Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

I’ve always disliked The Exorcist and regarded it as an overrated horror movie. But Exorcist II: The Heretic is another matter. This movie is totally insane, but fun.

It was directed by John Boorman who was also responsible for the totally insane Zardoz. Yes, the one with Sean Connery running around in red diapers. So you’d be expecting some visually interesting strangeness, and that’s what you get.

Several years after the events of the first film Regan is still undergoing therapy. Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher) has come up with a system of synchronised hypnosis which effectively allows one person to draw another person into their subconscious, and to experience their dreams and their memories. Dr Tuskin doesn’t believe that any supernatural events occurred or can occur. She believes we create our own demons, but that the psychological demon Regan has created in her mind is still there.

At the same Father Lamont (Richard Burton) has been given a mission, to investigate the events surrounding Regan’s exorcism and the death of Father Merrin. Father Merrin has fallen under suspicion of having been involved in heresy. Father Lamont talks to Regan, and becomes convinced that she is still possessed by the demon Pazuzu. The demon has been lying low, and is not in full control of Regan. The demon is struggling against Regan’s basic goodness.

Father Lamont’s investigations lead him to Africa in search of a young man named Kokumo who had such strong spiritual power that he was able to defeat this same demon on his own, and the demon fears Kokumo. Kokumo is still alive, and the search leads him to a remote church carved out of a mountainside. Father Merrin had pursued this same search, and had met Kokumo.

But the only way to find Kokumo and to find the answers to the questions about the nature of the demon Pazuzu and the means of finally defeating the demon is for Father Lamont to enter Regan’s subconscious mind. He must return to the room in the house in Washington where the exorcism took place, and he must journey again to Africa to discover the mystery of the locusts, of the means by which the touch of a locust’s wings can destroy individuality and create a kind of evil hive mind. Kokumo must teach him about the good locust, and this will give him his weapon against Pazuzu.

If that all sounds completely crazy, you’re right, it is. But it’s crazy in an inspired and fascinating way.

Visually the film is both bizarre and intriguing, with giant locusts and strange dream-like landscapes, and the church in the rock face that can only be reached by means of ropes is a nice touch.

Linda Blair must have been rather pleased when she read the script for this one, and found that she would not be required to do any projectile vomiting, head-spinning or masturbating with crucifixes. And she gets to tap-dance! Her performance is quite good, but Regan is not really the focus of this film. Father Lamont is the central character, and it’s his quest for an understanding of evil, for a strengthening of his shaken faith, and for a means to combat evil, that privides the main themes of the movie. Regan’s mind (or soul if you prefer) is merely the battleground on which he must wage his struggle.

Richard Burton resists the temptation to indulge in acting pyrotechnics. The movie itself is sufficiently strange that an over-the-top performance would have been more of a distraction than anything else. He’s very effective in the role, a man suffering considerable turmoil but keeping it locked up inside. Just as Regan has been keeping her memories of the past locked up.

If you’re not bothered by the fact that it has only a very tenuous connection with the original film, and if you’re prepared to accept a movie packed with ideas that don’t make much real sense but that have a fascinating dream logic of their own, then there’s a great deal to enjoy in this movie. It’s a wild ride, and it’s enormous fun.

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

I was a kid when this was first being advertised on TV and I remember thinking that the music, before I knew who Ennio Morricone was, was awesome. When I finally saw the film, years later, it was a glorious mess, though I'm inclined to give Burton less credit than you do. But his performance is part of an overall Seventies spectacle that I can definitely appreciate.