Today’s film is 1977’s notoriously terrible Exorcist II: The Heretic.
Exorcist II was written by William Goodhart, who only had two other film credits in his career: 1980’s Cloud Dancer and 1969’s Generation.
The film was directed and produced by John Boorman, who is known for such films as Zardoz, Deliverance, and Point Blank.
The cinematographer for Exorcist II was William Fraker, who also shot The Island of Doctor Moreau, Street Fighter, Tombstone, 1941, and Rosemary’s Baby, among many others.
Exorcist II had two credited editors: Tom Priestley, who cut Nineteen Eighty-Four, Deliverance, Voyage of the Damned, and The Return of the Pink Panther, and John Merritt, who worked on the Boorman films Zardoz and Excalibur.
The musical score for Exorcist II was provided by Ennio Morricone, who is known for scoring such films as A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Thing, White Dog, and Wolf.
The effects work on Exorcist II was provided by the team of Ron Berkeley (JFK, The Alamo), Wayne Edgar (The Rookie, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), Gary Liddiard (Tango & Cash, TRON, Sneakers), Dick Smith (Scanners, Marathon Man, Taxi Driver), Albert Whitlock (Clue, The Thing, The Blues Brothers), Jim Blount (Time After Time), Chuck Gaspar (SpaceCamp, Mitchell, Anaconda), Jeff Jarvis (RoboCop 3, Howard the Duck), Richard Ratliff (Speed, Howard the Duck, Communion, Gremlins), and Bill Hansard (Hudson Hawk, Gremlins).
The cast for the film included Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Ned Beatty (Captain America, Network), James Earl Jones (The Ambulance, Field of Dreams, Conan The Barbarian), Paul Henreid (Casablanca), Kitty Winn (The Exorcist), Max von Sydow (Minority Report, Judge Dredd), Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and Richard Burton (Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?).
The plot of Exorcist II follows Reagan, who was possessed in the first movie, as she has entered young adulthood. While she doesn’t recall the events of the first film, she is put through experimental hypnosis in order for doctors and priests to learn more about what happened, and hopefully save future possession victims.
Reportedly, the original cast and crew of The Exorcist were almost unilaterally against the idea of the film having a sequel. Linda Blair eventually agreed to be involved, but later hated the eventual product.
Before John Boorman was brought on board to direct the film, an offer was made to have the legendary director Stanley Kubrick helm the project, which he unsurprisingly declined. Boorman was approached because he was initially considered for the original film, but chose to make Zardoz instead, which proved to be a colossal failure.
Reportedly, the rough cut of the movie was 3 hours long, and had to be dramatically cut and simplified for the theatrical release. After the initial poor reception, it was re-cut again in hopes of improving the response, which was ultimately futile.
Exorcist II: The Heretic was followed by three more sequels in the franchise: 1990’s The Exorcist III, 2004’s Exorcist: The Beginning, and 2005’s Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist.
A number of actors were considered for the lead role in Exorcist II: The Heretic, including Jack Nicholson, David Carradine, and Jon Voight.
The screenplay written by William Goodhart was mostly ignored throughout the filming of the movie, and was rewritten nearly day-to-day throughout the production.
At the time, Exorcist II was the most expensive film ever produced by the Warner Brothers studio, with an estimated budget of $14 million. It was ultimately profitable, raking in over $30 million domestically, but far under-performed on its lofty expectations.
The reception to Exorcist II was legendarily negative. The original writer of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, claimed that he openly laughed when he fist saw the movie, and that people threw objects at the screen during the screening he attended. The Exorcist director William Friedkin is quoted as saying that the film “was as bad as seeing a traffic accident in the street. It was horrible.” Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregated scores of 22% from critics and 13% from audiences, along with an IMDb rating of 3.7.
One of the most perplexing aspects of Exorcist II is the music, which couldn’t be more of a departure from the menacing, minimal, and iconic theme of the first movie. It almost defies description: the theme is something between rock and pop, but somehow sounds not quite like either. Other parts of the score sound like they were pulled straight out of a spaghetti western. Ultimately, none of it quite fits with what the movie should have been.
Exorcist II contains a number of surreal dream sequences, which are meant to explain the origins of the possession in the first movie. While they are visually striking and interestingly shot, they never come close to being honestly coherent, which almost certainly turned off most casual audiences.
The screenplay is almost certainly the weakest link with Exorcist II: both the story and the dialogue are severely lacking, and the reported constant rewriting almost certainly didn’t help anything. It is hard to say how much of the fault is with the initial screenplay and how much is due to the rewriting, but I think it is fair to say that neither were done particularly well.
Overall, I found Exorcist II a bit too boring to justify sitting through as a good-bad watch. There are certainly highlights, but the only reason I would recommend watching it is because of how publicly the movie failed, and how much it has seeped into the public consciousness over the years. It comes off not unlike Zardoz: a bad art movie with high aspirations and barely a shred of coherence. But, for what it is worth, I think Zardoz is a far more enjoyable bad movie watch.