After the success of "Deliverance," director John Boorman was approached by Warner Bros in the early 70s to direct "The Exorcist," the film rights for which they had just purchased. Finding the challenge of a film depending heavily on the performance of a child and regarding William Peter Blatty's book as "tasteless, cruel and sadistic towards children," (as relayed to interview Michel Ciment for the 1985 book "John Boorman"), the director passed on what ultimately became an $82 million blockbuster for Warner Bros.
For the sequel, Boorman found the script by William Goodhart, a New York City playwright, more to his taste, and after various revisions due primarily to casting choices, made a film which originally ran 117 minutes. Bolstered by a start-studded cast, "Exorcist II: The Heretic" did brisk business during its first week of release, only to disappear after widespread critical drubbing and poor word of mouth, ultimately grossing a mere $13 million.
However, in an attempt to salvage their investment, the studio allowed Boorman to re-edit the film to 110 minutes shortly after the U.S. premiere, fashioning a new ending in which Father Lamont (Richard Burton) dies, and Regan (Linda Blair) performs a symbolic dance (already present in the First Version) to rid Washington of those pesky locusts. In addition to stock shots of a possessed Blair from the first film (replacing shots with a Blair-lookalike in Version 1), Boorman also added a new prologue (included on this DVD among the Special Features), and this recut - Version 2 - remained for a while the only version available on North American TV. Version 3, made for Europe, tightened the denouement, shortened a few scenes, and altered the ending, so Lamont and Regan stand beneath a radiant, triumphant sun.
Warner Bros' premiere DVD release of the director's first cut was made from an excellent print (with the original Warner Communications logo), and William Fraker's soft-focus widescreen cinematography shows off Richard MacDonald's attractive art direction, including Regan's chrome-and-mirror plated penthouse (mom being a Divorced Movie Star), and the glass-walled 'beehive' clinic of Regan's shrink. Fraker's glowing images evoke a dream-like atmosphere, and his colour schemes - deliberately using desert amber hues in place of the more soothing blues greens - are nicely preserved on the disc.
Ennio Morricone's bizarre music score enlivens the standard mono mix, and the weird chorus textures - resembling a fusion of his stylized western- and giallo-genre vocals - come out strong during the Ethiopian montages.
The disc's extras include the original theatrical teaser (composed of eerie voice over and start images) and trailer (using every money-shot, smash-cut to the tempo of Morricone's electro-pop theme variation), and brief filmographies of Linda Blair, Richard Burton, John Boorman, and William Goodhart.
The included Alternate Opening footage somewhat clears up the abrupt intro of Burton's character in South America, beginning with explanatory narration by Burton set to a still montage culled from "The Exorcist," and followed by previously unused intro scenes of Burton ascending a rocky hill to a ramshackle house, where he's been summoned to exorcise Pazuzu (the possessive, unnamed demon from the first film) from a young girl blessed with healing powers.
Regrettably, the alternate endings aren't included, and some explanation of the diverse versions would have placed the film in its proper context. Excerpts from Ciment's "John Boorman" book (originally published by Faber & Faber) would have given viewers the chance to read the director's approach to the sequel, his creative choices, and understand the challenges he faced in tackling the sequel to a monster hit and facing the ensuing critical responses.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan