William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece, “The Exorcist,” is undeniably one of the greatest films of all time. Its impact transcends the horror genre, bringing a level of realism and emotional authenticity to a possession story that made it feel chillingly realistic. The film received multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nods, ultimately winning Best Adapted Screenplay. However, its 1977 sequel, “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” fell far short of that acclaim, becoming one of the biggest disasters in horror history, much to Friedkin’s dismay.
Why William Friedkin Hated ‘Exorcist II: The Heretic’
“Exorcist II: The Heretic” picks up years after Regan MacNeill’s (Linda Blair) initial possession, with Regan now living a relatively normal life in a psychiatric facility. When Father Philip Lamont (Richard Burton) investigates the death of Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), events take a bizarre turn, leading the story to Africa and introducing flying locusts and surreal rituals. The film received scathing reviews, with critics like Gene Siskel deeming it “the worst major motion picture I’ve seen in almost eight years on the job.” Friedkin himself was highly critical, famously calling it “the worst 40 minutes of film I have ever seen.”
“Exorcist II” was a stark departure from the first film, shifting from a family drama to an action-adventure epic filled with absurd sequences. While the film had artistic merits, director John Boorman’s efforts couldn’t salvage its ludicrous storyline. Despite its flaws, “Exorcist II” deserves distinction from truly terrible horror sequels, as it exhibited artistic commitment even within its far-fetched narrative.
The Troubled Beginnings of ‘Exorcist II’
The film’s troubled inception was evident from the start. Neither Friedkin nor William Peter Blatty, the author of the original novel, had any interest in returning for a sequel. Instead, co-producer Richard Lederer conceived “Exorcist II” as a low-budget follow-up, aiming to essentially replicate the first movie’s success. This approach led to a film that failed to capture the essence of the original and instead veered into surreal territory.
Linda Blair, who reprised her role as Regan, later regretted her involvement, admitting it was one of the worst decisions of her career. The sequel lacked the emotional depth and authenticity that Friedkin had brought to the original, making it a disappointment in comparison.
A Redeeming Sequel and a Franchise’s Creative Ambition
Despite “Exorcist II’s” failure, the franchise eventually found redemption with “Exorcist III” in 1990, directed by William Peter Blatty himself. Adapted from Blatty’s novel “Legion,” the film recaptured the original’s tone and featured a standout performance by Brad Dourif as one of the greatest horror movie villains. It demonstrated that the franchise could thrive under different directors, with each bringing their own unique vision.
Subsequent entries, such as “Exorcist: The Beginning” directed by Renny Harlin, “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” helmed by Paul Schrader, and the upcoming “Exorcist: Believer” directed by David Gordon Green, showcased the franchise’s creative ambition and willingness to explore new directions.
In conclusion, while “Exorcist II: The Heretic” may have been a disappointment compared to its iconic predecessor, it serves as a reminder of the challenges faced when attempting to recapture the magic of a cinematic classic. The Exorcist franchise has continued to evolve, with each installment bringing its own unique perspective to the world of horror.