Exorcist II: The Heretic

Exorcist II: The Heretic

Exorcist II: The Heretic is a 1977 American horror film and the sequel to the 1973 film The Exorcist. It was directed by John Boorman who also co-wrote the screenplay with William Goodhart from an original story by Rospo Pallenberg. The author of the "The Exorcist", William Peter Blatty, was not involved in the production, and received credit only for creation of the characters.


Father Philip Lamont (Richard Burton), who is struggling with his faith, is assigned by the Cardinal (Paul Henreid) to investigate the death of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), who had been killed in the course of exorcising the Assyrian demon Pazuzu from Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). While Lamont, who's had some experience at exorcism, thinks of Merrin as a saint, he is actually up on posthumous heresy charges. Some Church authorities are not sure the exorcism should have been performed (even though it was officially approved by the local Bishop). Merrin’s writings are considered very controversial. Apparently, Church authorities are trying to modernize and do not want to acknowledge that Satan (in terms of an actual evil entity) exists.

Although now seemingly normal and staying with guardian Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn) while her mother is on location, Regan continues to be monitored at a psychiatric institute by Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher). She claims she remembers nothing, but Tuskin believes her memories are only buried or repressed. In an attempt to plumb her memories of the exorcism, specifically the circumstances in which Merrin died, Dr. Tuskin has hypnotized the girl, to whom she is linked by a "synchronizer" -- apparently a kind of biofeedback device that is used by two people to synchronize their brainwaves. Tuskin finds herself telepathically "witnessing" Regan's memory of the event. She is attacked by Pazuzu and Father Lamont has to use the synchronizer to rescue her.

After a guided tour by Sharon of the Georgetown house where the exorcism took place (wherein Sharon confesses to leaving the MacNeils for two years before coming back, claiming she is never at ease unless she remains near Regan), Lamont returns to be coupled with Regan by synchronizer. The priest is spirited to the past by Pazuzu to observe Father Merrin exorcising a young boy, Kokumo (Joey Green), in Africa. Learning that the boy developed special powers to fight Pazuzu, who appears as a swarm of locusts, Lamont journeys to Africa, defying his superior, to seek help from the adult Kokumo (James Earl Jones).

Lamont learns that the reason Pazuzu attacks certain people is that those people all have some form of psychic healing ability. The exorcism he performed at the beginning of the film was for a South American lady who said she "healed the sick". Kokumo has since become a scientist, studying how to prevent locust swarms from attacking native crops. Regan, possibly taking a cue from her experience with the synchronizer, is able to reach telepathically inside the minds of others; she uses this to help an autistic girl to speak, for instance. Father Merrin belonged to a group of theologians who believed that psychic powers were a spiritual gift which would one day be shared by all humanity in a kind of global consciousness (akin to the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin, on whom Blatty originally based Merrin's character); he thought people like Kokumo and Regan were foreshadowers of this new type of humanity. In a vision, Merrin asks Lamont to watch over Regan.

For some reason, this necessitates Lamont and Regan returning to the old house in Georgetown where she was possessed. The pair are followed by Tuskin and Sharon, concerned about Regan's safety. En route, Pazuzu tempts Lamont (and apparently Sharon) by offering them unlimited power. Lamont resists and continues with his original plan. In the house, a swarm of locusts deluge the pair and the entire house begins to crumble around them. Pazuzu appears as a kind of tarted-up version of Regan herself, and Lamont has to resist this temptation as well -- by beating open its chest and pulling out its heart. Once he's done this, Regan banishes the locusts (and, one assumes, Pazuzu) by enacting the same ritual used by Kokumo to get rid of locusts in Africa. Outside the house, Sharon is apparently possessed by Pazuzu, but kills herself. Tuskin tells Lamont to watch over Regan and the pair leave; Tuskin remains at the house to answer police questions.

Production notes

Exorcist II: The Heretic, the much-anticipated sequel to one of the most financially successful films in Hollywood history was the most expensive film produced by Warner Bros. at the time.

The film ended up becoming one of the most notorious commercial failures ever released. Because reports indicated that the film inspired audience laughter at its premiere, prints were hastily pulled from release and quickly recut by Boorman in an attempt to make the film's narrative more comprehensible. The revised version fared no better (some critics commented that Boorman's restructuring made the film even more incoherent) and was the only version of the film available for many years, until the release on videocassette of the original cut in the early 1990s.

Years later, Boorman commented on the film's re-editing: “The sin I committed was not giving the audience what it wanted in terms of horror…There’s this wild beast out there which is the audience. I created this arena and I just didn’t throw enough Christians into it. People think of cutting and re-cutting as defeat, but it isn’t. As Irving Thalberg said: ‘Films aren’t made, they’re remade.’”


Director Boorman contacted William O'Malley to reprise his role as Father Dyer from the first film; however, O'Malley was busy and could not take up the part, the character of Father Dyer was changed to Father Lamont.

Jon Voight, David Carradine, Jack Nicholson and Christopher Walken all were considered or offered the part of Father Lamont, who John Boorman initially conceived as a younger priest in awe of Father Merrin's writings. Voight agreed to sign on, but later dropped out over script concerns. David Carradine was locked in a financial dispute with his television show Kung Fu, and Jack Nicholson's salary was deemed too high. Eventually the choice was made to age the character, and Richard Burton was signed for the role. Linda Blair claims Burton was charming and likable on-set, but drank heavily the longer the shoot went on.

The role of Dr. Tuskin was originally written for a man, with Chris Sarandon and George Segal both considered. When the gender of the character was changed, both Ann-Margret and Jane Fonda were under consideration.

Originally, the script had a major role for Lee J. Cobb's character of "Lieutenant Kinderman" from the first film, but upon his death the story was reworked. The script for The Heretic apparently bore no resemblance to William Peter Blatty's Legion, which was later made into The Exorcist III and featured Lieutenant Kinderman (then played by George C. Scott) in a starring role.

Kitty Winn signed on to reprise the role of Sharon Spencer after Ellen Burstyn flatly refused to return as Chris MacNeil.


While most reviewers were extremely unkind to the film, Pauline Kael greatly preferred Boorman's sequel to the original, writing in her review in The New Yorker that Exorcist II "had more visual magic than a dozen movies." Since Exorcist II's initial release, some notable critics and directors have praised the film. Kim Newman wrote in Nightmare Movies (1988) that "it doesn't work in all sorts of ways ... However, like Ennio Morricone's mix of tribal and liturgical music, it does manage to be very interesting." Director Martin Scorsese asserted, "The picture asks: Does great goodness bring upon itself great evil? This goes back to the Book of Job; it's God testing the good. In this sense, Regan (Linda Blair) is a modern-day saint — like Ingrid Bergman in Europa '51, and in a way, like Charlie in Mean Streets. I like the first Exorcist, because of the Catholic guilt I have, and because it scared the hell out of me; but The Heretic surpasses it. Maybe Boorman failed to execute the material, but the movie still deserved better than it got."

The film reportedly damaged Blair's career, who went from being one of Hollywood's hottest young actresses to being relegated to low-budget exploitation films. Boorman recovered from the film's financial failure with the successful Excalibur a few years later, and the Exorcist series would eventually get a more conventional, audience-friendly sequel The Exorcist III (1990), adapted by William Peter Blatty from his own novel Legion.

Bob McCabe's The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows (Omnibus Press, 1999) contains a chapter on Exorcist II: The Heretic in which William Peter Blatty, William Friedkin and Linda Blair noted their negative responses to the sequel:

  • William Peter Blatty: “Amazingly bad. Extraordinarily bad, if I remember...My favourite bit was when the cab driver gets out and runs over to Kitty Winn, and she’s an ember, she’s charred, her car has been burned to a crisp and she has also, and he says ‘Are you alright?’ I couldn’t believe it...You know they rioted in the theatre where Exorcist II opened in Westwood...They ripped the box office out of the ground; they tore the place apart. And Boorman, according to the reports, looked around and said ‘Well, the film is obviously too good for them.” At the time, I remember John Boorman saying ‘I've redubbed everything. I’ve improved the performances one hundred percent.’ I thought the performances were appalling. And that dialogue and that situation – ‘I've flown this route before, on the wings of a locust’ – Jesus!”
  • Linda Blair: “It was a really good script at first. Then after everybody signed on they rewrote it five times and it ended up nothing like the same movie. That was one of the big disappointments of my career.”
  • William Friedkin: “I saw half an hour of it. I was at Technicolor and a guy said ‘We just finished a print of Exorcist II, do you wanna have a look at it?’ And I looked at half an hour of it and I thought it was as bad as seeing a traffic accident in the street. It was horrible. It’s just a stupid mess made by a dumb guy – John Boorman by name, somebody who should be nameless but in this case should be named. Scurrilous. A horrible picture.”

The alternate version

Shortly after its release the director re-cut "The Heretic" in response to poor audience reactions. The original, completely uncut release is now available on DVD. However in the 80's the more popular re-edit of Boorman's movie was released on VHS with the following differences to the original cut:

  • A faster reworking of the opening theme is featured, with a base rhythm similar to that in Richard Burton's stoning scene.
  • An introduction with narration by Burton and stills from both movies is shown; a shot of Burton climbing the steps to the chapel in the opening exorcism scene is added as well.
  • In that opening scene, Burton's momentary prayer to Father Merrin and the touching of Merrin's picture is cut out.
  • Generally, scenes are switched about so that all of those at the Institute are together and those with Burton alone are together. This is probably because they realized that the first two scenes at the Institute feature everyone wearing the same clothing, even though the original cut indicated that they took place days apart.
  • The first scene with Linda Blair practicing her tap-dancing is cut out.
  • Just about all of the first conversation between Burton and the Cardinal is cut out; only the very beginning and ending are shown.
  • During the hypnosis scene, Burton’s line of “I know where she is” in reference to the palpitating Fletcher is cut out, since the next thing he says is “help me to find her”.
  • Instances in which Burton voices his fascination with the demon Pazuzu are cut out: his line of “horrible…and fascinating” is cut to just “horrible”, and a later conversation with Louise Fletcher is cut short also, with Fletcher's line “You're obsessed with the idea” dubbed over the original “How about adulation?” as she storms away.
  • More voice-overs of “We're going flying” and such are added to Blair's dream about Africa as she wanders to the edge of the roof.
  • A couple of lines are edited out of the scene where Blair talks with the autistic girl and the girl's mother walks into the room.
  • The Communion scene in the mountaintop church is almost entirely cut out, as is part of Burton’s explanation for knowing the location of the missing body a few minutes later.
  • Lots of snippets are cut out near the end: Fletcher playing with her children in the bathtub, Kitty Winn whispering “stupid bitch” under her breath, Burton telling the conductor “She is mine!”, Winn and Fletcher stopping to help the injured man in the car crash, Winn telling the cab driver “Someone is dying”, Burton telling the bus driver to go because Blair has to get home, and a couple others.
  • Blair’s line of “Let me reach you” to Burton as he is slumped in the hallway is dubbed out.
  • Stock footage of Blair from the first film is spliced in as she enters her old room.
  • The “be joined with us, Father” bit is cut out entirely, dubbed over with the later “Kill her” line instead.
  • The final three or so scenes are mixed around a bit differently, perhaps to cover up deleted lines. As a result, we don’t see Fletcher running around in the street yelling “Help!” or trying to get Winn out of the fire.
  • The very end is totally different: Burton apparently doesn’t survive, and the shot with the roof falling in is mixed with a recording of him yelling “REGAN!”. Thus, the entire last scene is removed in which Winn finally dies and Fletcher says goodbye to Burton and Blair. Instead, after the locusts disappear, we see a shot of Regan walking out of the rubble, another of Fletcher standing in a crowd of onlookers (originally the last shot of the movie), a cut back to a close-up of Blair, and then a fade to the credits.
  • Lastly, the slow theme played during the ending credits is replaced halfway through with a rock version of the opening theme, which was used for the original theatrical trailer.


Exorcist II: The Heretic contains inconsistensies from the first movie, The Exorcist. The Church appears to be posthumously indicting Father Merrin on charges of heresy for performing Regan's exorcism yet in the first movie, not only did the Church officially approve the exorcism, they specifically selected Merrin to perform it.

Also, throughout Exorcist II, Father Merrin is frequently mentioned by the characters as having saved Regan, yet no mention is made of Father Karras, who in fact did save Regan.

One of the key elements of Exorcist II: The Heretic is Father Merrin's exorcism of a young boy named "Kokumo" in Africa. This exorcism is first referenced in the original film The Exorcist, and actually illustrated with flashbacks in Exorcist II: The Heretic. Although this same exorcism becomes the central plot line for the most recent Exorcist movies Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Exorcist: The Beginning, little effort was made to keep the stories consistent.

The chapel scenes were cleary filmed in Ethiopia and the priests can be heard speaking Amharic. The setting resembles almost exactly the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and appears to be set in the northern province of Tigray where rock churches are well known. However when father Merrin searches for Kokumo in the village, he is given directions in French.


Other sources

  • The Making of Exorcist II: The Heretic. By Barbara Pallenberg. New York City, Warner Books, 1977.
  • The Exorcist: Out of the shadows - the full story of the film. Bob McCabe, London, Omnibus Press, 1999.

External links

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