AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
Strikes Back /
The Reel World /
It’s A Disaster! /
Etc., Etc., Etc.... /
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EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)
|”Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon locked within her!”|
Director: John Boorman
Starring: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, James Earl Jones, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, Ned Beatty, Belinha Beatty, Rose Portillo
Screenplay: William Goodhart, John Boorman (uncredited) and Rospo Pallenberg (uncredited)
Synopsis: Father Philip Lamont (Richard Burton) prays to the spirit of Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) before attempting to exorcise a young Mexican woman. Splashed with holy water, the woman screams and tears herself free of those holding her, then knocks over some nearby candles. As Lamont watches in horror, the woman’s dress catches fire and she is burned to death, smiling all the while…. In New York, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) rehearses for her school dance recital before attending a therapy session at the Institute run by Dr Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher). Regan tells Dr Tuskin that the sessions are a waste of time, that she attends them purely because her mother wishes it. Feeling that Regan is hiding something, Dr Tuskin questions her about “that time in Washington”, but Regan insists she remembers nothing except being ill. Dr Tuskin suggests a new form of therapy: the use of a device called the Sychroniser, which will allow the two of them to be jointly hypnotised, and to explore Regan’s subconscious together. Regan baulks at the idea. At the Vatican, Father Lamont is summoned into the presence of Cardinal Jaros (Paul Henreid), who tells him that Father Merrin’s reputation within the Church is under fire, and that it is up to him, Lamont, to investigate the circumstances of Regan’s exorcism, in order to clear his mentor’s name. Lamont insists that he is unworthy of the assignment, that these days he can see only evil in the world; but Jaros orders him sternly to make himself worthy. Lamont travels to New York to speak to Dr Tuskin about Regan. Dr Tuskin tells him that if Regan’s repressed memories of her exorcism are brought to the surface, the girl’s feelings of guilt might have disastrous consequences. At that moment, Regan enters the room, telling Dr Tuskin that she would like to try the Synchroniser after all, and inviting Lamont to stay for the session. Dr Tuskin reluctantly agrees. Both she and Regan don the headsets that are attached to the device, and first Regan, then the doctor, enters a state of deep hypnosis. Dr Tuskin’s assistant, Liz (Belinha Beatty), asks her if she can see Regan’s room in Washington, and asks Regan if she remembers Father Merrin. Receiving affirmative answers, she then hands the questioning to Lamont. Lamont begins to ask Regan about Merrin, but suddenly Dr Tuskin gasps and moans. Liz brings Regan out of hypnosis, but is unable to recall the doctor. Lamont grabs Regan’s discarded headset and demands to be put under. Liz complies, and suddenly Lamont has an astonishing vision of Merrin’s death at the hands of the possessed girl. Then, as the priest looks on in horror, Regan and her unclean counterpart begin a strange, spiritual tussle for the life of Dr Tuskin….
Comments: The 4th of August 2002 should be marked in the diaries of all Bad Movie fans, and kept holy in perpetuity; for it was this glorious day that saw the simultaneous DVD release of two of the all-time great Bad Movies: The Swarm and Exorcist II: The Heretic. (It also saw the release of Them!, but heaven forbid I should mention that film in the same breath as the other two.) The Saturday night after I received my precious package in the mail, I settled in to watch my new copy of The Swarm, and---well, let’s just say that it was all that I remembered. And then I popped my copy of The Heretic into the DVD player.
I want to be quite clear about this: I had no intention at that time of watching the film all the way through. It was late, and I had feasted upon Irwin Allen’s bee opus until I had achieved Bad Movie satiety; but I had only before seen The Heretic via a dupe of a very poor video copy, and I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to have one clear look at the One, the True, the Original Nut O’ Fun© before I went to bed.
"Are you there, God? It's me, Dick...."
And so I started to watch The Heretic….and having done so, I was caught, trapped, powerless to tear myself away from it – or even to look away. You don’t merely watch this film – you’re swallowed up by it. It is mesmeric. You sit there staring at it, unblinking, your jaw dragging helplessly along the ground; unable to believe what you’re seeing, and wholly incapable of anticipating what you might see next. The Heretic is, in short, an astonishing cinematic experience – but not, alas, in quite the way that John Boorman intended….
Now, at this point, I feel I need to say why I consider The Heretic to be a Great Bad Movie, because I don’t think it’s for exactly the same reasons that a number of my colleagues do; and I also, believe it or not, feel compelled to say a few words in defence of John Boorman. Whatever you think of him, Boorman at least has the nerve to take risks; to make the films he wants to make – which are, generally, both intensely personal and wildly inventive. When he succeeds in his aims, he can be brilliant; when he fails, he fails to a similar extreme. It is a common practice for the works of Boorman, and of other film-makers of his ilk, to be sneeringly dismissed as “arty”, “pretentious” or “self-indulgent”. I, however, take the opposing view. I like ambitious, imaginative films; those that reflect the film-maker’s own vision; those that are, yes, “arty” and “pretentious”, if you want to put it that way.
(How tolerant am I of this kind of cinema? Let me put it this way: I can find some positive things to say about Zardoz.)
In these days of unending re-makes and “re-imaginings”; of sequels and prequels and spin-offs; of absolutely relentless cinematic regurgitation, I would much rather watch an attempt to do something original than something I’ve seen a hundred times before under a hundred different names – even if, in the end, that attempt trips over its own aspirations and falls flat on its face – as is the case with The Heretic.
"WHAT was I thinking!?"
I know many people who hate this film with a passion, but I find that I have conceived a thoroughly perverted affection for it. With its soaring ambition and its utter, dismal failure, The Heretic is a Bad Movie that I can picture myself having a long and passionate relationship with, and digging out of my collection at very regular intervals to watch all over again; perhaps every Christmas, the way some people watch It’s A Wonderful Life….
So if it’s not The Heretic’s pretensions that are the problem, why is it so bad? Well, there are a number of minor shortcomings: the score (Ennio, how could you!), some of the set design, and Linda Blair’s wardrobe, to name three. But the film could have survived these. What’s really wrong is a three-headed monster.
Firstly, the screenplay. William Goodhart takes sole credit [sic.], but in fact he and The Heretic parted company fairly early in pre-production, with John Boorman and his “Creative Associate” Rospo Pallenberg taking control of the script. (This is Pallenberg’s second appearance on this site: he would later direct the awful Brad Pitt slasher, Cutting Class.) So, although Goodhart may have been responsible for some of the film’s more risible flights of fancy, final control of the project was Boorman’s, and he must bear the blame.
While some of the directions in which the script goes are, say we say, unwise, the real problem is the dialogue – it is abysmal. There are lines in this film that are so bizarre, so idiotic, that you can only wonder that they ever survived the re-writing process, and wince in helpless sympathy for the poor actors asked to deliver them. I have a friend who insists that if you watch The Heretic with the sound turned down, it’s actually a very good film, and I can see his point: with the blending of William Fraker’s cinematography throughout, the location shooting, and some of the imagery, it is beautiful to look at; but turn up the volume, and the annoying score and the asinine dialogue combine to ruin any chance the viewer has of taking a purely aesthetic pleasure in the film.
"WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON MY AGENT - !!"
Problem number two is still more serious: it’s the acting, and in particular that of the film’s two stars. Now – I’m not going to rag on Linda Blair just because she grew up to be not much of an actress. She does her best in The Heretic – she tries very, very hard indeed – but she is utterly wrong for the part, both physically and artistically, and the film can’t survive it. Although frankly, I doubt if any actress could have made much of this role.
Richard Burton, on the other hand--- Oh, lordy, lordy, lordy….
While it’s true that Burton gave some great performances in his career, it’s also true that he delivered more than a few absolute stinkers, and this---this is one of the very worst. Burton careens through The Heretic as if he were suffering from some kind of weird acting bi-polar disease, alternating between a state of complete inexpressive immobility (accompanied by the shedding of copious amounts of sweat, as if it took a tremendous effort to keep him that immobile), and outbursts of manic overacting. Much of the film’s unintentional comedy stems from Burton’s performance – and as if that weren’t enough, it is he who gets to deliver most of the very worst lines of dialogue.
And finally we have John Boorman himself. Many of The Heretic’s flaws stem from the director’s all-too-evident desire to have his cake and eat it too. On record as having despised The Exorcist, Boorman nevertheless wanted to take advantage of that film’s huge audience to benefit his own production. At the same time, he clearly felt that those who liked the original film were wrong to do so.
When The Heretic was finally released and literally laughed off the screen, Boorman’s reaction was a bitter, “I guess I didn’t throw enough Christians to the lions” – implying that an audience that enjoyed a film full of puking and swearing was incapable of appreciating his lofty and spiritual work. In saying this, the director demonstrates a fatal misunderstanding of his film’s target audience. In the first place, there are many people (myself included) who happen to think that The Exorcist is a very good film - despite, not because of, the puking and swearing. These people tend to fall into two overlapping camps. There are those who love The Exorcist as a uniquely disturbing work; and there are those sincerely affected by the film’s spiritual aspects – the unambiguous conflict between Good and Evil, God and Satan.
"People will understand why I did the sequel, right?"
On neither of these levels does The Heretic succeed. In fact, it doesn’t even try. There is a distinct sense throughout that John Boorman wouldn’t be caught dead dirtying his hands with anything as vulgar as a mere horror movie. Ignorant of the fact that good horror can deal with the darkest and most serious aspects of the human condition in a way that “straight” films often cannot, Boorman was clearly determined to give the audience a profound and moving experience, not just a lot of cheap scares. Now, there is nothing, nothing more fatal than when a prestige director (or one who believes himself to be so) sets out to make something more than “just” a horror movie. Think John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy, Richard Attenborough’s Magic, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula--- The list goes on, the results almost invariably embarrassing, painful and/or insulting, their contempt for their perceived audience all too apparent.
The Heretic falls firmly, if not proudly, within this tradition. In its effort to “correct” the mistakes of The Exorcist, it deliberately and with malice aforethought craps all over it, taking every opportunity that offers to undermine its predecessor, and vitiate its power. One need only consider the film’s basic supposition: that the entity that once possessed Regan MacNeil is still within her, dormant; a premise that both invalidates the entire action of The Exorcist, and renders meaningless the dramatic and moving deaths of Lankester Merrin and, in particular, of poor Damien Karras.
And this brings us to something unintentionally interesting about The Heretic, and also to one of the main reasons for its ultimate failure. Above all else, one comes away from a viewing of this film with an overwhelming sense that John Boorman was acutely embarrassed by all that, you know, religious stuff in The Exorcist. So far as Christianity features in this film, it is really only there as a plot device.
(When I mentioned in my review of The Exorcist that most of the films that imitated it re-cast the Church in the role of the Bad Guy, this should have been at the head of the list.)
"Even Dick Smith can have an off day."
“God” and “Jesus” barely rate a mention in this film; in fact, most frequently, it is Lankester Merrin to whom the characters turn for spiritual guidance, sometimes even literally praying to him. I have no problem with The Heretic’s attempt to stand apart from its predecessor; to be its own film with its own goals. The more complex relationship between “Good” and “Evil” depicted here is actually rather interesting. Unfortunately, while the ideas are sound, the execution is confused in the extreme. “Muddled” doesn’t even begin to describe the film’s underlying philosophy. Whether the ideas themselves were not sufficiently thought through, or whether the film-makers’ ambitions simply outstripped their ability to express themselves, it’s difficult to say. The Heretic turns its back on The Exorcist’s straightforward religious underpinning, but is unable to find anything satisfactory to replace it with. Instead, it retreats into a ludicrous kind of all-purpose “spirituality”, feebly propped up with a laughable mixture of metaphysical gobbledygook, pseudo-philosophy and some staggeringly stupid science.
If John Boorman was hesitant to deal with The Man Upstairs in The Heretic, he was, amusingly enough, equally reluctant to bring The Man Downstairs into the proceedings. In The Exorcist, William Friedkin wisely refrained from naming the Being in possession of Regan MacNeil. Boorman had no such qualms, declaring it openly to be “Pazuzu”, an ancient Mesopotamian demon – the spirit of the south-west wind, a bringer of disease and death, plague and desolation. The name Pazuzu does in fact appear in the novel of The Exorcist; and while it is implied that this is who is possessing Regan, it is never said so openly.
(The Being variously declares itself to be “the devil”, and “quite a multitude” – or to put it another way, Legion.)
While Pazuzu is indeed a frightening figure in mythology, there is a fundamental problem with making him (it?) the up-front bad guy in a horror movie. No offence to any Mesopotamians out there, but “Pazuzu” simply isn’t a scary word; on the contrary, it’s kind of---well, silly. This isn’t such a problem on the printed page, where the mind can simply glance at the word and glance away again; but in what’s supposed to be an intense and profound motion picture experience, it is a very big problem indeed.
The Pazuzu Pucker.
If The Heretic is dealt a crippling blow by the first appearance of “the Synchroniser” (of which, more anon), it suffers its mortal wound upon the utterance of the line, “I am Pazuzu!” And when at the end of the film - among many other delights - we have a character shrieking “PAAAAZUUUUZUUUU!!!!” in a way that makes William Shatner’s delivery of the word “Khan” in Star Trek II seem subtle and restrained by comparison, The Heretic is finally sung to its rest with a loud chorus of helpless, irrepressible laughter.
Ah, well…. Enough of these ramblings. Time for Fun With Dick And John.
The Heretic opens with Father Philip Lamont entering a Spanish-speaking community, whereabouts undeclared. He opens his bible, sure enough, but prays not to God, but to a picture of Father Merrin – an early indicator that we’re in the presence of another doubting priest. Lamont is there to perform an exorcism. His target is a young woman seen being restrained by several others, and we can tell immediately that she is possessed, because she is displaying the kind of lip-speech co-ordination that would embarrass the dubbers of the early Godzilla movies.
Looking extremely uncomfortable – and sweating like a pig – Lamont splashes the woman with holy water. She screams, breaking free of her captors, and goes on a terrifying rampage. Or at least, knocks over a few candles. Her dress catches fire and she is swiftly engulfed in flames. The “crowd” presses back, preventing Lamont from going to the woman’s aid – or so we’re supposed to believe.
In fact, Lamont’s “effort” to force his way forward reminded me of nothing so much as the moment in The Adventures Of Robin Hood when Melville Cooper’s cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham stays safely behind a table as Errol Flynn does his stuff, all the while declaring, “Oh, if I could only get to him!” As Lamont looks on, sweating profusely, the woman’s “eerie” smile becomes a scream, and she rapidly burns up – something facilitated by the not-entirely-seamless insertion of a dummy in the actress’s place.
I trust the Vatican will be investigating this exorcism, too?
We then cut to New York City, to be re-introduced to Our Heroine, Regan MacNeil. This is an uncomfortable moment for most viewers (or so I would hope), since as Regan rehearses a tap-dancing routine, it is embarrassingly obvious that the seventeen-year-old Linda Blair is braless – and as it turns out, will be for most of the film.
What isn’t so obvious is the reason for this. We can give John Boorman the benefit of the doubt here, and conclude that this is supposed to indicate Regan’s “innocence”, her unawareness of her own maturation, physical as well as spiritual. Or, given events during the film’s closing stages, we can think that Boorman’s a dirty old man with borderline criminal tastes. It’s up to you. The tune to which Regan is dancing, by the way, is “Lullaby Of Broadway”. I promise you that by the time The Heretic is over, you’ll never listen to that piece of music in the same way again.
Our next stop is, um, “the Institute”, never named, where Dr Gene Tuskin is working with a deaf girl. (“Gene”, because the role was written for a man; but it’s an appropriate deployment of The Androgynous Name Rule.) The Institute is one of the film’s more unbelievable aspects - and yes, I did weigh the full implications of that statement. Its design consists of one large octagonal central room surrounded by numerous smaller octagonal rooms, all bathed in fluorescent light, and made almost entirely of glass. The Institute’s function is the treatment of physically, emotionally and developmentally disabled children, many of whom are seem romping around the corridors completely unsupervised.
I’ll just say this again, shall I? – the Institute houses emotionally disturbed and disabled children; its rooms are made almost entirely of glass….
But enough of potential danger to minors! For it is here, my friends, that we first see that wonderful and awe-inspiring object, the Nut O’ Fun©!
"What do you mean, no-one's looking at us anyway?"
Honestly---what the hell is that thing!? Alas, we may never know. All we can say for certain is that it possesses certain mystical powers; powers so great that not even Richard Burton at his most hilariously manic is capable of holding the viewer’s attention while it is wandering around in the background of a scene.
This four-foot-high, beige, octagonal object is first seen being rolled through the background of the scene where Regan comes in for her session with Dr Tuskin. Regan stops, looking thoughtfully through the glass at a young autistic girl who remains unresponsive as one of her fellow patients, unhindered by any of the staff, whomps her with a large plush toy. (The girl, Sandra, is played by Dana Plato, who in later years would get whomped by something more serious than a stuffed bear.) The camera cuts back and forth here, just so we get that this moment is “significant”.
Gene Tuskin then appears, and Regan’s session starts with her lying on a couch (sigh….); and at this point, it is forcibly borne upon the audience that the patients in this wonderful progressive Institute have no privacy whatsoever. Sorting through agonising personal business with your therapist? Feel like screaming, crying, tearing your hair? Well, go ahead – as long as you don’t mind an audience. If you do object to being gawked at while you’re baring your soul, you might want to consider going to an old-fashioned therapist – the kind with walls in their office.
Regan declares her sessions to be a waste of Dr Tuskin’s time, an opening gambit allowing her and Gene to indulge in a blatant exchange of expository dialogue. We learn that Regan is undergoing therapy at the insistence of her mother, who “feels guilty – the divorce, her career” – or in other words, exactly the same things she felt guilty about before her daughter’s demonic possession. Back then, Chris MacNeil was determined to give her daughter as normal a life as she could, and spend as much time with her as possible. So it does seem a tad unlikely, doesn’t it, that after Regan’s battle with evil, Chris would abandon her to the hired help?
"These sessions leave me feeling so exposed...."
(Of course, all of this is simply movie-speak for “Ellen Burstyn wouldn’t do the sequel”.)
Gene then questions Regan about “that time in Washington”, and Regan replies that she only remembers being ill. This is actually a moment of continuity between The Exorcist and The Heretic, so of course, it is immediately undermined: Gene expresses doubt that Regan is telling the whole truth. And here we get one of the film’s first attempts to posit Regan as some kind of “holy innocent”: she picks up a small sculpture of a white dove, and helpfully poses with it for the camera.
And then Gene produces “the Synchroniser”, and everything goes pear-shaped.
According to William Peter Blatty, this was the moment at which the previously respectful opening-night audience lost it with The Heretic, and began to laugh out loud. This device is a tall rectangular object, with two strobe lights on top, and two sets of wires leading away to two headbands which, we learn, encompass some EEG electrodes. Two people, in this case doctor and patient, can simultaneously enter a state of deep hypnosis, get “in synch” (or as I prefer to call it, ’NSync) with one another, and go tip-toeing through one another’s subconscious.
You know – attempting to define “religion” through “science” is at all times a tricky enterprise. But when you try to define it not just through ordinary, factual science, but utterly ludicrous and impossible pseudo-science – and then base your entire film on that premise--- And John Boorman couldn’t figure out why people were laughing….
(If nothing else, The Heretic has given me a whole new appreciation of John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness.)
Gene describes the Synchroniser as a device that, “The two of us can use together” in order to, “Feel very relaxed, very comfortable”. Just as we’re sniggering, then berating ourselves for having such pathetically dirty minds, Regan gives what can only be described as a lascivious grin and announces, “I don’t think you’re ready for it!”
It's not just me, is it?
And just to complete our feelings of discomfort, we cut from this vaguely distasteful scene directly to the Vatican, where our old friend, Father Lamont, has been summoned into the presence of Cardinal Jaros. In The Exorcist, the Catholic Church was depicted as open, approachable, resourceful, concerned; so naturally, here it is cold, remote, uncaring. Although Jaros and Lamont are old friends, the Cardinal maintains a chilly front until his underlings withdraw from the room. (In what may or may not be a piece of symbolism, they vanish through a door in a mural that prominently features a horse’s, uh, hindquarters.) He then greets Lamont warmly, at the same time demanding to know why he has refused to accept the task assigned him. Lamont mutters about being “not worthy”, a sentiment with which few who have watched this far (a whopping ten minutes) are likely to disagree. Jaros, expositing helpfully, then lays out the film’s other main premise, and it’s nearly as silly as the Synchroniser. Lamont is ordered to investigate the death of a priest during “that American exorcism”.
Okay, let’s think about this. Two priests died in The Exorcist. One was Lankester Merrin, an old and faithful servant of the Church and an experienced exorcist. Elderly and ill, the strain proved too much for him, and he suffered a fatal heart attack during the rite, with or without some assistance from the possessing spirit. On the other hand, Damien Karras, priest and psychiatrist, was a young man known to have suffered a crisis in his faith, and who had been relieved of a number of his duties as a result. He also died during the exorcism, committing suicide by hurling himself through the window of Regan MacNeil’s bedroom, with no witness except the girl herself, an amnesiac. So – which of these two deaths do you think Lamont is supposed to investigate?
Yup – Father Merrin’s.
We learn, to our astonishment (not to mention frank disbelief), that Merrin was of the opinion that “the power of evil threatens to overthrow the power of God Himself”; consequently, his writings have been impounded. “So they found a heresy to nail him to,” sneers Lamont.
"With you in this film, no-one will even notice how much I'm embarrassing myself!"
But worse is to come: there are those within the Church who believe that – gasp! – Merrin may have “died at the hands of the devil”.
Oh, my brethren – can I get a, “Well, duuuuhhhh”?
But even this isn’t silly enough. There are also “those” (understandably nameless) who further believe that Merrin “may have become a Satanist – at the end”. Oh, at the end? When he was dying at the hands of the devil, you mean? Yeah, I can see how that would work.
Jaros then wraps up this nonsense by encouraging Lamont to remember the true Merrin, the Merrin they loved, the Merrin they knew, the Merrin with a song in his heart. “How he inspired us, Philip!” To which Our Hero, who has continued to whine about his unworthiness through all this - no-one’s arguing, Phil - responds flatly, “We were young.”
(Given that Paul Henreid had about twenty years on Burton, and Max von Sydow only three, this statement borders on the surreal.)
Lamont further adds that these days, “I see only evil” – the final word being enunciated here, as it is throughout, as two very distinct syllables: eee-vil; and indeed, Burton’s clarity of diction in this film is in almost ludicrous contrast with his lackadaisical performance. Lamont then utters the u-word one more time, and Jaros finally loses his temper with him, ordering him to “make yourself worthy!”
And so we next see Lamont at the Institute. In another “art” moment, we see Regan seeing Lamont, while we only see his reflection in one of the numerous glass walls. This is another “It’s significant!” shot, as Regan takes on a wondering, “I don’t know him – and yet - !” expression.
Linda began to suspect that Dick wasn't giving it his all.
(The Nut O’ Fun© rolls by in the background.)
Lamont goes into conference with Gene, asking to question Regan about Merrin’s death. Gene is reluctant, and expresses the simply astonishing opinion that as far as Regan’s mental health is concerned, “The exorcism made the problem worse.”
Uh, excuse me? Made it worse!? Well – it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t Gene’s carpet that Regan was urinating on; or Gene’s designer wardrobe that Regan was puking all over; or Gene’s crucifix that Regan--- Well, never mind.
Gene goes on to remind those of us who haven’t been paying attention that three people died during “that time”. She believes that Regan has repressed her memory of it out of feelings of guilt, and that if forced to remember, the shock of recall could induce “self-punishment, even suicide”. Which is kind of ironic, since the initial diagnosis of Regan’s possession was also hysterical self-punishment.
This scene highlights the fact that the screenplay never bothers to establish just what Dr Tuskin thinks happened to Regan - or perhaps that the writers never made up their minds. If Gene accepts that she was possessed, why does she scoff at Lamont’s later theories about demons? If not, how does she think those “three people” died? Oh - and if Gene believes that Regan recalling what happened could drive her to suicide, what exactly is she attempting to achieve in their therapy sessions?
“You realise what you’re up against, don’t you?” Lamont counters. “EEE-vil!” Looking embarrassed, Gene corrects him in a soothing voice, “Mental illness – or if you prefer, the casualties of a diseased society.” Burton then has his first manic attack, as Lamont says emphatically, “EEE-vil is a spiritual being! Alive, living, perverted and perverting! Weaving its way insidiously into the very fabric of life!”
Before Gene can quite finish measuring Lamont for a leather couch with her eyes, Regan interrupts, telling Gene she’s changed her mind, and wants to try the Synchroniser after all. She then invites Lamont to sit in on the session, to which Gene agrees for no apparent reason.
The next morning, after Gene explains [sic.] that her new toy can “bring the two altered states into synchronisation”, she and Regan sit opposite one another, their headbands in place. With the help of the strobe lights, Gene hypnotises Regan, ordering her to “go deeper” and to “find her tone”. Regan responds by crossing her eyes and rolling them back in her head as far as she can.
(Pardon an interjection. When you watch as many films as I do, you often get these weird, memory-jogging, cross-movie moments. At this point in The Heretic, I suddenly went, “Wait a minute! What does that remind me of?” I remembered, a second later: Jill Whelan in Flying High! [aka Airplane!], thrashing around and pulling faces after her IV is yanked out by the oblivious Singing Stewardess, wickedly spoofing the tragic-yet-heroic little kidney transplant patient in Airport ’75; who was, of course, played by – Linda Blair.)
After some time spent on Regan being told to go “deeper, deeper” and to “lower your tone”, it’s Genes turn, and we go through the whole rigmarole again (including the eye-crossing). When “the tone” has been “lowered” enough [*cough*], Gene’s assistant, Liz, questions the two, establishing that Regan remembers when Merrin came to her room in Washington, and that Gene can see Regan’s room (!). She then hands things over to Lamont, who asks Regan about Merrin: “Is he casting out the unclean spirit?” However, when he asks Regan what she was doing, Gene suddenly starts to gasp and moan. Liz bends over and listens briefly at her chest, announcing, “Her heart! It’s fibrillating!” She then brings Regan out of her trance, ordering her to remember nothing, but is unable to reach Gene.
Okay, we’re at a medical institute, and we’re having a medical crisis. Do we: (a) call a doctor? (b) call the paramedics? (c) wheel in a set of defibrillator paddles? Or (d) stand around doing nothing while an inexperienced layperson starts fooling with an experimental hypnotherapy device? If you selected (d), you’re as smart as the screenwriters of The Heretic.
The price of fame.
Sure enough, Father Lamont leaps into Regan’s seat and grabs the headset. “I know where she is! Help me to reach her!” he thunders, and as Regan stands with Gene, one arm around her shoulders and her hand resting familiarly (and unwisely) over her heart, we go through the rigmarole for a third time. And having “lowered his tone” sufficiently, Lamont has a vision….of the final confrontation between Father Merrin and the Being within Regan; something which (again very wisely) William Friedkin kept offscreen.
I think all I can do here is describe what happens next. It pretty much speaks for itself. I’ll merely add that while both Max von Sydow and a reasonable replica of Regan’s bedroom are present, everything else is a second-rate imitation. For one thing, all too obviously, it isn’t Linda Blair under the make-up – nor anyone remotely resembling her - and most sloppily of all, it’s someone the same age as she is now, not back then. As it happens, Blair loftily refused to go through the make-up process again, thoroughly enjoying the fact that her increased status meant she was in a position to do so.
(Amusing to reflect that by the time 1990’s Repossessed rolled around, she’d come off her high horse with a resounding thud.)
The second thing we notice is that Mercedes McCambridge has also taken a hike, with Possessed Regan reduced to uttering ludicrous “Rah! I’m a monsta! Rah!” noises. One can only pity Max von Sydow, asked to keel over in the face of such a pathetic apparition.
Okay. Let's see if we can make anything resembling sense out of this.
I don't think I have anything to add here.
Gene comes out of it, and is greeted with the embarrassing news that, “Father Lamont had to go ’NSync to contact you!” She confirms that she remembers nothing, and asks Regan whether she does. “No,” replies Regan, after a moment of Significant Hesitation. The shaken Gene leads Regan away, then returns to ask Lamont if he saw what he wanted to?
And it was here, in this lovely clear widescreen DVD print that I first learned that – there are two Nuts O’ Fun©!! Well - either that, or amongst its many other sterling qualities, the Nut O’ Fun© is a Mood Nut O’ Fun©, able to diagnose the condition of whoever touches it; in which case, I’d steer well clear of the kid who’s playing with it when it turns bright red.
Back to the far less interesting Lamont, who utters, “EEE-vil is growing. Father Merrin was killed!” Well, if you say so; looked like a normal heart attack to me. Gene gives a little chuckle and objects, “By Regan?” – again raising the question of what she does think happened in Washington. “She didn’t. It did,” clarifies Lamont. “It was horrible, utterly horrible.” He pauses for a beat, then adds ominously, “And fascinating.” I’m sure at this point the audience was meant to cry out, “Oh, no! He’s being seduced by The Dark Side!” but instead it’s probably contemplating Lamont’s remarkable ability to make “fascinating” sound like “dull as dishwater”.
Gene points out that little is known about “synchronised hypnosis” (I’ll say!), arguing that what Lamont saw could have been, “A dream, a fantasy, a hallucination.” Lamont starts frothing at the mouth, and Gene backs away, claiming she has to “do her rounds”. Since she’s the only doctor we’ve so far seen at the Institute, yes, so I’d imagine.
Earlier, we saw Regan with a small group of young patients, offering to draw them a picture – “a face”. Liz now comes up to Lamont and offers him the drawing that Regan just did (even though it was meant for the kids). We see a [*ahem*] stylised picture of a person, sex indeterminate, backed by red geometric shapes. “What is it?” queries Lamont, understandably. “It’s you,” replies Liz, adding somewhat contradictorily, “She draws well.” Lamont stares at the picture, then launches into one of his most gigglesome manic attacks.
"My God! It's like looking into a mirror!"
Staggering through the Institute (look out, glass walls!), Lamont mutters incoherently, “The flames! The flames!” He runs into Gene, and splutters, “Doctor! Doctor! The flames! The flames!”
(There’s no truth to the rumour that Richard Burton once auditioned for the role of Tattoo on Fantasy Island.)
“The flames! They’re getting bigger! We’ve got to put the fire out! We may be too late!” Lamont blathers. As Gene tries to figure out what the hell he’s going on about, Lamont becomes still more incomprehensible. He waves Regan’s drawing at her, mumbling, “You’ve got to help me! Her picture! Regan’s picture!” He hauls Gene off to a basement, insisting, “There’s a fire somewhere!”
Sure enough, a box within a storage area has somehow caught fire, and as Lamont drags it out into the open, we see a lot of smoke and some small flames. Nevertheless, Gene gasps in horror, and runs to call the Fire Department. Lamont, meanwhile, does what he does best: turns a molehill into a mountain. Nearby, we see a clutch of wooden crutches (eh?). Lamont grabs one (I say again, wooden crutches) and starts bashing away at the small fire, successfully scattering it around the room and escalating it into a moderate inferno. Although given that this area seems to be entirely concrete, metal and wire, I’m not quite sure what’s burning. Lamont’s crutch-thrashing knocks free a smouldering doll, doubtless meant as a reminder of Inflammable Spanish Girl.
Gene, meanwhile, has called the NYFD. She turns back, and sees Regan’s drawing of (supposedly) Lamont, backed by red shapes. She looks at Lamont - who’s still bashing away with his crutch, his face bearing a wonderful, “It was like that when I got here!” expression - who is backed by flames. The drawing. Lamont. The drawing. Lamont. Gasp!
Snapping out of it, Gene then – then – grabs the fire extinguisher off the wall and undoes Lamont’s attempt at being “helpful” with a minimum of effort. Nevertheless, the NYFD arrives, and the Institute is evacuated.
"So help me, I'm going to find a way out of this film if I have to burn it down!"
A word about this scene. As The Heretic progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that John Boorman followed the dubious lead of Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, and cast genuinely disabled children as Gene’s patients. I was quite prepared to take offence at this, except – in the evacuation sequence, we get a good look at the children, and clearly, they’re having the time of their lives. We see some of them being tossed in a fire blanket in the background, while a small group of Down Syndrome kids shriek and giggle as a spotlight swoops across them. I doubt if anyone else, making the film or watching it, has ever gotten more legitimate enjoyment out of it, so we’ll leave it at that.
Gene and Lamont are treated for smoke inhalation. Gene then tells the kids - who are romping around unrestrained, even skate-boarding - that they can go back inside. Refreshed by the oxygen he’s been sucking on, Lamont feels up to another manic attack. He starts raving about the Synchroniser, calling it “miraculous!” (I’ll say!) until the embarrassed Gene tells him he’s overdoing it. Lamont then cranks it up even further, demanding emphatically, “Don’t you see? I was face to face with the EEE-vil that’s inside her!”
We then get the – THE line of the film, as Lamont thunders, “Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon locked within her!!”
You know – I enjoyed that so much that I think I’ll say it again.
“YOUR MACHINE HAS PROVED SCIENTIFICALLY THAT THERE’S AN ANCIENT DEMON LOCKED WITHIN HER!!”
Was it good for you, too?
Lamont tells Gene he wants to go ’NSync with Regan. When she hesitates, he says he knows she’s worried about Regan suddenly remembering, but that he believes she already remembers – all of it: “The deaths, the possessions, the demons!” And she’s out there all alone….
Well, well. If it isn't our old friend, Art.
Cut to Regan, sleeping in her bedroom. Hmm…. Remember how, in The Exorcist, Chris MacNeil rented the Georgetown house near her film shoot to try and give the girl a normal home? Well, I guess she later junked that idea, along with her parental responsibilities. The New York penthouse apartment is an absolute monstrosity, all glass and chrome and fractured reflective surfaces. (Oh, I get it – it’s symbolic, right??) The camera soars around outside the building, demonstrating that the outside is just as ugly as the inside; and suddenly we hear whispery voices inviting the girl to “come flying” with them.
Regan tosses, uttering a silent scream; and we fade to a shot of an “African village” [*cough*], where a young boy is trying to heal a baby, via his hand gestures, while a much younger Lankester Merrin looks on. Outside the hut, a single locust hovers in a Significant Manner.
Back in the bedroom, Regan suddenly sits upright, looking (or trying to look) seductively into the camera and pursing her lips. She is positioned in this shot directly in front of one of her own stylised drawings, effectively taking its place, and opposite another, as if she’s its reflection. I’m pretty good at reading the hidden meanings in films, I believe, but I haven’t the first freaking idea what this shot is supposed to signify. Um – it shows another “connection” between Lamont and Regan, both represented in her drawings? (Oh, okay, smarty-pants – you try it!)
Back in Africa, a whole swarm of locusts descends upon the village. The natives pour out of their huts, two of them carrying the boy healer on their shoulders. He swings a sling of some kind around and around over his head. In NY, Regan rises from her bed, arms held in the traditional sleepwalking manner. She glides unseeingly out onto the huge patio of her apartment – which has no complete railing around it. Why? We’re about to find out.
Back to Africa, where the boy is assailed by the locust swarm; back to NY, where Regan draws near the unguarded edge of her patio. The boy collapses, and Regan wakes up, tottering on the edge of the building and screaming wildly. The camera lurches out into space – and if that was meant to represent Regan’s POV, then she should have been making a swan-dive onto the asphalt down below.
Cosy little shack, isn't it?
Inside, Sharon--- Oh, wait, I haven’t mentioned her before, have I? Well, Chris MacNeil’s long-suffering P.A., Sharon Spencer, has inherited the job of looking after Regan. She now hears the scream and comes running. She looks into Regan’s room, finds her missing, and then takes a (under the circumstances) leisurely stroll out onto the patio. There’s no sign of Regan, and for a moment we think – gasp! But no. Regan pops into view from behind her dovecot (really), bright as a button, and with no memory, seemingly, of her narrow escape. As her doves flutter around her (hey, more symbolism!), she wishes Sharon a good morning.
This dovecot, BTW, pushes the Institute and the apartment as the stupidest and most impractically designed thing in the whole film: it’s a set of gleaming chrome cubes fixed together in geometric patterns. I doubt whether any self-respecting dove would be caught dead in it.
(One other thing. Being a biologist, and therefore professionally incapable of lifting my mind out of the sewer, I can’t help noticing that there isn’t a single splash of dove guano anywhere on this entire gleaming metal-and-chrome rooftop; nor wondering who the poor schmuck was whose job it was to keep the set clean?)
Sharon tells Regan that she’s going to the house in Georgetown to do a few things that Chris didn’t have time to take care of before they left. Uh – that was four years ago, wasn’t it? Also, I have to point out again, that house was a rental property. Oh, well.
We get a brief insert of a plane, backed by Ominous Music for no reason I can think of, then cut to Sharon standing in the rain at the top of The Exorcist’s dreaded stairs, where both Burke Dennings and Damien Karras (remember him?) met their deaths. Father Lamont climbs up towards her, and they approach the house, which is not only deserted, it has barbed wire topping all the walls and the gate. Once more, with feeling: this was a RENTAL PROPERTY. Also, there was nothing wrong with the darn house, just with Regan; so why is it being set up like some kind of spooky horror movie Bad Place?
On the other hand, here's the last place she called home.
(Although – as the camera pulls back, we see that while it’s pouring rain in the environs of the house, there are bright blue skies everywhere else. So ya never know.)
Sharon tells Lamont that Chris MacNeil would do anything for the memory of Father Merrin, as she believes he gave his life for Regan. Believes? She then inquires whether the Church is making Merrin a saint? Lamont achieves a mighty sneer, and observes that, “The world doesn’t want any more saints.” The two go inside, and as they head upstairs, Sharon confesses that after the exorcism, she couldn’t bear to be around Regan – but afterwards found that the girl’s presence was the only thing that gave her peace. “Why do you think that is, Father?”
Looking thoroughly bored, Lamont says absently, “Have you tried a psychiatrist, or a priest?” And someone finally treats Lamont’s rudeness as it deserves: Sharon snaps at him, “I’m doing that now, aren’t I!?” Lamont looks momentarily embarrassed, but recovers to say coolly, “I’m not here for you”, before walking away from Sharon to go into Regan’s room. He kneels by the bed and prays, sweat pouring off him in gallon lots, while above him hovers a giant locust. Lamont takes no notice of it. Perhaps he made a quick phone-call to Michael Caine before setting out for Washington, and was assured that there is no locust there, there is no locust there.
Back at the Institute (um – that trip to Washington achieved – what, exactly?), Lamont and Gene have an odd little heart to heart. He asks her out of the blue if she has children of her own; she says yes, adding that she’d like to spend more time with them. Lamont praises her work, but once again makes the word “responsibilities” sound like a sneer. Apropos of little, Gene comments that it’s hard to live alone, then apropos of even less, leans forward and asks conversationally, as if she were inquiring whether Lamont would like a drink, “Don’t you ever need a woman, Father?”
Lamont blinks at her a couple of times, then says with equal casualness, “Yes.”
The two look blankly at one another for a few moments before, to the viewer’s boundless relief, Regan interrupts. “Telling secrets?” she inquires, again with that vaguely slimy smirk. Regan is there to go ’NSync with Lamont. The rigmarole being mercifully omitted, Gene asks the entranced girl if she remembers dreaming of Father Merrin...?
We cut back to the African village, where the boy healer is doing his thing, and Merrin helpfully does some voiceover expositing. Oddly, however, he starts out by saying, “It was long ago….” So – Regan is channelling Merrin from beyond the grave!?
It is here that we get what I suspect was one of William Goodhart’s original ideas for the Exorcist sequel, and it’s not a bad one: Merrin speculates that great evil is actually attracted by great goodness, and compelled to try and destroy it. This idea will later to expanded to explain the separate attacks upon Regan, Kokumo, and Inflammable Spanish Girl: each of them has powers as a healer, and is destined to work for Good; they therefore become a challenge to Evil.
On cue, Evil, in the shape of a huge swarm of locusts, descends upon the village. We see the boy again swinging his sling around and around over his head.
Back at the Institute, Gene tells Regan that Lamont has been hypnotised, and to “bring him down to your level” [*cough*]. Instead, Regan says, “Call me.” Looking faintly puzzled, Lamont says, “Regan?”
In Africa, the boy is overcome by the locusts, and slumps to the ground. Merrin turns him over, discovering to his horror that he’s – gasp! – possessed: coloured contact lenses, funny teeth, the works. In another display of terrible lip-speech co-ordination (evidently a further sign of demonic possession), he announces, “I am – Pazuzu! Rah!”
Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee!
At the Institute, Lamont (Burton enunciating with exquisite clarity) repeats, “Pa-zu-zu!” Gene looks understandably confused. Regan says huskily, “Call me – by my dream name! Call me!” Obediently, Lamont replies, “Pa-zu-zu! King of the spirits of the air! Pa-zu-zu! King of the EEE-vil spirits of the air! Spirits of the air!”
"I'm here, while David Carradine is making The Serpent's Egg. Doesn't seem right, somehow...."
And it’s back to Africa, where we see a church which has – somewhat counterintuitively, one feels – been carved directly into the rock, about four-fifths of the way up a sheer cliff face; and that to poor Merrin has fallen the unenviable task of hauling the possessed boy up there. The camera starts zooming around at this point – locust-cam, Pazuzu-cam, who can say? – and one poor SOB plunges to his death in a bizarrely slowed-down manner, bouncing from rock to rock to rock and doing a triple somersault with pike on the way down. In yet another “This is significant!” moment, we’re shown where he lands.
Back up the cliff, Merrin has managed to drag the boy into the church, and proceeds to exorcise him. (Why did he need to be in a church?) And this, I feel compelled to point out, is “that exorcism in Africa” that we heard about in The Exorcist, the one that “went on for months” and “damn near killed” Merrin. Well, if for “months” you read “minutes”, you’d be closer to the mark. And far from looking in any danger of his health, the Merrin we see here hasn’t even worked up a decent sweat, let alone one of Lamontian proportions.
Curiously, Merrin orders, “Get thee hence, Satan!” – which highlights one of the film’s more interesting theological points: how does a Judeo-Christian devil get charge of an ancient Mesopotamian wind demon? Never mind. We are distracted from this puzzle by Merrin’s next command: “Be up-rooted!” A few gestures from the priest, a splash of holy water, and Pazuzu is gone – this being conveyed via some not-exactly-convincing jump-cuts.
Lamont and Pazuzu then have a nice little chat, during which the demon claims that Merrin’s victory was only temporary. Lamont intuits that the boy (“Kokumo”) was attacked because he was a healer, and learns from Pazuzu that he is still alive. The astonishingly compliant Pazuzu then offers to take Lamont to see Kokumo, although he adds an evil, chuckly, “Are you sure?” when Lamont accepts the offer.
Cut to the Institute, where Regan, in a combined Regan-Voice and Pazuzu-Voice, utters, “Come fly in the teeth of the wind! Share my wings!”
It has a small congregation, but a very determined one.
Cut back to Africa, and an extended locust-cam (or rather, just-slightly-behind-or-to-the-side-of-locust-cam) sequence: shrieking villagers, stampeding zebras, gallumphing wildebeest, a canyon, and finally a mud city.
We zoom in on a particular mud hut. A man in traditional [*cough*] African garb sits outside. Locust-cam zooms in, and---and---
We see that it’s James Earl Jones. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, sadly, it’s Jim; and Jim is the grown-up Kokumo. He charges defiantly towards the locust-cam and makes a jerky gesture with his whole body. The snarls of some big cat are dubbed in, a leopard leaps towards the camera, and---
---at the Institute, both Regan and Lamont jump, startled, as Gene hits the wake-up buzzer. “It was a leopard! It jumped right at me!” exclaims Lamont, adding lamely, “He, uh, frightened Pazuzu.” Regan, despite not being supposed to remember anything, comments that what they saw reminded her of something at “the Natural History Museum”.
Gene sends Regan packing, probably because Lamont is clearly on the verge of another manic attack. This turns out to be the time for the Big Scene between Regan and Sandra (the autistic kid, remember?). The two girls lock eyes (it’s significant!) and finally Sandra manages to stammer out, “I-I-I’m au-au-au-tistic. I’m wi-wi-withdrawn. I c-c-can’t t-t-t-talk.” Regan points out the obvious, and Sandra is amazed to realise that Regan can actually hear her.
After a tearful moment, the girl uses her new powers to inquire what’s wrong with Regan? In one of the film’s most gob-smacking moments, Regan tells her cheerfully that she was once possessed, but it’s okay now, because the demon’s gone.
The girl’s mother then wanders in with Liz, and Sandra shows off by pointing at Regan and asking, “Know what happened to her?”
Richard Burton made the mistake of showing up for The Heretic's Ethiopian premiere.
In a film rich with embarrassing scenes, this is a corker. Barbara Cason, as Sandra’s mother, goes into a fit of overacting eerily reminiscent of Eileen Heckart’s masterly turn upon the hambone in the original version of The Bad Seed. First she gasps, uttering in a weird Chatty Cathy voice, “You’re ta-lking! Ta-lking!” Sandra asks whether her mother can actually hear her? The woman sobs, and announces with much dramatic head-shaking, “She’s – taaa-lking!” And then she rushes---no, not to her daughter, but to the desk of a nurse, who through all of this has been unconcernedly stuffing herself with doughnuts. There she almost collapses, uttering, “God!” Sandra comes and puts her arms around her mother, assuring her that everything’s all right.
Gene and Father Lamont come charging in at this point (the Nut O’ Fun© rolling along in the background), and Liz breaks the glad tidings that, “Regan’s got Sandra talking.” Lamont jumps as if he’d been goosed, and he and Regan exchange significant looks. The mother, having seized her daughter, vice-like, by either side of her head, gasps and splutters that she has to take the girl home, so that her father can hear her. Gene, on the other hand, advises a trip to her office. The mother’s response is to grab poor Sandra by both ears and slam her face-first into her own breasts, declaring that, “Her fa-ther would ne-ver for-give me if he didn’t hear her! I’ve got to take her home!” Gene concedes defeat, sending Liz with them, and they leave, Sandra still trapped in a workable version of the sleeper hold.
Gene then asks what Regan did? Regan shrugs and – do I detect a hint of smugness? – replies that she just talked to her. “First she was talking inside,” she continues with an inexplicable Southern drawl, “and then she was talking outside.” She then asks if she can start helping with some of Gene’s other kids? Gene (who has her plate glass bills to think of, remember) is less than thrilled with this suggestion, warning Regan against “fooling with people’s heads”. After all, if she goes on with this reckless talking to people, where might it end? Regan accepts this verdict reluctantly and departs.
Lamont’s long-threatened manic attack then erupts, and he starts gibbering about Regan getting inside Sandra’s head. Gene (with visions of a bankrupt Institute inside her head, perhaps) scoffs at the idea, and Lamont scolds her, “Don’t hide behind science! You’re better than that!” Yeah, Gene! Just accept that Lamont flew on the wings on a locust and that Regan’s got an ancient demon locked within her, will you?
Regan makes small talk.
Lamont demands that Gene help him fight the demon (hello, Nut O’ Fun©!), as it is preventing Regan reaching “her full spiritual potential”. Yes, so I’d imagine. Gene finally loses it, ordering Lamont to leave Regan alone, and accusing him of being obsessed with demons. His response is simple and to the point. “I’M NOT OBSESSED!!” he bellows into her face. “I’M NOT!!” Well – I guess we stand corrected.
Cut to Lamont at the Natural History Museum, and yup, Regan’s there too. She asks him whether priests believe in ESP, and he trots out Teilhard de Chardin’s “one world, one mind” theory – another of the screenplay’s starting points, I imagine. The two come across a model of a cliff church (actually, coincidentally I’m sure, the cliff church), just like Regan said. Lamont tells her he’s going to Africa to find Kokumo, to learn how they can best fight Pazuzu.
We then have a stopover at the Vatican, where Cardinal Jaros listens briefly to Lamont’s babbling about Kokumo helping him justify Merrin, then suggests he “make a retreat”. “A retreat!” exclaims Lamont. “Why not an advance?” (Wince.) The Cardinal responds by ordering him off the case altogether.
After one brief cutaway to New York, showing Regan standing motionless on the edge of her patio, like she’s waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio to sneak up behind her, we’re off to Africa anyway, with Lamont in civilian garb and struggling up the inevitable cliff face. When he makes it, he finds a church service in progress and staggers in. We see the Abbot chanting over a foot-high version of the Host that looks like a mutated gingerbread man.
(Paging Charles Band. Demonic Host: You ate his body, now he’ll eat your soul!)
(Actually--- That could work...)
Lamont forces his way through the crowd to the front of the worshippers, putting considerably more effort into it than when he was trying to force his way past half a dozen women to get to Inflammable Spanish Girl. We then see his motivation: the goblet of Communal Wine, which he seizes avidly and empties in a single mighty chug, sweating disgustingly all the while.
It needed 3,578 takes before he got this scene right. For some reason.
Back in New York, Gene has come to talk to Regan, who immediately asks her to help Father Lamont. When Gene protests that he’s in Africa, Regan counters that, when you’re ’NSync with someone, it’s different: you can find them, help them.
Meanwhile, Lamont is asking the Abbot about Merrin and Kokumo. The old man remembers them, but oddly goes off on a tangent about the poor bugger who fell off the rocks – blown off by “a devil wind”. He claims that the body was never found, even though in the “vision” there were at least a dozen witnesses to the landing spot. Lamont announces that he knows where it is (why does anyone care?), and springs into action.
And now – now, my friends! We cut to NY again, to the dance recital at (presumably) Regan’s school. It is amusing to note that the credits of The Heretic list a choreographer. I can only assume that his job was to take a bunch of moderately talented teenagers, and teach them how to dance like they had two broken legs and an inner ear problem. As Sharon looks on beaming, Regan (looking disturbingly like a plumper version of Joel Grey in Cabaret) and her fellow cripples “perform” a clod-hopping rendition of “Lullaby Of Broadway”.
You know, they once did a version of “Lullaby Of Broadway” on The Muppet Show, too, with a chorus line of bow-tied penguins and a single walrus; and--- Well, no, maybe I won’t take that analogy any further.
Back in Africa, Lamont is pointing out the wedged skeleton. Then, because he never can resist an opportunity to make a bad situation worse, Lamont announces to all and sundry that the man was killed by a powerful demon called Pazuzu, with whom he once flew in a vision. He then has the temerity to look surprised when the Abbot and his followers recoil in horror and call him a devil-worshipper. Lamont chases after them, and they respond with a barrage of stones. Lamont staggers, clutching his head and almost collapsing---
"Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!"
---and we cut to New York where, in the midst of her routine, Regan also staggers, almost collapsing. Cut back to Lamont, still under fire; and every time he takes a blow, Regan feels it too, although she never reacts in quite the same way – with the result that, whereas Lamont makes it into his car and drives away, she takes a header into the orchestra pit, and lies there thrashing around and growling (!) as Sharon rushes to her side, and the Synchroniser’s wake-up alarm goes off (?).
(Another interjection: while writing this part of the review, I sat staring blankly at the computer screen for about ten minutes, trying to put together a blindingly witty one-liner linking “people in glass Institutes” and “throwing stones”, but it just wouldn’t happen. Dang.)
Backstage at the school, Gene - called in from a formal do, by the look of her dress - produces a whacking big hypodermic from her purse. (Don’t leave home without one!) Regan objects, saying that, “I have to find him….have to help him!”, but Gene goes ahead anyway, leading Regan to accuse her of “killing my soul”.
Back in Africa, Lamont is seen questioning some French nuns, and they hand him over to one “Ecumenical” Edwards, who sees through his cunning “civilian” disguise instantly, and agrees to fly him to the mud city of Jepti. On the way, Edwards chats cheerfully about locusts as they fly through a downpour of DDT from another plane (!). Lamont then tells his pilot that, “I’ve flown this route before – it was on the wings of a demon!” (!!!!). Hysterically, Edwards’ only response is a casual, “Did he take you to Jepti?” Even more hysterically, this line seems to have been dubbed-in, leaving us to speculate about what Edwards originally replied. “Get away from me, you psycho!”, perhaps?
In Jepti, we get a repetition of the Lamont/Pazuzu vision, as the priest wanders around aimlessly repeating, “Kokumo? Kokumo?” to whoever will listen. Finally, he is rounded up by a street-gang who, instead of beating him to death in a dark alley (rats!), offer him a rather charming young girl, nekkid and oiled from the waist up. As the gang members chuckle lewdly, Lamont stares at the girl with his expression suggesting that the Ex-Lax has just kicked in, and then staggers off into the night. We’re left to assume that this isn’t one of those times when Lamont needs a woman.
Would it be impolite to ask why she takes knock-out drugs with her when she goes out?
Meanwhile, Regan is at the Institute, confined to bed in one of the glass rooms, so that everyone can have a good gawk at her. (Um – what happens if she wants to go to the bathroom, or something?) She pulls the IV from her arm, so that she can dream – can find him, help him….
Back in Jepti, a sweat-drenched Lamont is praying to God to help him find Kokumo, adding that, “I have resisted! I have not called upon Pazuzu!” Well, that lasts about another two seconds. He has a vision of the bed-ridden Regan, who whispers, “Call me.” “Regan?” says Lamont, still not getting it. “Call me by my dream name!” insists Regan. “Call me!” And he does: “Pazuzu, king of the EEE-vil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!” Which Pazuzu obligingly does, although why he does is left to our imagination.
We then get a sequence that clearly demonstrates just how thoroughly The Heretic’s screenwriters earned their pay.Lamont: “Kokumo, Kokumo!”
Regan: “Kokumo, Kokumo!”
Regan: “Kokumo, Kokumo!”
Lamont: “Kokumo, Kokumo!”
Regan: “Kokumo, Kokumo, Kokumo!”
Lamont then (thankfully) staggers into Kokumo’s hut, finding himself separated from his quarry by a rectangular area of water, out of which spikes protrude. Poor JEJ is dressed even more embarrassingly this time around, sporting a head-piece that looks just like a locust. Kinda. Lamont invokes Merrin’s name, and Kokumo asks how he found him? “I saw you in the mind of a girl possessed by Pazuzu!” announces Lamont – three for three. He asks Kokumo to help him help her. Kokumo implies that there are two Regans: one Bad (Pazuzu’s), and one Good (Merrin’s). He tells Lamont that he must “pluck out her evil heart”.
“But,” he warns the priest, “Pazuzu has brushed you with his wings! You called on Pazuzu to find me.” He then accuses Lamont of having lost faith in God. “That isn’t true! I do believe!” shrieks Lamont. “I’d do anything to help Regan! Anything!!”
"I must have put the accent on the wrong syllable...."
So Kokumo invites Lamont to demonstrate the strength of his faith by walking over the spikes. Lamont warbles, “My faith is in Jesus Christ re-born!”, and Kokumo reassures him that, “If Pazuzu comes for you, I will spit a leopard!” By way of a demonstration, he hocks up a cherry tomato (!?), which lands on one of the spikes.
Looking understandably un-reassured, Lamont steps out onto the spikes – one of which goes right through his foot. Lamont screams and falls forward---
---only to find himself lying in the doorway of a scientific research department. “I fell. I failed,” he pronounces dully, but otherwise seems unfazed by his rough landing. We get the impression that unscheduled trips to the ground are all part of his regular routine.
Lamont is then helped up by the real Kokumo, a scientist working with locusts. Lamont demands to know if he knew Merrin, and when Kokumo admits he did, blurts, “He died while exorcising the demon Pazuzu from a young girl! Were you ever---” he hesitates.
“Possessed by Pazuzu?” finishes Kokumo cheerfully. “That’s what my mother used to tell me!” He then shows Lamont around (why?), telling him that it is “the brushing of the wings” that turns locusts from placid insects into a destructive, voracious, marauding swarm, “possessing” everything they touch – “Evil breeding evil,” he concludes, JEJ giving Dick a run for his money in the EEE-vil department.
Almost frothing at the mouth, Lamont gasps, “When the wings have brushed you – is there no hope, once the wings have brushed you!?” With a little chuckle, Kokumo replies, “We try, with the help of science!’ – and amazingly, Lamont refrains from telling him to quit hiding behind his profession. Kokumo then shows him their big hope: a female locust “evolved to resist the brushing of the wings”.
You might well hide your face.
“We call her ‘The Good Locust”,” explains Kokumo, adding that she will “break the chain reaction”. Lamont looks at him imploringly, but repeats, “The – Good – Locust?”, as if there’s something in those three words that he isn’t quite getting.
(By the way - I hope of all this ISN’T TOO SUBTLE FOR YOU!!??)
Cut to Regan, escaping the Institute, then to Sharon, getting the news of it. She has a minor freak-out, which escalates into a major freak-out when Lamont shows up. The priest is still in civilian dress, and now sports a shirt with a broad red splotch across the front – making it look as if he’d taken yet another unscheduled trip to the ground, and hadn’t stopped to clean himself up. Sharon starts shrieking at him, and he finally withdraws as Sharon breaks down.
(This scene signals the start of the films single strangest plot “twist”. Really.)
Regan, meanwhile, is at the museum; and in due time, Lamont shows up. She tells him she’s got the Synchroniser, and asks about Kokumo. Lamont repeats Kokumo’s theory that “good” and “evil” are struggling within her, but neglects to mention his suggestion about plucking out her heart.
The next thing we know, we in the middle of another of those scenes that make you wonder just what John Boorman was thinking – or what he thought we’d be thinking – as the priest, the young girl, and their strange electronic device make their way into a sleazy hotel room. (We’re spared the sight of them checking in.) After some small talk, Regan tries to convince Lamont to go ’NSync with her. He whimpers that, “Pazuzu has brushed me with his wings”, and Regan reassures him that, “Father Merrin will help us”.
"And sometimes, when we're alone, she puts on a top hat and sings Hello, My Baby."
They get started, with Lamont telling Regan to “bring me down” – which seems fair, since he’s been bringing us down for the last ninety minutes. Lamont has a vision of Possessed Regan gloating over the dying Merrin, then hears Merrin’s voice explaining that he had tried to, “Protect Kokumo, and others like him”, and that, “Satan sent Pazuzu to destroy this goodness”. Again, is this theologically likely? We finish with Merrin entrusting the “precious” Regan to Lamont.
Lamont’s response to this plea from his mentor is to go over to The Dark Side. Eh?
Seemingly still entranced, Lamont staggers out of the room without a word or a look. Regan pursues him all the way to Penn Station, begging, “Father, see me! See me!” She does, however, refrain from requesting him to feel her, touch her, or heal her, thus earning the gratitude of everyone watching.
As Lamont queues for the Washington train, Regan breaks away briefly to call Gene, who tells Sharon she’s going to Washington to join the others – leading Sharon to mutter as an aside, “Stupid bitch!” Whether she means Regan or Gene isn’t immediately clear. On the train, the conductor comes along, and Regan has to search the comatose Lamont for his wallet. The conductor rightly objects to this, and Regan explains that they’re together, adding, “He’s really sick. They gave him a shot.” Indeed. For distemper, I would imagine.
Abruptly, Lamont swings around and hisses at the conductor, “Leave her alone! She belongs to me!” Frankly, I was hoping for, “The sow is mine!” Still, the way Burton flares his nostrils here almost makes up for the omission.
Meanwhile, Gene and Sharon’s trip to the airport is hindered by a traffic accident in front of them. A bloody (and bloody unconvincing) victim staggers towards them, begging for a doctor, and after a moment’s hesitation, Gene responds, with Sharon spitting at her, “And Regan can wait, I suppose?”
The girl. The priest. The strange device. The sleazy motel room.
Back on the train, Lamont continues to stare blankly out the window, until he abruptly announces, “The power – it’s getting nearer! Can’t you feel it? The power is immense. It fills me. I can do anything!” He then intuits that Regan has been in touch with Gene. His eyes flick upwards to the sky, and we cut to an embarrassingly fake-looking plane (speaking of Flying High! – hoo, boy!) on which Gene and Sharon are travelling. Suddenly, it’s buffeted, the passengers being tossed around, screaming.
(Another cross-movie moment: I am reminded of The Medusa Touch, a guilty pleasure of mine starring – surprise! – Richard Burton.)
Down on the train, Regan grabs Lamont’s hands, begging him not to be lost to her. Lamont finally makes eye contact with her, and they embrace (ick!); while up above, the plane returns to normal. For some reason, Gene turns to look suspiciously at Sharon who, without opening her eyes, snaps, “What are you looking at me like that for?” I’m sure we’re meant to be spooked by this, but frankly, yeah, what was she looking at her like that for?
Meanwhile, Lamont is rambling about “the power” again. Regan mentions Kokumo, and Lamont mutters, “He said – The Good Locust….” And if you think Linda Blair’s attempt at a Southern accent was bad, wait until you’ve heard Richard Burton trying to sound like James Earl Jones.
We see Lamont and Regan in Washington, on the Georgetown bus. The driver sits stuffing a sandwich into his gob, until Lamont bellows, “Get going! The girl has to get home!” More embarrassment for Regan. The driver gives Lamont a surly look, but obeys. Across town, Gene and Sharon fight their way into a cab and also head for Georgetown. The other two get to the house first, however. Lamont breaks into the grounds, and Regan struggles to follow him. Lamont heads upstairs and opens the door to Regan’s room – and is immediately engulfed by a swarm of locusts. At least, I suppose that’s what it’s meant to be. This dazzling “effect” looks distinctly as though someone wheeled a jumbo-sized garden mulcher up behind the door and turned it on full blast.
"I can't believe it turned out to be the locusts! They've always been--- No, wait, that's the bees."
Simultaneously, the windscreen of Gene and Sharon’s cab shatters, and the car goes out of control. The driver punches a hole in the glass just in time to see the gates of the house loom up before them. The car plunges through with a horrible crash, killing the driver - although on a brighter note, at least there’s no need for the women to break in.
Inside, Regan does glance around briefly as a fatal car accident happens on her doorstep, but then continues up the staircase. Halfway up, she steps on something nasty: Lamont, now locust-free. He points at her room….
Sharon climbs out of the wrecked car and glides towards the house, ignoring the trapped Gene’s pleas for help. Sharon has this ooooh-I’m-scary eee-vil grin on her face, which might possibly be disturbing had the audience the slightest idea what’s meant to be going on with her. Gene calls out that they must help Regan fight this thing. “Name it!” demands Sharon. Gene looks reluctant (or embarrassed), but finally spits out, “Pazuzu!”, and Sharon’s eee-vil grin gets broader. (Yeah, mine too.) She moves to block the door of the house.
Gene finally struggles free of the wreckage, only to find Sharon with her foot over a still-lit headlight, which is lying near a convenient puddle of petrol. As Gene makes futile “No! No!” gestures, Sharon smashes the light and is very – very – slowly (and I mean stretched out over about the next five scenes) – immolated; just like Inflammable Spanish Girl. Wow.
Meanwhile, Regan is opening the door of her old room. Possessed Regan is on the bed. Normal Regan turns away with a cry of horror, appalled by what she has seen. As well she might be. The make-up job is terrible. Suddenly, Lamont looms up behind Normal Regan, looking more somnambulant than ever, a sign that The Dark Side is in control. He grabs Normal Regan, who pleads with him to remember Kokumo and Father Merrin. This briefly gets through, but Possessed Regan interjects, “No! He’s mine! He’s chosen me! Pazuzu’s Regan is the only Regan!”
But alas, people didn't understand why Kitty did the sequel.
As Possessed Regan speaks, it morphs into Slutty Regan – tarty make-up, low-cut flimsy negligee, the works. Slutty Regan leans back against the pillows invitingly. “Be joined with us, Father!” she/it purrs. And this, to the horror and disgust of everyone watching, turns out to be the moment when Lamont needs a woman: he throws himself on top of Slutty Regan and starts mauling her, grunting and moaning all the while.
Excuse me a second, will you?
You know, the only thing that stops this becoming one of the most repulsive things I’ve ever seen onscreen is the sheer inappropriateness of the casting. Richard Burton as sexually tempted priest is silly enough, but Linda Blair as irresistible temptress is… Well, it hardly needs saying. The only thing more incredible than the scene itself, is that Burton and Blair didn’t score a nomination as Most Preposterous Romantic Pairing In Movie History in the Son Of Golden Turkey Awards.
Anyway, as Lamont gnaws on her neck, Slutty Regan gives an evil smile and whispers in his ear, “Kill her.” The obedient Lamont climbs off his paramour and grabs Normal Regan, bashing her repeatedly against a wardrobe, shrieking hysterically the while, “The wings! The wings are brushing me! The wings! Are brushing me! I must! I must!”
A philosophical debate of sorts then follows, with Normal Regan (in a combined Regan-Voice and Kokumo-Voice) and Slutty Regan battling for the heart and soul of Philip Lamont. Personally, I don’t think they’re worth the effort.Normal Regan: “We like to call her The Good Locust. She was evolved to resist the brushing of the wings.”
Slutty Regan: “No! Once the wings have brushed you, you’re mine forever!”
Normal Regan: “She will break the chain reaction.
Slutty Regan: Kill her! We command you!
"You thought it couldn't get any worse than the motel room scene, didn't you?"
And Lamont starts bashing away again. Normal Regan then speaks the last words of Inflammable Spanish Girl (“Why me? Pour que?”) and this for some reason gets through: Lamont comes to his senses [sic.]. His stunned mullet expression reappears, and he draws Normal Regan into a distinctly soggy embrace.
Normal Regan speaks again (Regan-Voice / Kokumo-Voice): “You must tear out her evil heart!” and Lamont goes in for the kill. Again he throws himself on top of Slutty Regan, but this time with his hands around her throat.
“REEEEGAAAAN!!!!”he bellows, throttling Sluttty Regan. Needless to say, this overt act of physical violence is infinitely less disturbing than Lamont’s previous bed-top activity.
“PAAAAZUUUUZUUUU!!!!”shrieks Slutty Regan, despite the hands about her neck.
(Hey, it’s Lyz’s Law Of Strangulation! Cool!)
Outside, a swarm of locusts appears over the Capitol. Which reminds me, what happened to the first swarm of locusts? Meanwhile, Sharon finally drops, and Gene goes looking for help. She finds none. Despite a fatal car crash and an act of self-immolation occurring literally on their doorsteps, not one resident of Prospect Street, Georgetown, has come outside to see what’s going on. Yeesh! And I thought the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois, were a tough crowd!
The jumbo garden mulcher is then deployed again, and the second swarm of locusts smashes through the window beside Normal Regan; and as Lamont and Slutty Regan wrestle on the bed, a cyclonic wind sweeps through the house, which starts to collapse. The floor drops away from beneath Normal Regan’s feet, and she is left teetering on a narrow ledge. However, her rooftop escapades stand her in good stead, and she manages to keep her balance. Slutty Regan is almost swept away from Lamont, but he drags her back onto the bed and starts pounding his fist against her chest. Still bellowing, “REEEEGAAAAN!! REEEEGAAAAN!!” at intervals, he finally succeeds in - ew! - tearing out her EEE-vil heart, as the rest of the house gives way.
Is that really in his job description?
Struggling downstairs, Regan is left dangling from the imploding staircase as the house gives another lurch. The next moment, her literally heartless double comes rolling along, and drops off the stairs into a bottomless pit. Or so we assume: we never see her/it again. Regan somehow makes it to the ground floor. Battered by the wind, the falling rubble, and the locusts, she takes decisive action. She lifts her right hand above her head and starts to move it around and around and around….
(Boorman must have got cold feet here: he superimposes the young Kokumo twirling his sling, just so the audience “gets it”. [Not understands it; that’s another thing altogether. Just gets it.])
And the locusts drop at her feet. And die. And vanish. And so, now that I come to look at it, does most of the rubble. We’re left, not with the expected disaster zone, but with a clear view of the picturesque Washington skyline.
None of which explains how Lamont also manages to wander out of the collapsed building without a mark on him.
Gene, meanwhile, is on the other side of the street, sitting on someone’s stoop with what’s left of Sharon cradled in her arms. As Lamont draws near, what’s left of Sharon chokes out, “I…chose…evil.” Eh!? When? Why? How? Oh, I give up…
Lamont leans over What’s Left Of Sharon and pronounces, “No! Sharon, your hunger for belief was your truth!” I say again – eh? Lamont then absolves What’s Left Of Sharon, and she carks it. As you’d expect.
Gene deposits What’s Left Of Sharon on the doorstep (serve the residents right for not coming out to help, I say!) and staggers towards Regan, who is standing before that picturesque skyline looking positively saintly. “I understand now,” she says tearfully. Well, that makes one of you. Mind explaining it to the rest of us? Gene then follows up with what I would have to say is one of the all-time great cinematic understatements: “The world won’t!”
Unfortunately, it was the night the last episode of Seinfeld was on.
She then hands the care of Regan over to Lamont (no need to consult the kid’s legal guardian, of course), saying, “You must go!”. Why? Who knows? Regan and Lamont wrap their arms around one another (eewww!!), and wander off into the backdrop. I mean night. We note that the lights are on in the house next door to the one that collapsed, yet no-one has so much as peeked out the window.
Ah! There we are! All of a sudden, every single resident of Georgetown pours out into the street; all gasping and wailing and making the expected “rhubarb, rhubarb” noises. Unfortunately, the camera angle doesn’t allow us to see how the people over the way react to finding WLOS on their front steps. Emergency vehicles also appear from nowhere. A cop runs up to Gene, who is still stunned from her spiritual awakening. He tries to get some answers from her; but she is too overwhelmed to reply.
The cop leans towards her – and towards the camera – and asks, “Lady, are you okay?” And you know something? I felt like he was talking directly to me….
Footnote: Okay – a pop quiz to see who was really paying attention: why is this film called “The Heretic”? Anyone? Anyone…?
............................................................."So what's next for you?"
............................................................."Roller Boogie - you?"
............................................................."The Medusa Touch."
|----revised and re-posted 27/02/2012|