Although disturbed by an exorcism he has recently conducted in South America, Father Lamont (Richard Burton) agrees to investigate the death of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), who was himself killed during the exorcism of a young girl, Regan (Linda Blair). Teenage Regan now attends a school for mentally ill or mentally disabled children, but when Lamont arrives to meet her, he realises that the demon who once possessed her is not finished with her yet...
How do you follow up one of the most successful horror movies of all time? Why, with one of the biggest disasters, of course. This painfully pretentious sequel was scripted by William Goodhart, and was greeted with such derision that it was re-edited and re-released, but the damage was done. Although a favourite of Golden Turkey fans everywhere, it's not the laugh riot you might expect, being essentially too thoughtful in its approach, in spite of its excesses, to be a camp classic.
That's not to say you can't amuse yourself by making fun of it as it struggles with its philosophical musings. Unlike the original, which effectively combined theological conflicts with sensational set pieces, Exorcist II tries to marry Christian worries about good and evil to vague renderings of traditional African religion without doing justice to either. We're ostensibly given a war between God and the Devil, taking in science versus the supernatural for good measure, but by the end of it you'll most likely be thinking, "Huh?"
The casting doesn't help. Linda Blair is too sunny in her disposition to be believable as any kind of spiritual battleground - "I was possessed by a demon," she beams, "but I'm fine now!" Richard Burton is simply a miserable presence, often staring into space or muttering portentous dialogue so that you end up feeling pretty sorry for him by the end.
However, if The Exorcist II fails, it's not through want of trying. There are some genuinely dreamlike, studio-bound flashbacks featuring Von Sydow, and William A. Fraker's washed-out cinematography can be quite striking, with some good photographic tricks and intricate model work. And they're so pleased with the insect photography the filmmakers take every opportunity to use it.
Ah yes, those locusts - heavy symbolism for rampant evil. It turns out Regan is apparently a "good locust", a kind of neutralising force for a coming plague of Satan's hordes. As far as I could work out anyway, with the distractions of an extended use of the hypnosis machine and an ill-advised tap dancing number, it's difficult to tell what it's all about.
Which version will you see? Will it be the one where Lamont lives or dies? Or the one with moody, wailing music from Ennio Morricone, or the one with his over the top disco stylings? Not knowing will add some suspense to the film, at least. Wouldn't it have been easier to build that temple at the bottom of the cliff? Followed by the rather more satisfying Exorcist III over a decade later, then two failed tries at a prequel.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.