Exorcist II: The Heretic sees The Catholic Church sending Father Lamont on a mission to find out exactly what happened to Father Merrin and uncover the details surrounding his untimely demise. Regan has repressed all memories of her demonic possession but through hypnosis, Father Lamont and her psychiatrist Dr. Tuskin may be able to help Regan remember what really happened.
Exorcist II: The Heretic is something like the Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 of The Exorcist series. Or, more appropriately, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is like The Exorcist II of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series. Both sequels rely on footage from their predecessor to cobble together a follow up. The Exorcist II at least had the decency to mainly utilize unused footage from the previous outing. However, that’s about all the praise I have to heap on this much-derided sequel.
John Boorman (Deliverance) is a legendary director with a great talent for bringing epic tales to life. Unfortunately, Exorcist II: The Heretic is not one of those tales. The production was plagued by a series of rewrites, had a substantially lower budget than the first film, and was also hindered by the studio’s desire to cash in on the name rather than make a worthy follow up to what is widely considered to be one of the scariest films of all time.
Related: The Exorcist: Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know
Exorcist II: The Heretic has the benefit of a very talented cast of characters but none of the key players really shine in the series’ second installment. There are likely a multitude of reasons for that. And I’ll attempt to outline some of them below.
Richard Burton (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) was a very talented performer and while he turned in a serviceable performance as Father Lamont, the lackluster script kept him from being able to showcase what he was really capable of.
Although an incredibly talented actress (and Oscar winner) Louise Fletcher is fairly wooden in her portrayal of Dr. Gene Tuskin. It sometimes seems as though Fletcher was trying to portray Tuskin as a physician who maintains a level of detachment from her work but that is ultimately disproved when she becomes overly involved with Regan’s case.
Linda Blair’s performance in Exorcist II pales in comparison to the turn that scored her a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nod. While her portrayal of Regan in the original is haunting and impressive, Blair portrays Regan as a bit of an airhead for most of the second installment in the series. It’s as if the actress was struggling with how to portray the character as nearly grown and couldn’t stick the landing.
The casting of Ned Beatty in a bit part is more than a little bit puzzling. I love Beatty and will watch nearly anything he is in. However, his brief turn as an expert on religious artifacts in Exorcist II fails to utilize his talent. The actor essentially shows up to deliver a couple lines and subsequently disappears.
Perhaps one of the biggest (and most obvious) disappointments in Exorcist II: The Heretic is that there’s nothing scary about it. The original terrified an entire generation and continues to frighten and shock first time viewers to this day. Whereas, the second installment in the series is more likely to put a first time viewer to sleep than inspire any legitimate scares. This is likely due–in part–to the fact that the screenplay for Exorcist II: The Heretic was rewritten multiple times, even during the production process.
The film also relies too much on footage cut from the original to tell its story. Scenes that were axed from its predecessor were probably excised for good reason and certainly didn’t warrant the creation of a follow up effort tailored to their existence.
Very little actually happens until the final fifteen minutes of Exorcist II. The denouement features some passable special effects and is certainly more exciting than that which precedes it but it’s nowhere near enough to save the film from itself.
Exorcist II suffers from a variety of pacing issues. It’s not slow burn. It’s just slow as hell. This is particularly noticeable in the second act, which sees scenes jumping back and forth between settings. Just as the viewer is starting to think about investing in what’s taking place with Regan in New York, the focus will jump to Father Lamont in Africa and vice-versa.
Related: Why The Exorcist III is One of the Most Overlooked Horror Films of the ’90s
This is truly a film to which only Scream Factory would give this type of attention. And for that, I admire them. Even though Exorcist II is nearly universally hated, Scream Factory recognizes that the film has its dedicated fans and this offering is packaged and released with those fans in mind. The Collector’s Edition contains both the theatrical cut and the original home video cut. Both versions are presented via new 2K scans of the source material. The extended home video version offers an audio commentary with director John Boorman, a new interview with Linda Blair, theatrical trailers, still galleries, and more. If you’re a fan of the film, this is the release you’ve been waiting for. For everyone else, it’s safe to take a pass on this one.
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director(s): John Boorman
Writer(s): William Goodhart
Stars: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, and Louise Fletcher
Release: September 25 (Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray)
Studio/ Production Co: Scream Factory, Warner Brothers