nor William Peter Blatty (the author) wanted to do a sequel. So, we're left with John Boorman creating a film from a screenplay by William Goodhart. Or, at least the original form of the script was by William Goodhart.

Boorman was unsatisfied with the screenplay, and told Goodhart to rewrite it, incorporating ideas from Rospo Pallenberg (who would work with Boorman on Excalibur and The Emerald Forest). When Goodhart refused, Boorman and Pallenberg worked on their own, and were constantly rewriting the script as shooting went on. Linda Blair has gone on record saying the end product was nothing like the original screenplay.

So, what are we left with?  Well, I don't quite know. The plot is practically incomprehensible. The film opens with Philip Lamont (Richard Burton) visiting an African native village where a young girl, who had been claimed to be a healer, being possessed by a demon and then spontaneously combusting during the exorcism. His followup assignment is to investigate the death of Father Merrin, aka the priest that was killed in the original movie.

Meanwhile, Regan (Linda Blair) is now a tap-dancing psychic who is going to a psychiatrist who helps sick children. The psychiatrist believes that the demon hasn't been exorcised, but has merely been repressed. The shrink uses a biofeedback machine that syncs up people's subconscious thoughts in a trance. She uses the machine with Regan, but ends up with heart palpatations, as demon Regan is trying to kill her through their mutual subconscious.

Meanwhile, there is something about how the world is starting to telepathically link to everybody, and Regan can link to other people. And there is something about Father Merrin successfully exorcising a young African boy, who grows up to be James Earl Jones. And something about how Pazuzu only attacks people who have healing powers, as James Earl Jones is now a doctor. There's also a connection between Pazuzu and locusts, with some sort of spinning ball that prevents caterpillars from turning into locusts, probably by disrupting the swarming communications. 

OK, if you can figure out what's going on in this movie, more power to you. I don't need my movies spelled out for me, but if you're going to give me 2 hours of random shots and then call it a plot, I hope that it makes sense without having to drop acid. And, the scenes should actually be scary! But, they're not. They mainly range from average to terrible, with fairly frequently dips into hilarity.

There's Linda Blair's TWO tap dancing sequences, including the one where she is psychically attacked by stones and falls off the stage. There's Richard Burton finding a box of flaming oily rags in the basement of the shrink's building, and then attacking it with a wooden crutch. A flight of the grasshopper sequence where the locust is up close and personal, goes through Africa, and comes face to face with James Earl Jones in a locust outfit. The shrink's constant need to help other people while they're racing Burton and Blair to the house. One of my favorite scenes of all time is Linda Blair's helping out a girl with autism. 

The final cherry of insanity on this flaming pile of confusion is Morricone's score. I once read some wag comment that the score for Exorcist II was probably written in an evening soaking in the tub while drunk. It just feels like there was even director intervention on this score, and there is incomprehensible clashes in the score itself. The film opens with the score mainly consisting of a lady squealing and screeching in a stupidly psychic insanity playing over the titles. But, the credits end with a one last sudden shriek, as if she was stopped cold by a wall.  

The movie has been seen as ranging from terrible to amazing. Friedkin likened it to a car accident. But, Scorsese commented in 1978 that it surpassed the original. It is this latter comment that leads me to wonder if cocaine might be the key to enjoying this movie. That you have to be in a bit of a hyperactive frenzy yourself in order to see this absurd pile of shit as a good movie.

Me? I find Exorcist II hilarious. It's hard not to laugh at Linda Blair tap dancing funny. Or her almost falling off a roof, screaming then passing it off non-chalantly. Or, James Earl Jones' locust costume, as if he's in the rejected version of Blind Melon's video for "No Rain." The movie is a laugh riot to me. Many of my friends think it is just a purely awful movie. They're wrong. This is hilarious.

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