"Exorcist II: The Heretic' star Linda Blair panning this 1977 sequel to the enduring 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" in a new interview for this fabulous remastered Collector's Edition Blu-ray of "Heretic" from the Scream Factory division of cult film god Shout! Factory justifies following suit. HOWEVER, it is apt that the devil is in the details.. Blair simply neglects to put the John Boorman ("Deliverance") film "Heretic" in proper context.
The Shout! goodness includes separate Blu-ray discs of the original 117-minute film and the 102-minute hone-video version. Watching the longer one is recommended.
Before delving further into giving the devil his due, it is important to alert readers to a limited-time offer. Folks who directly order "Heretic" from Shout! will get a free 18X24 poster that features the Scream artwork for the film. The caveat is that Shout! has a limited number of this posters and cannot guarantee that you will get one.
Returning to our main topic, wisdom of Jon Stewart during his "Daily Show" era includes that film versions of television programs generally fail because the premise of the program is initially deemed to not merit a movie. Similarly, sequels would be the first entry in a franchise if they were as good as the original. Imposing a younger-sibling expectation that the second film will be as outstanding as the older brother or sister further strongly disadvantages a "II" film, "Heretic" is not great but does not warrant the scorn that Blair expresses.
The other bit of context that Blair glosses over is that co-star Richard Burton does his usual spectacular job to an extent that Blair states that she is star-struck in her scenes with him. Having Burton star is "Heretic" is a far cry from Jamie Kennedy taking over for Jim Carrey in "The Son of the Mask" or having William "Herman" Ragsdale step in for Andrew McCarthy in the under-rated "Mannequin" franchise.
The premise of "Heretic" is that Father Philip Lamont (Burton) is on a mission from God to preserve the reputation of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) regarding the classic epic death of Merrin in "Exorcist." This includes determining the circumstances of that demise and proving that Merrin is not one of the titular blasphemers.
Meanwhile apparently dispossessed teen Regan MacNeil (Blair) is living at a center for troubled children that Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher) operates. The primary objective of that therapy is to free Regan of the demons that still plague her.
Blair rightfully criticizes Boorman for adding a tap-dancing Regan into the film mid-production, but she fails to put another silly aspect of "Heretic" in context. Much of the action stems from tech. of Tuskin that combines hypnosis with a mind meld in that a second person can share the experience of the hypnotized person.
This scene (and subsequent use of the device) reflects the emphasis on "sci" in sci-fi during the dawn of the computer era of the mid-70s. The brave new world equally fascinates and scares the American public during this period,
In this case, Lamont (who is not a big dummy) witnesses the titular rite that is a central element of the first film. He further gets images of Africa that include the POV of a alocust. That sends that soldier of Christ to The Dark Continent in search of Kokumo (James Earl Jones), whom Lamont thinks can help.
Meanwhile. Regan regresses to a point that she is a threat to herself but not others; she simply is experiencing hellish PTSD.
The real fun begins when Regan and Lamont reunite in New York; an irresistible force compels a not-so immovable object in the form of Lamont. The power of Satan compels him to return to the scene of the crime with Regan in tow.
The entertaining ensuing scene seems more like something out of the Leslie Nielsen "Exorcist" spoof "Dispossessed" than a horror film. We get a "Patty Duke Show" moment as demon Pazuzu uses a carrot (rather than a stick) to try to lure Lamont over to the dark side, Part of this mission involves making Regan disheartened. The result is good campy fun.
The not-so-fatal flaw throughout "Heretic" is that it tries too hard to distinguish itself from its older brother; the possession element is less strong, and the music is not nearly as haunting as the timeless soundtrack the first time around. Even a scene at the iconic stairs from "Exorcist" lacks the same impact.
At the risk of seeming like a titular non-believer, "Heretic" provides a good second chapter in the "Exorcist" trilogy but would have succeeded even better (and been better received) if it had been produced as an independent homage.
In addition to the Blair interview, Scream gives us audio commentary by Boorman and project consultant Scott Bosco. We also get an interview with editor Tom Priestly.