1977 Movie Review: EXORCIST II THE HERETIC, 1977

  MOVIE POSTEREXORCIST II THE HERETIC, 1977 
Movie Reviews

Director: John Boorman

Stars: Richard Burton, Linda Blair, Louise Fletcher

Review by Mark Engberg

SYNOPSIS:

A girl once possessed by a demon finds that it still lurks within her. Meanwhile, a priest investigates the death of the girl’s exorcist.

MOVIE REVIEW:

During our podcast discussion regarding the best horror films of all time, WILDsound founder Matthew Toffolo asked me a brilliant question: what defines a horror movie?

Cheating an answer out of Wikipedia, I said that a horror movie tries to evoke a negative reaction from the audience by playing on their primal fears and anxieties. So, here is a follow-up question: what makes a bad horror movie?

Is it bad acting? Like any other genre, bad acting in a horror feature can certainly damage its integrity. But it seems unfair to blame a movie’s appeal based solely on the acting abilities, or lack thereof, of its principle stars. Besides, if you were going to condemn a horror movie for its unbelievable acting, the list of bad ones would be endless.

Is it bad because of its unbelievability? That hardly seems the case. A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play are among some of the most beloved and successful horror films released in the past twenty-five years. And you would be hard pressed to explain that the premise for either franchise is in any way plausible.

Or does it only appear bad based on its low budget? I can’t go with that one either. Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Blair Witch Project are two of my favorite horror films of all time. The production team behind Henry spent about $110 grand on its budget, while The Blair Witch spent about half of that amount.

It can be inferred that a bad horror film fails to elicit a reaction from the audience by playing on their own emotions. In other words, it is boring.

And if Exorcist II: The Heretic were merely a boring picture, I could still look past its narrative shortcomings and acknowledge that sequels rarely live up to their predecessors. But Boorman’s take on the story is an incomprehensible mish-mash of locust swarms and doppelgangers. The story loses so much focus in its final act, I thought I was possessed by a demon spirit myself because all I wanted to do was vomit green bile all over the place.

Richard Burton and Linda Blair seem to be playing a game as to who can do the worst acting throughout the picture. Burton constantly undercuts his Father Lamont with sad, motionless expressions that convey nothing. Blair might as well be doing a spot for an Informercial reenactment.

She herself blames the flawed story structure on the fact that it went through too many rewrites due to creative differences between Boorman and screenwriter William Goodhart. Eventually, Goodhart was replaced by Rospo Pallenberg, who rewrote the script with Boorman. Even though I never read Goodhart’s original script, I feel bad for the playwright, who must have endured a lifetime of harsh criticism for something he did not write.

The production crew had its own set of problems. Burton, allegedly, started drinking again. Boorman contracted a respiratory fungal infection, which offset production for a costly month. Blair refused to wear the demon make-up this time, which meant that her demon scenes had to be performed by a double. The animal wranglers had trouble with the grasshoppers they needed for the ridiculous locust scenes. The City of Washington DC denied the crew permission to film at the famous staircase in Georgetown.

The entire filmed seemed doomed from its inception. Even one of the producers, Richard Lederer, admits in Bob McCabe’s book The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows that the sequel was conceived as a low-budget rehash of the original, using deleted scenes from the original to give audiences something new.

When the film opened, it was laughed off the screen by crowds who were probably initially intimidated when the lights first dimmed. In fact, Boorman yanked the film out of theaters and attempted numerous re-cuts and alternate endings to no avail. When there is so much wrong with your picture, there is only so much you can do.

The plot is a dull concept regarding Burton’s Father Lamont and his assignment to investigate the death of Father Merrin (once again played by the great Max von Sydow). When Lamont visits the tormented yet oblivious Regan MacNeil at a NYC psychiatric institute, the plot quickly sinks into absurdity. They experience synchronized hypnosis together using a pair of wires and headbands when Lamont discovers an unquiet spirit still residing within Regan.

The rest of the movie mostly consists of terrible looking sets of African tribes that were filmed at the Warner Bros’ backlot. Lamont has delusions and unintentionally hilarious visions of James Earl Jones in a locust costume. But the most troubling aspect comes at the end, when Father Lamont confronts the evil Pazuzu spirit dwelling within Regan’s body . . . even though she is standing behind him. I don’t understand why there were two Regans in the final act. More importantly, I didn’t care. I just wanted it to end.

For those looking for some of the old metaphysical and supernatural nerve of the original, be advised to skip this entry and check out The Exorcist III: Legion instead. That movie was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original novel. It goes without saying that he is thankful for having nothing to do with this absurd chapter. Wisely, he chose to ignore its subject matter in his own feature.

ACTORJohn Boorman
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORLinda Blair
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORRichard Burton
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORLouise Fletcher
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORMax von Sydow
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORKitty Winn
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORPaul Henreid
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORJames Earl Jones
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORNed Beatty
Best of the ARTIST

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1967 Movie Review: POINT BLANK, 1967


POINT BLANK, 1967
Movie Reviews

Directed by John Boorman
Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O’Connor
Review by John Corcoran 

SYNOPSIS:

Later remade as PAYBACK, POINT BLANK follows an angry Lee Marvin through Angie Dickinson and most of California to get to John Vernon, who is defenestrated nude. The ostensible plot is the old saw of betrayal and vengeance, given life here by new-wave editing and pretty good acting.

 

REVIEW:

Lee Marvin was one of the premier Hollywood “tough guys” of the Sixties and Seventies. As the studio system faded into memory and the American popular consciousness became more jaded at large. He embodied the perfect transition from the John Wayne archetype of masculine power to the more conflicted figures on the screen today. Unfortunately, as time has passed, Marvin is increasingly remembered only as an outdated “action star.” This is a disservice to an actor who could provide remarkably layered performances, none more so than in Point Blank.

In Point Blank, Lee Marvin plays a thief known only as Walker (no indication is given whether that’s a first or last name). After hijacking a money shipment from a mysterious crime ring called The Organization at Alcatraz, Walker is betrayed by his partner Reese (a loathsome John Vernon) and his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker). A man convinces Walker to get his share of the heist and avenge his betrayal by Reese who now works for The Organization. Along the way Walker has a romance with his wife’s sister (Angie Dickinson).

Director John Boorman provides more nuance than the usual crime movie trappings. The film begins with Walker’s lowest moment as he is left for dead in a cell at the abandoned Alcatraz prison, trying to piece together what has happened, an opening that has influenced countless revenge films. Boorman maintains the free movement between past and present throughout the film, providing both a glimpse into Walker’s motivations and an existentialist quality to his quest. Boorman also transitions sharply from calm to sudden moments of violence so that the action sequences do not become routine. In fact, the great achievement of Boorman’s direction is to use the action to inform our understanding of the characters rather than merely breaking from the plot for a “set piece.”

Boorman uses the natural light of Los Angeles with to accentuate the bleakness of the film. At first glance, so many scenes in the glaring sun seem out of place in a film noir, which, as its name implies, relies on darker setting. But Point Blank definitively signals that moral ambiguity is no longer limited to coming out at night. Just as the code that demanded that villains be punished in Hollywood movies died, now outfits like The Organization can hide in plain sight. In the world of Los Angeles, where everything seems so obvious but in reality is an illusion, the sunlight can be as mysterious as the cover of darkness.

Point Blank also draws a connection between The Organization and the modern corporation. In most films, heroes are thwarted in their goals by the maliciousness of the antagonist. While there is certainly some of that here, Walker is equally frustrated by sheer logistics. Indeed, some of The Organization leaders (including a scene-stealing supporting role by Carroll O’Connor) are more than willing to pay Walker his share of the heist but their hands are tied because they are too far removed from day to day operations. These scenes are darkly comic, and anyone who has had trouble getting a refund from a major corporation can sympathize with Walker’s plight.

The real gem though is Marvin’s performance. While all the requisite fight scenes are there (including one that will make any male in the audience wince), it is the moments of silence in which Marvin has the greatest impact. There is no joy in his quest for revenge. His isolation drives the film, and Marvin plays a weariness that permeates even the action sequences and the ambiguous relationship with his wife’s sister. Walker is a solitary man living under his own code, and he realizes that he is out of place in the world of The Organization, with its hierarchies and procedures. Ultimately, he can only exist in the shadows.

Hollywood, never able to leave a good thing alone, remade Point Blank as Payback, starring Mel Gibson in 1999. Of course, the melancholy and social criticism of the original was deemed too dark for audiences, and so it became a by the numbers action flick. But Point Blank still should be required viewing for aspiring action directors and actors. In every genre – perhaps even more so in those that are familiar – there is an opportunity to challenge the audience.

 

POINT BLANK