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Warner Home Video presents
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

"Today, wherever I look I see only evil. God has fallen silent."
- Father Lamont (Richard Burton)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: October 17, 2002

Stars: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow
Other Stars: Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, Belinda Beatty, Rose Portillo, Barbara Cason, Tiffany Kinney, Joey Green, Fiseha Dimetros, Ken Renard
Director: John Boorman

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (Horror violence, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:57m:32s
Release Date: August 06, 2002
UPC: 012569102323
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-B+B+ C-

DVD Review

In 1973 William Friedkin's screen adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel, The Exorcist, set a new benchmark for the horror genre. Based on events that made headlines in 1949, a 12-year-old girl becomes possessed by demons, with her ultimate salvation coming at the hands of two priests called in to perform an exorcism. Filled with haunting, unforgettable imagery, The Exorcist created an enduring classic for supernatural thrillers.

Like any successful film, a sequel was inevitable, and four years later director John Boorman (Zardoz, Hope and Glory) took up the gauntlet with a script by William Goodhart. Recruiting a cast of name actors including Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, James Earl Jones, and Max von Sydow, Exorcist II: The Heretic attempts to pick up where the first film left off, and provide an explanation for why Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) was chosen for possession.

It is now four years later, and the church calls on Father Lamont (Burton), a man experienced in exorcism, to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Father Lankester Merrin (von Sidow), the man who performed Regan's exorcism, who is being branded by some within the order as a heretic. Lamont is sent to New York, where Regan is under the care of psychologist Dr. Gene Tuskin (Fletcher), who works at a research center for mentally-challenged children. For all outward appearances, Regan has forgotten all about the terrifying ordeal she went through that left three people dead in her old house in Georgetown. To free her of the suppressed emotional trauma she has endured, Tuskin employs an experimental machine that synchronizes two minds under hypnosis, allowing the therapist to delve into the patient's subconscious, and to experience her nightmares first hand. When the experiment goes awry, Father Lamont has to intervene to rescue Dr. Tuskin from the visions that are engulfing her, and in the process discovers a clue to the origins of the evil he is seeking—a child Father Merrin had exorcised in Africa many years before. He sets out on a quest to uncover the truth about the spirit, Bazuzu, and learn how he can free the child from its powers.

Unfortunately, Exorcist II: The Heretic flounders at telling its story, and is especially unsuccessful as the follow up to a horror masterpiece. The original was effective in part because there was some plausibility in the story, and the audience was rarely presented with a situation that couldn't be explained by the presence of an intense, all consuming, evil. There were plenty of shocks, vulgarity and profanity to unnerve the viewer, and the ambiguous ending enhanced its creepiness. The Heretic instead tries to explain the dark forces through psychology, transcendental states and ancient legend. The central conflict—the battle between good and evil, faith and faithlessness—is merely a sideshow, with the embodiment of evil being debated between religious and psychological foundations. Where the original used familiar surroundings to tether the inexplicable to a normalcy the audience could relate to, its successor builds a world of highly-stylized locations, glass matrixes and penthouse apartments that lack railings on their terraces. The entire tone of the original is cast aside for a more futuristic, almost science fiction approach.

Like the original, the story relies on a fair amount of suspension of disbelief, but the imaginative technology that facilitates the entire plot is perhaps the biggest stumbling block. The main plot device, the synchronizing machine, isn't believable, and something that would find a better home in an episode of Space: 1999 than in a thriller. The hypnotic states it induces are more comedic than horrific, and create a barrier that makes it hard to be pulled into the film. The performances are fairly lackluster, with little conviction in the acting or emotional continuity between scenes. Burton is flat throughout, while Louise Fletcher's character is poorly written, with behavior that defies logical explanation, such as granting a priest the use of her experimental machine without any training. Linda Blair does her best to continue her role, but often comes off wooden or awkward.

While some of the flying sequences demonstrate Boorman's ability for stunning visuals, there is very little real action for the first hour and twenty minutes, as the script tries to explain its premise and set up the climax with the search for the mysterious boy, Kukomo, and the secrets of the locust. When the film finally gets around to the supernatural elements that highlighted the first film, it simply borrows what we've already seen, while adding in some special effects to heighten the drama; again, this is overdone to the point of disbelief. On its own, it makes a somewhat interesting watch, but tends to drag, and just never gains the momentum needed to execute the subject matter. For Exorcist fans, this will be a letdown, with neither the style or substance of the original. The angle taken is notable, but beyond the scope a sequel should have encompassed.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic is presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 ratio, in a nice anamorphic transfer. Colors are strong, and black levels solid, though reds in the title sequences do tend to bleed a bit. Film grain is rendered naturally, detail is good, with a film-like softness to the image. The source material is relatively free of defects, with only minor amounts of dust and scratches present. Compression issues are negligible, and aliasing is rare, and reasonable unobtrusive.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono soundtrack is presented well, with an even tonal quality, good definition, and clear presence. Ennio Morricone's score comes across nicely. There is only minor amounts of distortion on some of the dialogue, which sounds source-related.

The packaging lists a French language track, which is not present.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portugese, Japanese, Chinese, Bahasa, Thai, Korean with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Alternate opening sequence
Extras Review: John Boorman's sometimes over reaching creativity has sparked studio executives to ask for an explanatory opening sequence on more than one occasion, and here we get a demonstration of how a film that doesn't hit its mark could have been made even worse by trying to explain it with an alternate introduction.

A teaser and the theatrical trailer are included, along with limited filmographies for Linda Blair, Richard Burton, screenwriter William Goodhart and director John Boorman.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

It's not everyday you'll find this reviewer criticizing the work of John Boorman, but in the case of Exorcist II: The Heretic, the film falls short of the expectations for a sequel to one of the most frightening movie experiences of all time. While imaginative, the story wanders too far into implausibility, and the mediocre performances detract from any conviction the film could have had. Those rightly expecting a taut, supernatural thriller will be disappointed.

Despite its failings, I am glad to have another of Boorman's films in my DVD collection.


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