In 1977, James Earl Jones co-starred in what is arguably one of the greatest movies ever made, and what is arguably one of the worst movies ever made. “Exorcist II: The Heretic” is a fine example of what could have happened if the original “The Exorcist” ended as an ill-conceived pseudo-spiritual mess. A bad idea from beginning to end, it’s one of the iconic bad sequels that is famously recollected by its producers as the movie that literally got them chased out of a theater by angry movie goers. Four years after being victimized by a demon, Regan MacNeil has somehow managed to put her life back together and live some semblance of normality. Sadly after the demonic possession, everyone’s life was just about ruined, and Regan’s life remained basically the same, as her mother Chris is frequently out of town. Does a girl have to get possessed again to get your attention, Chris?
Regan attends a children’s center where she meets with Dr. Gene Tuskin, (Louise Fletcher standing in for Ellen Burstyn) a psychiatrist who wants to, for some reason, allow Regan to remember everything that happened when she was possessed. Regan, inexplicably, doesn’t remember anything about what occurred beyond nightmares and darkness. Tuskin conveniently has a magical hypnotic machine that allows her to psychologically join with Regan, and this begins to open up memories about the possession and the death of Father Merrin. This is where the narrative rides off the rails immediately, since we’re reduced to really poorly filmed flashback with a terrible stand in for Blair, evoking a demonic voice that sounds almost nothing like Mercedes McCambridge. Richard Burton is brutally stilted as Father Lamont, a priest who is investigating the death of Father Merrin and wants to find out of Merrin died from a demon or was murdered.
Oddly the church doesn’t want to take advantage of Merrin’s death, and is insistent on learning a more realistic consequence of his dealings with Regan. From there we’re exposed to a lot of pseudo-spiritual nonsense that makes no sense and rambles on for almost two hours, and all for the sake of giving us the origin of the demon that possessed Regan. I don’t know why we had to know everything about the demon Pazusu, but we get its back story. From there the writers retcon a lot of what happened in the original film. We sadly get to see when the demon killed Merrin, eliminating the original film’s most shocking moment, and there’s the implication the demon possessed Regan because she’s some mystical healer type person who can communicate with lost souls. It wasn’t a result of a demon exploiting a family’s misery, no Regan is some kind of superhero, and the demon took advantage of her to murder Merrin.
There are a lot of call backs to the original film, including a visit to the old Georgetown house, the long haunting staircase, and Max Von Sydow even has a walk on role as a young Merrin, but none of it amounts to an entertaining movie; especially with that truly heinous score. That said, Blair is really the only interesting aspect of the film, salvaging the film with helping Regan grow, and she’s insanely beautiful during the movie, so much so that it’s pretty distracting. However, if you’re anxious to see what it’s like to travel on the back of a locust, want to know what it’s like to fight a fire with crutches, are interested in Regan’s horrible art work, or want to see a talented cast trying their best to make due with such a lousy script and convoluted premise, “The Heretic” is good fodder, if a truly lousy movie.