June 18, 2015 This Week in Horror Movie History – Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
This week in Horror movie history, Exorcist II: The Heretic was released on June 17, 1977 by Warner Bros. Entertainment. Directed by UK native John Boorman (Deliverance 1972, Excalibur 1981), Exorcist II: The Heretic was produced by Boorman and The Hollywood Knights’ (1980) Richard Lederer. Starring in the film was Richard Burton (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966, Equus 1977), Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 1975, Flowers in the Attic 1987), James Earl Jones (Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 1964, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope 1977) and original Exorcist (1973) darlings Max von Sydow (Needful Things 1993, Snow Falling on Cedars 1999), Kitty Winn (The Panic in Needle Park 1971, The Might Be Giants 1971) and animal lover Linda Blair (Chained Heat 1983, Scariest Places on Earth TV series), while Different Strokes’ infamous alum Dana Plato had an uncredited part as Sandra Phalor. Music for this anticipated sequel was composed by Golden Globe winner Ennio Morricone (Once Upon A Time in America 1984, The Untouchables 1987) for a script written by William Goodhart (Generation 1969, Cloud Dancer 1980). The Saturn Award nominated special effects team included greats such as Chuck Gaspar (Ghostbusters 1984, Batman Returns 1992), Jeff Jarvis (Poltergeist 1982, Firestarter 1984) and Richard Ratliff (Howard the Duck 1986, Se7en 1995). The film was shot in Utah, New York City, Arizona, and California, although those famous Hitchcock Steps in Washington, D.C. had to be replicated in the Warner Bros. Studios.
Despite filming being suspended for five weeks after Boorman contracted the respiratory fungal infection San Joaquin Valley Fever from the dust used in the African sets, and both Louise Fletcher and Kitty Winn suffering from gallbladder infections, Exorcist II: The Heretic was finished just a bit over the initial budget of $12.5 million. According to Linda Blair, the script she had seen when signing on to the film was completely different from the one she was given on the first day of filming. A combination of her disappointment in the new storyline and her memories of the uncomfortable FX makeup made Blair flatly refuse to wear the prosthetics again, and a double was brought in for the filming of the flashback possession scenes. She also recalled that her Exorcist character’s Top Ten spot on the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains (2003) list caused such frightening death threats that she had to be shuffled around the East Coast from family member to family member for her own safety and was not something she wanted to repeat, and this apprehension followed her throughout the filming of the sequel.
The original version of the film starts with the faithless Father Lamont (Burton) attempting to exorcise a possessed South American healer, an act that gets the girl killed when her dress catches on fire. The Cardinal (Paul Henreid) then assigns Lamont to investigate the death of Father Merrin (von Sydow) during the exorcism of the Assyrian demon Pazuzu from Regan MacNeil (Blair) four year previous, also letting it slip that Merrin is being brought up on posthumous heresy charges because of his writings concerning exorcism, since the church has now decided Satan does not exist. He visits Regan, who, despite being counseled by psychiatrist Dr. Tuskin (Fletcher), denies remembering the events in Washington D.C. and is no help to Lamont. Dr. Tuskin agrees to hypnotize Regan to help bring her memories to the surface, an act she believes will not only help Lamont but Regan herself. The priest and the girl are both hooked up to a synchronizer, a biofeedback device used to link two people’s brain waves.
Pazuzu sends Lamont into the past, where he witnesses Merrin exorcising a young African boy, Kokumo (Joey Green), and learns the boy developed powers to repel the demon, shown as a cloud of locusts, from his body. Lamont travels to Africa to seek help from the now adult Kokumo (Jones), a scientist studying grasshoppers and swarming locusts. He learns that Pazuzu only possesses those who have latent psychic healing powers, reminding him of Regan once encouraging an autistic girl to speak using only her own thought waves, and also of Merrin’s ideas that psychic abilities were humanity’s next evolutionary step toward a global consciousness. As they travel back to D.C., they are followed by Dr. Tuskin alongside Regan’s guardian and former nanny, Sharon (Winn). A threatened Pazuzu uses a doppelganger of Regan to tempt Lamont with unlimited power, which begins to work until he is saved by the real Regan. The pair are attacked by a swarm of locusts as the house begins to crumble around them. As Lamont kills the doppelganger, Regan uses the same ritual Kokumo tried to use to rid himself of Pazuzu many years before, but this time, the spell works and the locusts and demon disappear. Outside, Sharon sacrifices herself to save Regan by lighting her body on fire, and as she dies, she asks Lamont to watch over Regan. The girl and the priest leave before anyone else arrives so they can continue their good works while Dr. Tuskin remains behind to answer questions from the police.
After the release of the movie, director Boorman recalled the film and re-edited it several times, leaving numerous versions of Exorcist II: The Heretic. The original was one hundred seventeen minutes long but was chopped back six minutes by removing the expository recap of the events of the first film and changing the ending by killing off Father Lamont rather than having him run off with Regan to spread goodness throughout the world. Although theatres showed the newer, one hundred ten minute version of the film, television channel TNT has been known to show the original, full length film. Other minor changes include the use of the music from Father Lamont’s stoning scene playing during the opening credits, a praying Father Lamont looking at Father Merrin’s picture, Lamont’s introductory scenes playing consecutively rather than alternating in between clinic scenes and much of his conversations with the cardinal and Dr. Tuskin had been cut. The biggest change besides the ending is the fact that when Dr. Tuskin and Sharon drive past the bloody car crash, they no longer stop to help the victims. One of the final changes happens during the closing credits, with the originally slow, melodic music being changed to an uptempo Rock song.
While many stories have circulated about the horrible crowd reactions and disappointed fans that filled the theatres upon Exorcist II: The Heretic’s initial release, the film has grown quite a cult following over the years, with many a Horror fan recalling the movie with a knowing smile and an appreciation for the supernatural sequel. Exorcist II: The Heretic was the only one of the sequels/prequels to actually earn money, with the $14 million budget rolling over into a barely doubled $30.7 million. Although it garners a 22% rotten rating from Rotten Tomatoes, enough critics at the time thought the film was above par, with both Linda Blair and Richard Burton receiving Saturn Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Actor. Despite it all, following the perfectly tuned original were some big shoes to fill, and in hindsight, it was plain to see that Exorcist II: The Heretic did the best with what it was given.