“Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon locked within her!”
The Exorcist is a masterpiece. Forget all that nonsense about it being laughable in this day and age. It’s an incredibly well made film, period, and it still chills. Even if you don’t buy into the God vs. the devil business, it’s so character focused and there’s enough ambiguity in the early going that it’s sad and terrifying enough even if considered purely as a story about a family struggling with a mysterious mental illness. That’s if you watch the original cut, of course – the director’s cut inserts that incredibly effective but ambiguity-destroying spiderwalk scene. I’m also an admirer of the underrated The Exorcist III. It’s not the original, but it carves its own unique and effective pulpy path. I had avoided The Exorcist II completely, based purely on the horrible word of mouth – I’m sure I’m telling you nothing new, but it’s widely regarded as one of the worst films of all time. It’s October, however, that special time of year when horror nerds explore their back catalog and hardline film prejudices disappear. Maybe, just maybe, this was a lost masterpiece – rumors are that Scorsese is an admirer, and director John Boorman has made some great films; then again, he also made Zardoz, which I love but is also terrible.
Well, I’m sorry to say it, but The Exorcist II is a piece of crap. Scorsese, I love you, but you’re wrong on this one. The worst problem with The Exorcist II – and let me be very clear on this: there are many – is that it is boring. There’s zero tension in this film, zero narrative drive, and the pacing is nonexistent. Editing is laughably bad, with scenes starting and ending arbitrarily. This doesn’t feel like a horror film at all, and while that statement isn’t necessarily damning – if a film is well made and doesn’t follow genre conventions, that can be a strength rather than a weakness – but there’s just nothing that induces dread or fear or shock. It just plods along, scene to incomprehensible scene,
Where do you go after The Exorcist? Even Warner didn’t know where to go, so they had originally planned a quickie cheapo reado of the original to make a fast buck. When John Boorman took the helm, plans changed and the budget ballooned. The only problem is that I’m not sure that even he knew where to take the film when he signed on either. There’s a hint of what he wanted to accomplish here – a story about the titanic, never-ending battle between good and evil, where the forces of evil are drawn to those with more potential for good in order to snuff them out – but none of it is told in a coherent fashion. Add to that a sleepwalking performance by Richard Burton, flat-out bad acting by Linda Blair, and bizarre science-fantasy bits like a mind-meld hypnosis machine that nobody seems to find all that remarkable other than as a device to move the plot forward, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a bad film.
I really wanted to like this. It frequently looks gorgeous – I loved the hallucinatory look, particularly the African scenes. I also really dug the idea of a lesser demon causing havoc and I like all the locust business – I wonder if some of this inspired Jamie Delano on his Hellblazer run – and the Morricone score is great. There is certainly good in The Exorcist II, but unfortunately, none of it adds up to a good film. The rumors were true: The Exorcist II is terrible. I don’t regret watching it, and some of those visuals will undoubtedly stick with me. Give it a chance if you’re curious, but don’t mistake that for a recommendation. In a film about sin and evil, The Exorcist II commits perhaps the worst cinematic sin of them all – it’s boring.