July 21, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Exorcist II: The Heretic

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Exorcist II: The Heretic

Today's movie: Exorcist II: The Heretic, 1977 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I have vague memories of catching this on early-'80s cable television while a late pubescent and being creeped out by it, so thought it was high time I finally watched it as an adult and see what I think now. Because it's yet another trainwreck masterpiece by the brilliantly strange John Boorman, and in the last year I've come to really love Boorman's work, not only the legitimately great films (like Deliverance, for example), but the headscratchingly bizarre ones too (like Zardoz...oh man, I giggle just mentioning the title again). Because this movie is notorious for having barely anything to do with the original, an impossibly strange oddity of a script that alienated nearly every mainstream audience member who saw it, and I have a soft spot in my heart for movies like this.

The reality: Good Chr-st, why do people keep handing money to John Boorman to make more movies? This is what I always seem to end up asking myself after every other film of his, anyway; and that of course gives you your answer quite neatly, that every even-numbered movie he makes is a modern masterpiece, with even the odd failures ultimately being compelling failures too. That's certainly the case with Exorcist II, for example, the production that started out horribly from the very first day and never really got better, beginning with the fact that neither the original writer William Peter Blatty nor the original director William Friedkin wanted anything to do with a sequel; that put the script into the hands of novice William Goodheart (who was to only write three screenplays his entire career, in fact), who put together this mess of a thing involving Linda Blair's possessed-girl character now being a teen living in the most insanely grand Manhattan high-rise '70s fabulous mirror-covered apartment you've ever seen, and something about how she's now in touch through her dreams with nearly all the memories of the ancient demon who once controlled her body, and being treated for it or something at this freaky psychiatric clinic that looks like a beehive and where all the walls are of glass and the place is filled with, like, autistic kids with ESP or something like that, and the clinic like owns this machine or something that will actually let the doctor and patient mind-meld their dream-states together, which is then hijacked with permission by Richard Burton (!) playing a priest (!!!) who's been assigned by the Vatican to look into this whole exorcism thing from the first movie and see if the priests involved were just insane or what, which then lets Burton and Blair share this demon-dream-vision of a freaking locust flying through the freaking African steppes, and all the villagers doing this freaky quaking religious dance thing to try to ward them off, and what? What? WHAT THE F-CK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, WILLIAM F-CKING GOODHEART?

But that said, man oh man does this film look incredible, in that shiny, deep way you only get with 1970s cameras, lenses and filmstock; I mean, you know, as long as you don't spend much time thinking about the logic behind why all the cool-looking stuff looks cool in the first place. (Why is the psychiatry clinic housed in this freaky '70s glass beehive Skinnerian nightmare thing, anyway? Stop asking questions like that, spoilsport!) It's a failure for sure, an utterly inexplicable thing that'll have you shaking your head and shouting Rocky-Horror-type dialogue by the end ("Smack that fire, Richard Burton! You smack the f-ck out of that fire with that used cane, Richard Godd-mn Burton!"); but Lord, what an entertaining and fascinating failure it is, which it seems can be said just so often about Boorman's entire career, from the blood-and-boobs King Arthur retelling Excalibur to the nearly surrealistic World War Two tale Hope and Glory, and which I'm sure will be the case next year as well with his brand-new adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.

Strangest piece of trivia: This production was a complete nightmare from nearly the very beginning: Not only did barely anyone from the first film return, but the producers were denied access to the Georgetown home from the original, as well as the stairs outside the home (these were all recreated in studios instead); Linda Blair refused to wear demon makeup again (instead a lookalike was hired); Burton apparently stayed drunker for longer periods each day, the longer the production continued; Goodheart was eventually fired, with changes to the script continuing to come each day during production itself; and nearly all the 2,500 locusts imported for the production died before filming was complete. It's considered by many critics now as the worst sequel in film history, and also regularly appears in top-ten lists of the worst movies of all time. By the way, that ultra-expensive glass apartment was actually the top floor of the skyscraper where Warner Brothers' New York offices were located at the time; they merely rented the top floor and made it over into an ultra-posh penthouse for the production itself. Oh, plus, as mentioned here before, Burton only agreed to be in this movie in the first place in return for being cast in the equally headscratching Equus the same year, which at least he won an Oscar for.

Teenage Linda Blair in 'Exorcist II'

If I had watched it when it first came out: I would've cheered the arrival of my new favorite midnight wasted movie. And Linda Blair in her giant-foreheaded, freaky-eyebrowed '70s-teenaged glory.

Worth your time? Hells yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 5:53 PM, July 21, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |