Blu-ray Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic (Collector's Edition)

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Two takes on a similar theme that couldn't be more different. William Friedkin's 1973 The Exorcist is widely regarded as an all-time classic. Some call it the greatest horror film ever created. Based on William Peter Blatty's own adaptation of his novel, the film continues to inspire feelings of terror among new generations of movie fans. Four year later, director John Boorman was tasked with the unenviable job of concocting a sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic. Linda Blair, preteen star of the original (for which she was recognized with an Academy Award nomination), is back as the now near-adult Regan MacNeil.

But the presence of Blair, along with returning cast members Max Von Sydow and Kitty Winn, marks just about the only repeating element of The Exorcist. Boorman takes a simply bizarre approach with this garish sequel, which manages to stake out its own stylistic territory at the expense of any sense of continuity. Thanks to Shout! Factory (their Scream! Factory imprint, more specifically), Exorcist buffs can revel in the newly restored 117-minute and 102-minute cuts of The Heretic. The two-disc set also boasts a healthy array of brand new special features, which help shed some light on just why The Heretic is so spectacularly bad.

Regan now works as a medium (of sorts) at a home for children who have a wide of mental conditions. With the help of a flashing light bulb, she is able to channel the spirit of the demon who possessed her in the first film (though she doesn't consciously remember the event). Fresh off her Oscar win for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Louise Fletcher is on-hand as Sharon, Regan's surrogate mother who works at the institution. Though Von Sydow appears in flashbacks as Father Merrin, the main exorcist in this one is none other than the estimable Richard Burton, seemingly bewildered by his role as Father Philip Lamont.

Apparently this sequel began as something far different than what it ended up. In a newly-taped interview included in the features, Linda Blair insists that the original script was quite good before constant rewriting rendered it unintelligible. The globe-hopping results, which concern swarms of locusts and the pursuit of the demon spirit Pazuzu, truly need to be seen to be believed just to appreciate how badly the filmmakers screwed up what should've been a sure thing. A retread of the first film wouldn't have been very original, but consider that studios are churning out that sort of project to this day—to varying degrees of box office (not to mention critical) success.

Give Boorman credit for trying a completely new approach, turning what was essentially a story rooted in "realism" (as much as it could be) into a wildly supernatural epic. With strange visuals and a confounding (though never actually scary) tone, The Heretic is never dull. But it remains a chore to watch nonetheless, due to its lack of cohesive plotting.

Special features on the 117-minute cut disc include a Boorman commentary and a separate commentary by "special project consultant Scott Michael Bosco." There's also the aforementioned Linda Blair interview ("What Does She Remember?") and an interview with editor Tom Priestley.

The 102-minute cut disc includes another commentary, this one by The Projection Booth blog's Mike White. Rounding things out is a variety of promotional materials, including trailers, stills, deleted scene photos, posters and lobby cards.
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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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