Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Day of the Locust

There are few things in life can imbue me with unadulterated joy that comes from watching a big budget movie that goes completely off the rails. Films that are so fantastically off, so absolutely ludicrous, so wrong in every way, that I have no choice but to love them until the day I die.

In the years following her possession by the demon, Pazzuzu, Linda Blair has been eating her feelings in a major way. She tries to stay on top of her figure by performing in musical numbers at her private school, but she's fighting a losing battle. Her famous mother, Ellen Burstyn, has left her to live with the nanny, Sharon, in a fabulous Manhattan penthouse. Ellen feels a bit guilty for abandoning Reagan so she pays for her to see the finest therapist in town, Nurse Ratched. Things are going well. Nurse Ratched works in a state-of-the-art underground facility specializing in autistic and mentally retarded children (the real evil) where everything is shaped like hexagons and the doors open themselves like the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701D. Then Richard Burton comes along, drunk on arrival. He’s a priest who wants to clear Father Marron’s name; it looks like saving a girl in Georgetown from a demonic possession that leads to your death has the other priests a little spooked and they're calling Father Marron a heretic. That’s organized religion for you! Richard only speaks in rhetoric and old testament quotes. He even looks directly into the camera from time to time to make sure that we understand just how important all this is. This, my friends, is The Exorcist II: the Heretic!

Reagan is magic this time around. She can commune with locusts and she can heal the sick, she’s teaching herself how to fly - but, wait. There’s suddenly another movie happening! Richard Burton is in Africa and speaking french, there is postulating involved and black people try to stone him to death, Reagan falls during her big tap number, Ned Beatty is driving a plane… it’s very confusing!

In 1973, The Exorcist defined verisimilitude in horror and showed us just how powerful good story telling could be. The entire nation fell under its spell. After making a huge profit for Warners, the powers-that-be scrambled to get a sequel into production. While the first film relished in a coherent narrative and naturalistic, emotionally driven performances, The Exorcist II: the Heretic went in a decidedly different direction. John Boorman made Deliverance for Warners in 1972, a small film that was audacious and unexpectedly scary. Why not give him the reigns to The Exorcist sequel (after Kubrick passed)? On paper it was foolproof: they got Richard Burton and Louise Fletcher for gravitas, Linda Blair was contractually bound to partake and, even though Ellen Burstyn wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole, Kitty Winn was available! Something went terribly wrong. Catwoman wrong.

What makes this incoherent mess of a film so much fun is the performance of Kitty Winn. She was thanklessly at Ellen Burstyn’s side as Sharon in The Exorcist, but she is front and center this time around. Sharon clearly hates Reagan. She ran away and stayed gone for two years, but what happened in the first film was so fucked up that the only time she can relax is when she’s near Reagan. Even now, whenever she opens a door, there’s a look of pure dread on Kitty’s face – clearly expecting it to all happen again. Apparently no one told Kitty that this wasn't a real movie and she's acting her ass off, she even wears a turban and shows her boobs. Oscar! Sharon has the only character arc to be found in the Exorcist II: the Heretic - it’s tragic, it’s over the top and she relishes every single moment of it!

The finished film is a camp classic upon which I am bestowing the gay-stamp of approval! In my opinion, the loss of Mercedes McCambridge was its fatal flaw. Her demon voice is a big part of what made The Exorcist so scary. In The Exorcist II: the Heretic, the demon sounds ridiculous - like when a little girl is running around the kitchen pretending to be a wicked witch. Louise Fletcher went all kinds of method in researching her role as psychotherapist and took far too many pills. To call her line delivery monotonous wouldn’t do it justice, she’s phoning this movie in from her dining room with her Oscar firmly clutched her the other hand. Did I mention the fact that James Earl Jones is dressed like a giant locust?

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