Scream Factory put out a Collector's Edition of Exorcist II: The Heretic!?! Who the heck is that for!?
Well, folks like me. While The Heretic is widely disliked (DVD Talk's review of the film's earlier disc release gives it a whopping 1-star rating out of five), it strikes me as so fascinating and bold that it's hard to dismiss.
Granted, a lot of it doesn't work. The script, credited to playwright William Goodhart, lays out its plot inelegantly; it cares far more to play around with theology, mythology, and philosophy. Clearly, these aspects of the story are what appeals to director John Boorman too -- much more than attempting to scare people. (That certainly makes it a flat-out bad sequel, while not necessarily making it a flat-out bad movie.) One assumes that Warner Brothers thought they were hiring John Boorman, the director of the taut, successful thriller Deliverance, but wound up with John Boorman, the director of the supremely out-there sci-fi excursion Zardoz. Symbolic imagery and speculative philosophical discussions abound. Sprays of split-pea soup do not.
Mostly the film hashes out the idea that evil is drawn to good. The reason that little Regan (Linda Blair) was possessed in The Exorcist, this new film proposes, is that she has a powerful goodness in her. Father Lamont (Richard Burton), who has been sent to investigate the death of Max von Sydow's Father Merrin, discovers that Regan, now 17 and living in New York, is still being pursued by the demon Pazuzu. He seeks to find a way to defeat Pazuzu before Regan's goodness is subsumed. This includes taking a trip to Africa, to meet up with a soul previously saved by Father Merrin, Kokumo (James Earl Jones).
Ellen Burstyn refused to come back for the sequel, so Regan lives with family friend Sharon (Kitty Winn) in a glamorous, mirror-filled, high-rise New York apartment. Regan is also seeing a therapist, Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), who uses an experimental hypnosis contraption that allows minds to sync up; in other words, low-key telepathy. Father Lamont butts in on one of these sessions to find out about the final fate of Father Merrin's soul, only to have Pazuzu attempt to kill Dr. Tuskin in front of his eyes. Also, Pazuzu, in addition to being a demon, is also a swarm of locusts. I think?
There are unexplained leaps in logic, story holes, a fake-y soundstage-bound aesthetic, and more than a few questionable acting choices to scare away non-adventurous viewers. Still, I hesitate to call The Heretic a movie that is "so bad, it's good" and recommend it on those terms. Goodhart, Boorman, and "creative associate" Rospo Pallenberg (he did some re-writing and some directing) take a mighty swing at a number of heady ideas with this film, and the sincerity of their effort comes across. The previously mentioned hypnosis scene, where Pazuzu attempts to stop Dr. Tuskin's heart, is a wildly imagined series of practically produced in-camera super-imposition effects that works beautifully and looks like nothing else ever committed to film.
Scream Factory's release includes the 117-minute long cut of the film, which was previously released on DVD by Warner Brothers, and the shortened 102-minute cut of the film, which was made just after the disaster of the film's initial theatrical release. It is here called the "Original Home Video Cut," since this is what was put out on VHS, and reportedly sent out to most foreign markets. In the traditional sense, the 102-minute version is a better movie: the pace is quicker and many elements that caused the film's first audiences to laugh or get bored have been pulled out. However, I kind of enjoy the rough edges and weirdness of that stuff. Like Paul Henreid's Cardinal confiding in Father Lamont that he must clear Father Merrin's name, or else Merrin might be posthumously deemed a Satanist. Or the decision to make Regan a tap-dancer who has a major freak-out during the tap recital. (Okay, actually, maybe that last bit's best left on the cutting room floor.)
2014 Warner Brothers disc