45 years ago, moviegoers were brought to their knees by a film that would go on to become one of the best horror movies of all-time. A movie that shocked audiences, giving people nightmares for generations to come. That movie was The Exorcist…and is not the movie we’re talking about today.
Instead, we’re talking about one of the dullest sequels ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic. This movie is your lame little brother that never does his chores and only orders fries when you go out to eat: why come to the restaurant in the first place? To relate this back to the movie, audiences were asking a similar question on June 17th, 1977: why did we come to this movie and why did it get made? Since I had never seen the infamous sequel, I decided to try to answer those questions myself. So in case you forgot how bad this movie is, here are a few reasons why Exorcist II: The Heretic didn’t work.
A teenage girl once possessed by a demon finds that it still lurks within her. Meanwhile, a priest investigates the death of the girl’s exorcist.
Honestly, Exorcist II was doomed from the start. The sequel can be cited as one of the first cash-grab sequels because…well, that’s exactly what it was. Co-Producer Richard Lederer admitted in The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows that the film was to be a low-budget film, that was originally supposed to follow essentially the same plot formula from the first. William Friedken and William Peter Blatty both wanted nothing to do with a sequel, because why try to follow-up one of the best movies of all-time? The Exorcist was terrific on its own, but these were the early days before the word “franchise” was synonymous with the film industry. And with the box office results of the first movie, Warner Brothers just couldn’t help themselves.
The script was penned by William Goodhart, and on paper it doesn’t sound like a bad movie. A priest is tasked with explaining the death of Father Mirren, with Reagan dealing with past demons (literally). Exploring the connection between science and faith, exploring the human consciousness, solid ideas – but not suited for an Exorcist movie. Or at least not an Exorcist movie audiences wanted at the time.
Oscar nominated director John Boorman (Deliverance) was brought on to direct, which was interesting to say the least. He was a more than capable director, who was even offered to direct The Exorcist but passed on it because he found the story repulsive. So why come on to do a sequel? Boorman’s reasoning was pretty much that he could make an out-there film without having to establish a new story and connection with the audience. Which if you ask me, sounds lazy and is the root of why bad sequels are still done to this day. Boorman didn’t want to make an Exorcist movie, he wanted to make his movie and use the credentials of The Exorcist to get people to see it.
Let’s Talk About Linda Blair
Again, on paper the idea of making a movie around Reagan’s PTSD following her possession doesn’t sound half-bad. Add in the fact that the cast brought back Kitty Winn, Max Von Sydow, and Linda Blair while adding the talents of Oscar nominee Richard Burton. The cast was pretty solid, but unfortunately child actors have been notoriously known for being inconsistent performers due to radical changes as they grow up. This was definitely the case, as Blair was never able to return to the headspace of Reagan, almost seeming like an entirely different character.
The movie also took multiple times to remind the audience how much Linda Blair had grown up, with sexualized undertones made apparent by her wardrobe and a particularly problematic scene in the third act. It’s not all on Blair, though. Exorcist II definitely could have done without Reagan’s character entirely and told a new story following Father Lamont. At times, I felt like I was watching 2 different movies (like a forced crossover episode). But again, I feel like Reagan was written in just to have the name recognition from the first movie. She is even top-billed, but this is definitely Burton’s movie.
Where’s the Scares?
I know horror is subjective, especially when it comes to what’s scary or not. But did Boorman forget he was making a horror movie? It seems he envisioned the movie as a “metaphysical thriller”. Which, would still fall under the horror umbrella and sure, the movie has creepy sequence or two. The Exorcist was an atmospheric terror fest, mixing paranoia and body horror that is pure nightmare fuel, causing audiences to lose weeks to months of sleep (fake studies have rendered this data inconclusive). While Exorcist II: The Heretic has had no trouble putting people to sleep, as one of the most boring and uninspired films I’ve ever seen. There is no mood to the film, no atmosphere, the actors are all giving bland, one-dimensional performances… Was ANYBODY trying to make a terrifying, faithful sequel?
I’m no horror noob, I know not every horror movie needs to be scary – but if you’re part of the Exorcist franchise, I’m expecting some thrills. The original had this looming cloud of dread over the entire movie. Exorcist II: The Heretic went for some trippy sci-fi sequences, but even they were half-hearted attempts at creating some sort of tone for the movie. And the cherry on top of the misguided sundae was the climax, where we return to the house from the original for some wacky dopplegänger shenanigans (wacky should never be used to describe any exorcism movie.) Just more and more excuse to retread things from the original films, to be like “remember those amazing things from the original movie? Want some more of that? Here, have some locusts”. I never felt scared, I never felt danger or sympathy for the characters, nor did I get the claustrophobic feeling I got from the first. This movie just. Isn’t. Scary.
Not So Fond Memories
In the end, this was one of my most frustrating watches since Saw 5. Exorcist II: The Heretic is quite the enigma of a film. On one hand, I can see new ideas that were trying to be introduced and at times this movie felt like it was trying to be different. On the other hand, the new ideas didn’t merge well with the sensibilities of the original and any effort to do so came off tasteless. This movie is a mess from top to bottom, not even “so bad it’s good” territory. Yet here we are 40 years later, still talking about it. Is it for slightly tarnishing the reputation of the iconic film we all know and love? Or is it because this movie created the template for haphazard sequels that is still employed in Hollywood today? Either way, I see why people aren’t fans of this film, citing it as one of the worst horror movies of all-time. I have no more words, time to cleanse myself in the beautiful vomit of The Exorcist now.