In 1977, Warner Bros. released the long anticipated sequel to the 1973 blockbuster “The Exorcist”. Weekend box-office receipts were huge, but the reviews were terrible – so bad that the film was re-edited, then re-released. The new cuts didn’t help much and the “Exorcist II” died a quick death.
Backstory. “Exorcist II” was directed by John Boorman, known best for “Deliverance” (1972.) Boorman hated the original film, said it “wasn’t uplifting”, which may account as to why this one is so different.
Jon Voight was originally cast as Father Lamont. Voight asked for script changes to make it “more believable.” After three screenplay revisions, Voight still unsatisfied, quit. (Star Linda Blair said that with each rewrite, it only became worse.) Richard Burton replaces him.
Ellen Burstyn (as Chris MacNeil, the possessed girl’s mother) refuses to take part. Still on board are Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil, Kitty Wynn as Sharon and Max Van Sydow as Father Merrin.
PLOT: The Catholic Church decides to investigate what killed Father Merrin in an exorcism, sending Father Lamont (Richard Burton.) Regan MacNeil is now undergoing hypnotherapy with her psychiatrist Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher.) Father Lamont participates in these sessions and finds that the demon “Pazuzu” still lurks within, prohibiting Regan from her true destiny.
Dr. Tuskin is skeptical. Major plot point: Science vs. religion.
Regan, besides being an artist, miraculously heals an autistic girl by briefly speaking with her. She also has some psychic abilities and is “in synch” with the priest.
Thru flashbacks, it’s revealed that Father Merrin’s previous exorcism was of a boy named Kokumo – a healer in Africa who has the power to drive away locusts. Lamont comes to the conclusion that it is “great goodness that attracts evil,” in an attempt to destroy it.
Lamont, against the church’s orders, travels to Africa. He sees that his visions are correct.
Weirdest Scene. As Regan dances onstage – Father Lamont is attacked by an angry mob. They think he’s in league with Satan. Regan feels his pain and goes into seizures. Lamont barely escapes.
Lamont, with the help of “Ecumenical Edwards” (Ned Beatty) finds Kokumo (James Earl Jones), now a scientist who is breeding a new locust that will resist its destructive tendencies.
“The Good Locust.”
Returning to the states, Lamont meets Regan, they go into synch again, where the spirit of Father Merrin tells him to guard her against evil. Instead, Lamont takes Regan back to Georgetown, back to where the original exorcism took place. Dr. Tuskin and Sharon find out and while rushing there, they are met with a plague of locusts. Their taxi crashes next to the house.
In that house, Lamont meets the second Regan – the evil one. The demon-possessed twin urges Lamont to kill the good Regan, but he realizes that he must kill the evil one, by “tearing out her heart.”
A larger swarm of locusts descends, smashing into the house. Lamont kills the evil Regan. Good Regan begins twirling an instrument thru the air (the same used by Kokumo.) This calms down the locusts. Lamont and Regan leave, the evil one vanquished.
First, the highpoints. Camerawork (by William Fraker) is exceptional, some of the shots are starkly beautiful. Louise Fletcher’s look when she realizes Regan’s drawing foretold the future… Father Lamont’s first meeting Kokumo and when Regan sleepwalks on top of the roof.
Music is by the legendary composer Ennio Morricone.
Some costly set decoration – Regan’s glassy penthouse apartment is remarkable.
Richard Burton’s performance. By 1977, he was divorced from Liz Taylor and on the wagon, anxious to prove he could still act. He gives it one hundred percent.
What Went Wrong? The storyline goes off in too many directions. The strobe-light hypnosis sessions go on for too long – the effect is irritating. The idea that the Catholic Church would investigate a four year old exorcism is farfetched. (Isn’t that a job for the police?) The grand finale is so over the top, but where else are you going to see Richard Burton tear out Linda Blair’s heart?
The 70’s has been called Hollywood’s Silver Age and it would be fair to say that the “Exorcist II” could only happen in the 70’s.
Text © 2017 – ERN