Sorry for the light posting around here lately, but we’ve been beavering away at the sequel to Better Living Through Bad Movies — anyway, that’s our story. But just to prove we weren’t actually snorting crystal meth off of naked call girls at a Minerals Management Service mixer in the Interior Department Grotto, here’s a piece from the chapter tentatively entitled When Bad Movies Happen to Good People.
Exorcist 2: The Heretic (1977)
Directed by John Boorman
Written by William Goodhart, based on characters by William Peter Blatty
The sense of dread begins with the credits, as blood-red words appear in a black void, while our ears are haunted by the strange and sinister score. Not quite music, and too eerie to be a human voice, it sounds as though the composer somehow persuaded an elephant to fart into a vuvuzuela.
We open inside the Haunted Shack at Knott’s Berry Farm, which has been filled with twinkly Christmas lights and Richard Burton, who is dressed as a Roman Catholic priest and looking extremely uneasy, as if he expects at any moment to be handed a subpoena.
Richard is there to exorcise a young woman, but he can’t find the right page, and the Bible doesn’t have an index, and while he’s flipping through it the girl sets herself on fire and burns to a crisp right in front of him. As an exorcist, this represents a personal best.
Cut to Linda Blair tap-dancing as a kid with a limp Shaun Cassidy hair-do honks out “Lullaby of Broadway” on a baritone sax. Just in case you doubted that Satan is real.
Cut to Louise Fletcher, who is sitting face to face with a teenaged girl and shouting “Debbie! Debbie! Debbie! Can you hear me?” into a microphone. Louise is a distinguished pediatric psychiatrist who is famous for pioneering the technique of screaming at deaf people. Or she got the lyrics to Tommy wrong.
Linda breezes into Louise’s office, which for some reason is on the Space: 1999 set, and stretches out on the couch. Louise asks Linda if she has flashbacks to the earlier, better film, then shows her “a machine we can use together,” which gives me flashbacks to Requiem for a Dream.
Fortunately, it’s just an AM radio with a couple of flashbulbs on top, which will put them in synchronized hypnotic trances so doctor and patient can make each other cluck like chickens.
Cut to the Vatican, where Cardinal Victor Lazlo orders Father Richard to investigate the death of Max von Sydow in the original film. But Dick doesn’t want to do it because his faith in God has been shaken, and he’d rather it was a cocktail. But then Cardinal Victor says “we all have a destiny – for good, or evil,” and he lights two cigarettes and gives one to Dick, and they decide not to ask for the moon, because they have the stars.
Cut to the Moonbase Alpha set, where Father Richard is staring through a window at disabled children. Linda notices Dick, and stops to smile at him in apple-cheeked, sparkle-eyed delight, because she’s just so gosh-darned cute and nice, or because it’s been an awful long time – maybe too long – since she’s killed a priest.
Father Richard tells Louise he wants to question Linda, because Evil is “alive, living. Perverted and perverting.” That’s Linda’s cue, and she barges into the office to announce that she wants to use the machine with Louise, and she wants the priest to watch, because they can make a lot more money with a two-girl show.
The next day, Linda sits in Louise’s office, wearing a headband of electrodes and what appears to be Stevie Nicks’ wedding dress, while Father Richard stands over her looking worried about Evil and kind of hungover. Then Louise turns on a strobe light bright enough to give Satan a headache, and he’s not even in the room yet. Linda stares at it for three seconds, then her eyes roll back in her head; perhaps she’s having an epileptic fit due to the flashing light, or perhaps Louise has hypnotized her to be really sarcastic.
Louise slips on a headband and keeps telling Linda to “make your tone go deeper,” getting my hopes up that she’ll spend the rest of the film talking like Barry White. Instead, director John Boorman points the strobe light at the camera while Louise murmurs, “You will remember none of this,” presumably addressing the critics.
Louise orders Linda to go “deeper…deeper,” then says, “Now I want to come down and be with you.” She adds, “We will obey the commands that Father Richard gives us.” This is the worst phone sex ever.
There’s a flashback to the first movie, with Linda in demonface and Max von Sydow having a coronary. Except it’s not actually footage from The Exorcist, since it’s clearly Linda’s body double in the makeup, and Max’s ostensibly fatal heart attack seems about as serious as one of Fred Sanford’s.
After it’s all over, Linda borrows art supplies from an emotionally disturbed child so she can draw a picture of Father Richard with his head on fire.
“What does it mean?” Richard whispers, clearly worried that it means he’s going to die and go to Hell, or worse, live long enough to appear in Ghost Rider. Then it suddenly hits him, and he realizes that the fire in his portrait means there’s a fire in the basement, because to Linda, his head symbolizes a dark, moist place filled with canned peaches and porn. He runs downstairs, finds a flaming cardboard box in a closet, and smacks it repeatedly with a crutch.
Cut to Linda, who flails around in bed as a Steadicam walks around a fake-looking African village. Cut to a close up of a rubber grasshopper dangling in front of an unconvincing backdrop. Suddenly, a swarm of bad optical effects descends on the villagers’ crops, but a boy shaman wanders into the fields swinging a piece of macramé over his head like a lariat. He seems to be trying to drive off the locusts with a cleansing act of ritual magic, or else the road company of The Will Rogers’ Follies just hit town.
Meanwhile, Linda sleepwalks out onto the terrace, which is on the 43rd floor and has no railings, suggesting a contractor with a zest for suspense and lawsuits.
Back at the village, a young Father Max von Sydow is taking high fashion photographs of the locusts, while Linda walks to the edge of the terrace and hangs ten as a children’s choir sings “Ah ha ha” (classical music enthusiasts will recognize this as Bach’s “Variations on a Theme of Nelson Muntz”).
Father Richard visits the house in Washington, DC where The Exorcist took place. In Linda’s old room he kneels at the foot of her bed and prays, while a grasshopper hovers overhead like a hummingbird and – judging by the P.O.V. – operates the Panavision equipment.
Richard returns to Moonbase Alpha and starts prying into Louise’s personal life. She retorts, “Don’t you ever need a woman, Father?”
He looks at her for a moment before answering, “Yes…There’s too much competition for the altar boys.” Then Linda walks in and it’s headband and headlight time again.
We flash back again to Max as a young priest in Africa, where his duties seemed confined to stalking the lasso-wielding Shaman Boy and taking awkwardly posed photographs of bugs for an all-locust branch of the Olan Mills Portrait Studios. Suddenly, the grasshoppers swarm all over the kid, and he develops jaundice and plastic novelty teeth, and snarls, in a guttural, reverb-heavy voice, “I am Pazuzu!” Which was pretty polite, because a lot of demons don’t bother to introduce themselves and you wind up addressing them as “Um,” or “Hey.”
Cut to Max rock-climbing with a bunch of Ethiopians while Pazuzu and several lesser demons sing an a capella version of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” It doesn’t go well, and one of the Ethiopians slips and falls to his death; fortunately, he avoids a stunt by secretly wearing Mary Martin’s flying rig from “Peter Pan” under his burnoose and having himself lowered rather gently by some off camera stagehands. But he does take the trouble to simulate gravity by screaming a lot and periodically slapping the stucco rock wall as it slowly scrolls by.
The demon, speaking through Linda, offers to take Dick and show him what became of the boy shaman, snarling, “Come! Fly the Teeth of the Wind” (which is kind of a crappy airline slogan, but less degrading than “We Really Move Our Tails for You”).
“Share my wings,” the unholy spirit hisses, which turns out to mean, “look at this rubber grasshopper dangling in front of aerial stock footage of zebras and wildebeests while I, Pazuzu, and my back-up demons hum a depressing cover version of The Saber Dance.”
Demon Air flies us to an ancient African city which has been hand-carved out of carob. Suddenly, James Earl Jones steps outside, nude except for a loincloth and one of those Smurf hats.
Richard realizes the young shaman has grown up to become James Earl Jones, and “has a power over Evil,” and two Tony Awards.
Linda hangs around Louise’s waiting room, where she finds Store Brand Melissa Gilbert staring into space and starts quizzing her on what the hell her deal is.
“I—I—I—I’m au-au-t-t-t-tistic,” the girl stammers. Linda chuckles and says, “How do you mean?” Amazingly, no one punches her.
Richard returns to Victor Lazlo and says he wants to go to Africa to find James Earl Jones, and reminds Victor that Father Max “prophesized that nude men would rise to purge Evil.” Well, that’s what it sounded like it.
Victor does what every superior does at this point in a movie, and tells Richard he’s suspended, and to turn in his badge and gun. Father Richard is supposed to go on retreat to a monastery, but instead he takes a sabbatical to The Eiger Sanction, because next we see him scaling an enormous phallic rock.
At the top, a church has been carved from the stone, and there’s a rave going on in the nave. Richard wanders through the dancing, singing worshippers, looking for the guy selling the X and the glowsticks, then suddenly elbows his way down front to the communion rail, where he kneels and sweats and goes on about the Evil. When the Host comes around, Richard seizes the chalice and shotguns the sacramental wine because he’s consumed with guilt over disobeying Victor Lazlo, or possibly because he’s Richard Burton, and why should he interrupt his morning routine just because the cameras are rolling?
We cut to Linda in a sequined tuxedo and a cellophane top hat, tap-dancing to a medley of Depression-era ballads, because like all men, you are a sinner, and just because God forgives you doesn’t mean John Boorman has to.
Richard unwisely mentions that his tour guide is Pazuzu; the parishioners scream, “devil worshipper!” and immediately try to stone him to death for his accent in The Klansman. Fortunately, a fist-sized rock hits him square in the forehead, which causes Linda – back in New York – to keel over just as she was about to start cakewalking.
Father Richard hooks up with bush pilot and crucifix delivery boy Ned Beatty, who tells Richard that the all-carob city where James Earl Jones lives is called “Chutney.” Something like that. Ned offers to fly him there, but on the way he spots some biplanes dusting for locusts, and abruptly dives through the clouds of DDT, because the nit comb hasn’t really been working and this is his last hope to get rid of those pubic lice.
In Chutney, Richard talks up the locals in French, asking where he can find James Earl Jones. But his accent must be slightly off, because they all think he’s requesting a topless hooker. So he staggers around the city, exhausted, or bored, and prays to God for help, threatening to take his business to God’s cross-town rival, Pazuzu, if he doesn’t get some decent customer service.
Boorman cuts back and forth between Richard in Africa and Linda in New York, as they both chant “Kokomo!” Then Richard walks down a long plaster vagina, and finds James Earl Jones sitting in Injun Joe’s cave, dressed in a grasshopper costume, in a scene which is ripe with dignity.
James Earl tells Richard, “You have lost faith…you do not believe,” but Richard persists, saying, “I do believe, I do believe,” until he sounds like the Cowardly Lion affirming his faith in spooks. James, however, wants him to prove it by walking over the bed of spikes he uses as a Welcome mat. But first, just to make things extra weird, James pauses to spit up a tangelo.
So all Father Richard has to do is go through one of those confidence-building exercises from an Anthony Robbins seminar. Predictably, however, he fails and falls on his face, but wakes up on the floor in a room he doesn’t recognize, sweaty and disoriented, which some people would call miraculous, but Richard calls “Tuesday.”
James Earl Jones stands around in a lab coat, wondering why there’s a moist, puffy Welshman on his carpet. It turns out he’s not a witch doctor, but a leading entomologist, and only dresses like a grasshopper on weekends.
James is attempting to genetically engineer a “good locust,” one that will remain “a happy go lucky grasshopper,” who will sing all summer, then fall on hard economic times and have to take out a usurious payday advance from some ants.
Richard flies back to New York while Linda shoplifts the Panasonic Tone Deepener® and sneaks out of Moonbase Alpha. Then the priest takes the teenaged girl to a dank and filthy furnished room in a squalid flophouse full of shirtless junkies, in a scene that’s sort of like Going My Way if it was written by Charles Bukowski.
Boorman, or Pazuzu – somebody evil, anyway – makes us watch a bunch of flashbacks to stuff we weren’t that thrilled to see the first time, then Richard speaks for all of us by getting up suddenly and walking out on the movie. He promptly hoofs it to Penn Station and boards a train to Washington, DC.
Richard won’t talk to Linda, so she drops a dime and rats him out to Louise, who hops on a plane to DC. Unfortunately, it’s a plane from an Airport movie and immediately starts crashing. But Boorman realizes that he’s completely failed to make a decent horror film, and with only 19 minutes left of Heretic’s two hour length, he doesn’t have time to start failing at disaster movies too.
Louise gets to the Exorcist House in time to save Linda, but her cab driver decides to run up the meter by spinning donuts on the front lawn, before driving full speed through a wrought iron fence and smashing into the house with such force the car is crushed like a beer can. Louise is left trapped and bloodied, but still lucid enough to short him on the tip.
Inside, Linda hears the horrific crash and briefly considers helping the victims, but she’s really more interested in climbing the stairs to her old room to see if her Holly Hobby cards and Jim Stafford albums are still there.
Linda finds her body double sitting on the bed, dressed provocatively in one of Eva Gabor’s negligees from Green Acres. The body double and Father Richard start making out, but Linda puts on an African accent and declares she is “the good locust,” so Richard stops kissing and starts killing. The body double calls Grasshopper 911, and the locust swarm completely demolishes the house in about 8 seconds (making the termites feel very self-conscious). But Richard rips out Body Double’s heart, which should end things, but doesn’t, so Linda starts doing the Arsenio Hall hand-cranking gesture, which magically kills bugs dead.
Linda and Richard stagger out of the ruins and find a weepy-eyed Louise, who says that she understands now, but like the Giant Rat of Sumatra, this is a tale for which the world is not yet ready. So Linda and her friend the homicidal priest should probably get out of here before the cops show up and they have to explain the negligee-wearing heart donor lying in a heap of dead grasshoppers and Dynamite magazines.
(Full disclosure: We like and admire John Boorman, but he followed up Zardoz with this movie, and while we’d like to resist the urge to exploit the tragedy, we’re just not that strong.)