Exorcist II: The Heretic Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Boorman
Written by William Goodhart
1977, 117 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 25th, 2018
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil
Richard Burton as Father Lamont
Louise Fletcher as Dr. Gene Tuskin
Max von Sydow as Father Merrin
James Earl Jones as Kokumo
Kitty Winn Sharon Spencer
Paul Henreid as the Cardinal
Ned Beatty as Edwards
Be careful what you wish for kiddies. As great as The Exorcist is as a horror film experience, one that leaves you wanting more – it doesn’t mean you really want more. Exorcist II: The Heretic is a cautionary tale of what happens when a lot of talented people get together with good intentions and miss big with the delivery.
It has been four years since the events that occurred that fateful night in Georgetown. Father Lamont has been charged with answering the questions surrounding the death of exorcist priest Father Merrin. Lamont tracks down the victimized girl, Regan MacNeil, now living in New York and under the therapeutic guidance of Dr. Tuskin. Tuskin plans to use synchronized hypnosis in hopes of tapping into Regan’s memories. Lamont observes their first hypnosis session and quickly inserts himself into the therapy. He manages to form a telepathic connection with the girl and she tells him of Merrin’s early adventures performing exorcisms in Africa. Another positive side effect to surviving demonic possession: Regan has the ability to communicate with severely autistic children and get them talking.
Things get progressively more bizarre from here and at some point it feels like the screenwriter is just throwing shit at the screen to see what will stick. Lamont schleps his way to Africa where he runs into Kokumo, who was once possessed as a child and now has an infatuation with locusts. We are to understand that the powers of good and evil play out within the locust community. Lamont returns to New York where he and Regan again cross paths under hypnosis. There’s a lot of New Age mumbo-jumbo and some weak theological discussions, but ultimately it all comes down to Lamont chasing a demon that refuses to possess anyone in the here and now.
In 1973, the horror genre exploded with the release of The Exorcist. The film was an unqualified success with critics and audiences alike. The picture raised the bar for contemporary horror and forty-five years later, it still retains the title of one of the scariest movies ever made. A sequel was inevitable, but the task of finding the right material proved daunting. Original writer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin wanted nothing to do with the project and so the search for replacements was underway. Playwright William Goodhart was hired to handle the screenwriting duties despite his lack of experience in the medium, but he reportedly delivered a respectable script. Directing duties fell on the always-impressive John Boorman (Deliverance), who set out to tell a grand tale involving a more scientific approach to the content.
Despite the absence of Friedkin and Blatty, many familiar faces returned from the original picture on both sides of the camera. Linda Blair (Hell Night) is the real coup here, as the story hinges once again on her character Regan MacNeil, now a happy seventeen-year-old plagued with bad dreams. Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal) returns by way of flashbacks as Father Merrin. We see his early days in Africa, exorcising a young boy possessed by Pazuzu, the demon that would later come for Regan. Legendary make-up artist Dick Smith was back doing the special effects, providing additional continuity. Adding to the film’s pedigree is the presence of famed composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly).
The sequel boasts an impressive cast of fresh faces led by no less than Richard Burton (Becket) as Father Lamont. Burton gives a towering performance as the driven priest, but is frequently better than the material, making him come off a bit histrionic at times. Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) co-stars as Dr. Tuskin, the therapist with a penchant for hypnosis. She too is really good in the role and shares great onscreen chemistry with Burton and Blair. The always-welcome James Earl Jones (Field of Dreams) plays the adult version of Kokumo, the boy cured by Merrin and gives the role the necessary gravitas. Paul Henreid (Casablanca) appears as the Cardinal, who holds his own opposite Burton as the Vatican liaison pulling the strings. There is also a quick cameo from Ned Beatty (White Lightning) as a helpful pilot who delivers the priest to one of his elusive destinations.
As is too often the case, the production suffered at the hands of too many people contributing ideas to the script, thus spoiling the broth. What followed is a messy tale at odds with itself that satisfies no one. The central conceit of synchronized hypnosis is a bit of a head scratcher and the ability for Father Lamont to casually master the process on his first visit is a bit preposterous. Regan’s ability to witness events that occurred in Africa, decades before she was born, is also kind of dumb, but allows us to witness von Sydow out of old-age make-up. I am also uncertain how or why locusts came into the plot, but a lot depends on viewers finding the insect terrifying, a challenge the filmmakers were not up to.
The failure was immediate upon release and the studio ordered a re-edit the day after the premiere. Ten minutes were removed followed later by an additional five minutes of subsequent cuts. The plot was streamlined and the ending was changed. The overall pacing was improved, but the damage was already done and the film landed at the box office with a thud. Dead on arrival and laughed off the screen. Blair credits the film with ending her career. It certainly didn’t do her any favors, except she got to take tap dancing lessons as part of the gig. If you like bad movies, this film’s reputation should already be on your radar. This new Blu-ray release includes both the theatrical cut and the home video version for those considering a purchase.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio Exorcist II has received a 2K scan of the original film elements for both cuts of the movie. Colors are stronger and black levels deeper than what appeared on the previous Blu-ray release.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix is crisp and clean and free from distortion. Music cues sound great and dialogue levels are well balanced and understandable.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
The original theatrical cut (117 minutes) of the film is presented on its own disc.
A commentary with director John Boorman sounds like it should be fantastic - and it is – when he is actually talking. Sadly, there is not a moderator and he simply runs out of things to say.
The commentary with project consultant Scott Bosco is a bit livelier, as he has lots of ground to cover. He does so admirably without falling into long periods of silence.
What Does She Remember? (19 minutes) is an all-new interview with Linda Blair. She tries to remain positive in her memories of the film and cherishes her time working with Richard Burton. Blair is no dummy and knows this picture is a turkey with a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense. She remains candid and instantly likeable.
In an interview with editor Tom Priestly (7 minutes), we learn how he got the job and how he approached the material, but nothing about the forced changes. He has some fond memories of working with Boorman and appreciates the work.
The original home video version (102 minutes) appears for the first time on Blu-ray and has received a similar 2K restoration and looks equally fantastic. The difference in running time is 15 minutes and the changes are legion.
This set features a third audio commentary, this time by Mike White (The Projection Booth Blog), who is quite the fanboy for Exorcist II. His eyes are open and he knows it’s crap, but points out several of the good things that actually work in the picture. He covers a lot of ground and is eager to share a lot of information in an entertaining manner.
The film’s original teaser and theatrical trailers are included.
There are five still galleries divided by content. Up first is a black-and-white gallery (129 images), followed by a deleted scenes photo gallery (7 images). Next up is a collection of color stills (57 images) and a behind-the-scenes gallery of images in both color and black-and-white. Lastly we get a look at poster art and lobby cards (99 images) depicting international marketing materials.