★★ out of ★★★★★
Pazuzu? Seriously you can’t come up with a scarier demon name?
After giving a listen to the Scariest Things Podcast coverage of the Canon Live Podcast, where they recorded a debate as to whether the Exorcist or the Exorcist III deserved to be in the canon of great films, I got to thinking…what about the Exorcist II?
Whoa…I know, slow down there champ. Exorcist II? That’s universally regarded as a pile-o’-junk. However, it’s sort of a collective conscious pile-o’-junk. In fact, neither the Canon Podcast nor Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!, Night at the Museum, etc.) had actually seen Exorcist II. That got me to thinking — part II — is the Exorcist II really a pile-o’-junk or does it just have a bad rap because it’s cool to bag on it? To answer that question I needed a second viewing and boy, oh, boy…it’s something else.
Full-tilt psychedelia, the strangest green-screen action you ever did see, pseudo science abound, In Search of-like soundtrack, and more over-acting than has ever been crammed in to a single film. In this case, the great thing about the over-acting is that all the over-actors — whether it was Max Von Sydow, James Earl Jones, Richard Burton or Linda Blair — was that they were all over-acting on different levels. No one, read no one, was in synch in this film. Truly a sight to behold.
The plot is extra-convoluted, but at its core Exorcist II follows Richard Burton (Father Lamont) a priest who goofs up an exorcism, and what appears to be a lateral demotion for his goof up, the church sends him to figure out what happened with Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) and that little girl Regan in Washington, D.C. Apparently, the church doesn’t want all this Satan business toying with their bottom line and they’ve even gone so far as accusing Father Merrin of being a SATANIST! Regan’s fine though, or is she? Regan is living the good life in New York City, but things start to go haywire when Regan and her psychiatrist start playing around with a biofeedback device called the “synchronizer.” This device allows individuals to synch their brainwaves. Father Lamont and Regan give it a go and voi la’ — they’re are psychicly linked. Demonic possession is really that easy.
It turns out that Regan still has a little bit of Satan in her. But, what starts as a fairly simple premise goes way off kilter. But quick. The film devolves in to a weird Eurocentric and jingoistic rumination on the dark and backwards ways of Africa. I couldn’t help but think this focus on Africa was a not-so-subtle knock on their strange, primitive, and to westerners, undeveloped ways. But that’s for deeper dive in to the funky allegory of Exorcist II.
The film ends with a similar, but far less-effective version of the exorcism from the Exorcist. In fact, it’s so similar that they actually travel from New York to Washington, D.C. to make sure that the Exorcist II exorcism happens in the same house in the same Georgetown neighborhood. While I could hazard a guess or two why Father Lamont and Regan headed back to the house from the original it’s never really explained, or at least I wasn’t paying close enough attention to figure out why.
A lot of folks put this in the same steaming trash heap as Ishtar, Howard the Duck, and Cannonball Run II, and while I don’t totally disagree, there’s something about the aesthetic of the Exorcist II: the Heretic that hit the spot. Whether it was the weird use of green screen, funky soundstage sets, or the groovy In Search of pseudo science, this flic really captured the era and that’s not all bad. So unless you’re an Exorcist completist, you can probably forgo a viewing of this 1970s pile-o’-junk. Unless you really want to see it. We won’t judge…