Release Date(s)1977 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Few films have had as legendarily a sordid history as Exorcist II: The Heretic. It’s one of those cornerstones of commercial and critical failures within a major franchise that’s worthy of endless discussion and re-examination, even more than forty years after initial release. Most who’ve seen it absolutely loathe it, but since The Exorcist received additional sequels, and even a TV series, more and more viewers keep coming back to it, trying to comprehend the impetus behind its creation and just what the final product actually is. It’s by no means easy to describe or decipher, yet there’s a small pocket of people (former Bits writer and filmmaker Jim Hemphill among them) who find it to be a film that’s more than its reputation would lead others to believe.
Four years after the events that took place in Georgetown, we find Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) healthy and happy while attending dance school in New York City. Continuing to live with her mother’s assistant Sharon (Kitty Winn) and attending therapy sessions, her psychiatrist, Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), believes that Regan is suppressing memories of being possessed. Meanwhile, the church has unofficially sent Father Lamont (Richard Burton) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow). Through flashbacks, we also learn of Father Merrin’s time in Africa, where he performed an exorcism on a young boy named Kokumo, who later grew up to be a scientist (James Earl Jones). Lamont begins by examining Regan, and through the use of a synchronizer, which allows her to explore her memories, he soon discovers that she may be the key to defeating the evil Pazuzu.
As you can no doubt tell, writing a synopsis for Exorcist II is a bit of a difficult task. There’s no shortcut to explaining what the film is about. Its incoherence is its biggest flaw, and for audiences in 1977 who came to see more cursing, head-spinning, pea-soup vomiting activities, none were happy with its lack of clarity. I honestly find the film to be a beguiling piece of cinema. There’s no way I can describe it as some misunderstood masterpiece, but I can’t deny that I find myself drawn to it and feeling the need to know more about its creation, not to mention sorting out its story in larger detail. The only real negative aspect of the film that truly puts me off is its dialogue, mostly everything coming from Louise Fletcher, and later in the film, from Linda Blair.
What saddles Exorcist II: The Heretic as one of the worst films ever made simply comes down to expectations. I honestly don’t know what a successful sequel to what is described by many as “the scariest film ever made” could possibly have been. It could have been more of the same content, likely expanding upon it, which might have been less effective. In hindsight, I think most folks who hate Exorcist II outright would probably prefer that, but I find myself sort of thankful that we have something totally different. It may have generated laughter in the theater, but in no way does it “tarnish the legacy” of the first film, as so many critics like to say it does. Time has proven that. With a strong score by Ennio Morricone and wonderful cinematography by William A. Fraker, I find it difficult to label Exorcist II: The Heretic as one of the worst films ever made.
Scream Factory gives Exorcist II its second go-round on Blu-ray in two presentations: its 117-minute theatrical version and its 102-minute overseas and home video version. Outside of the beginning and the ending, the cuts made to the second version are mostly minor trims to various scenes throughout. The beginning recalls the events of the first film before picking up with Father Lamont in South America, while the ending is significantly different, deleting most of the succubus footage and the moments with Sharon and Dr. Tuskin before the police arrive. In my estimation, this version makes even less sense that the original version and is more interesting to compare to rather than something I would revisit in the future... but your mileage may vary.
Both cuts of the film come sourced from a “new 2018 high definition transfer [that] was created in 2K resolution at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging on the Lasergraphics Director scanner from the original camera negative.” Exorcist II has always been a particularly soft and grainy film due to the film stocks that were used at the time to shoot it, and that’s certainly reflected in these new transfers. Depth and detail are improved while everything appears more organic with better definition than before. The color palette is mostly period hues, but saturation is good with decent skin tones and deep blacks – the latter of which carries some inherent crush. It’s also a brighter, cleaner, and more stable presentation, lacking any major leftover dirt or debris, or for that matter, any heavy-handed digital alterations. The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a fairly limited and narrow presentation that doesn’t stray far from the confines of its single-channel source, but it also has a dated feel to it. However, dialogue, sound effects, and score show good separation and there are no instances of distortion or leftover hiss or crackle. It’s an excellent presentation of the film, but those seeking over-sharpened, crystal-clear images might want to keep their expectations at bay.
Each version of the film is also presented on separate discs with extras. On Disc One, which contains the 117-minute version, there’s a new audio commentary with director John Boorman, which probably should have been moderated as Boorman stumbles repeatedly and leaves long gaps of silence; another new audio commentary with project consultant Scott Bosco; What Does She Remember?, a new 19-minute interview with actress Linda Blair, in which the actress recounts working on the film, particularly her work with Richard Burton; and a new 7-minute interview with editor Tom Priestley, who discusses being brought onto the project after the original editor quit. On Disc Two, which contains the 102-minute version, there’s a new audio commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast; the teaser and theatrical trailers for the film; and a large set of still galleries (125 black & white stills, 4 deleted scene photos, 53 color stills, 53 behind-the-scenes stills, and 96 poster and lobby card stills).
Exorcist II: The Heretic... what more can be said about it? It’s not a film that I’m going to convince you that you might have dismissed unfairly. It is what it is, but I can say that it’s certainly one of the most interesting films ever made. For film fans who study these kinds of things, it’s a gold mine. Scream Factory’s presentation of the film (both versions) are excellent, as are the extras, and it’s a package that’s been a long-time coming. Since the original film and the third film have gotten so much attention on home video, Exorcist II was overdue, warts and all.
- Tim Salmons