Thursday, 25 November 2010

You'll Need An Exorcist After This...

You know you're onto a bad thing when you watch a sequel to a film that you weren't aware had a sequel. Especially when it's a bonafide classic. I wasn't aware until after watching The Omen that it was actually a trilogy. I didn't know there were sequels to Jaws. And I most certainly wasn't aware that there was an attempt to follow up what has been deemed as the Scariest Scary Film Of All Time- The Exorcist.

Now, I personally found The Omen to be far scarier than The Exorcist and I thought it was pretty overrated in the horror stakes. But it's still a good film, and I imagine my lack of being scared is only due to the none-more-1970s special effects. If I hadn't been brought up in an age of more advanced special effects and CGI, I'd probably have been terrified. I still like it though, and I can see how it would've been controversial on its release. With Exorcist II: The Heretic, the only controversy comes from asking why it was allowed to be made.
It had been recommended to me by a friend who's possibly one of the biggest horror buffs I know. I naturally assumed it was some kind of unsung lost classic, waiting to be discovered. It had Richard Burton, aka The Man With The World's Greatest Voice, and Paul 'Casablanca' Henreid in it, plus a return from Linda Blair and even James Earl Jones dressed up like a giant locust. Louise Fletcher, whose Oscar-winning turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was voted A.F.I's 5th greatest villain of all time, was taking over the 'mother' role. All of this was directed by John Boorman, the guy who changed the way we feel about hillbillies and banjos in Deliverance. What could possibly be wrong with it?

It didn't take long for me torealise that there was a reason why no one really mentioned this follow-up in the same breath as the original. Or any breath, for that matter. It took me as long as it took to watch the original 1977 theatrical trailer on the DVD...

Take that, horror fans!!

As you can see it's... it's not great. But being the persevering soul that I am- not to mention it was a slow TV night- we decided to stick the film on anyway and see how we got on. This was our first mistake. Everything in the trailer told me there was nothing good about this film... but surely it's unfair to judge an entire movie by two minutes of trailer?

Well, sometimes, it is. This sequeal takes everything that was original, frightening and, y'know, WATCHABLE about the original and throws it out the window. The story itself is pretty standard sequel fare. Reagan Macneill is now 17 and seemingly fairly normal, given her less-than-traditional childhood experiences. In fact, she doesn't even remember them, dismissing them as "being really sick and having nightmares". Her mother is away on business, since Ellen Burstyn wisely decided to opt out, so in her place Reagan makes frequent trips to see psychologist Dr Gene Tuskin. Initially Reagan fails to see the point in the therapy sessions but goes to appease her mohter, until her nightmares begin to come back. In between tap dancing, pigeon-keeping, bending spoons and curing a girl of autism (seriously), she decides to take the doctor's advice and use a new-fangled machine to draw out her memories using hypnosis. Meanwhile, Richard Burton is Father Phillip Lamont, who's been sent by the Cardinal (Paul Henreid) to investigate the death of original exorcist Father Merrin. He gets to know Reagan, before his quest takes him to Africa to meet another victim of possession.

So far, so 'part two'. The problem with this film is that it tries far too hard to be serious and po-faced, but all the while its scientfic trump card is the good doctor's own invention- the 'synchronizer'. Basically, it involves Reagan and the doctor wearing silly-looking headbands with wires hooked up to them. Reagan then stares into a lightbulb listening to some kind of whale sound which gets deeper and deeper until her eyes roll back into her head. This apparently means she's under hypnosis, and Dr Tuskin can similarly put herself under and see into Reagan's memory. It's a tricky process which goes a little like this...
"Can you see your room in Washington, Reagan?" "No" "Look deeper. Can you see it now?" "Yes"

Pictured above- Science.

The hypnosis reveals that the demon which possessed Reagan- named Pazuzu, because presumably the film wasn't ridiculous enough- is still lurking inside her. Not only that, but it bumped off poor Father Merrin by FINGERING HIS HEART TO DEATH. Yes, this apparently great man who had fended off heinous demons in far off lands was killed by being tickled into a coronary. After this, Father Richard Burton makes his way to Africa to meet a young boy cursed by the worst edit point I have ever seen.. I mean eh, afflicted by a demon. I can't find the clip online, but trust me, following a shot of a 'possessed' face quickly spliced with a 'normal' face does not make up for a lack of good special effects.

Rather than trying to 'juxtapose' science and religion cleverly, this film's way of doing so is rather like having neeps and tatties and mashing them with a fork like a child. As you can see from the picture, the doctor's room is all glass. When the demon appears reflected in the glass, we also see Father Lamont's reflection next to Dr Tuskin's actual physical presence. Do you see? It's because science is PHYSICALLY GROUNDED IN FACT while religion is METAPHYSICAL. Imagine someone beating you around the face with Darwin's Origin of Species and The Bible at the same time.

Usually films with seemingly ludicrous premises can be made passable if the performances are good, but as you probably expect, they are not. Linda Blair has certainly done a good job growing up, but she seems aloof and weirdly childlike. Richard Burton at least has the good grace to look embarrassed, and is responsible for many of the film's most unintentionally hilarious moments. Fair enough, since he only signed on because he was contractually obliged to. His reactions to seeing an exorcism first hand involve some world class sweating and gasping though, I'll give him that.

For all of its many...many...flaws, there are some good things about this film. One scene involving a plague of locusts is particularly impressive, despite being stuffed in between what looks like some stock photos of Africa. The music is also effective, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone who scored, among other thing, The Untouchables. Sadly, this isn't enough to make this film any better than a poorly executed, horribly acted and frighteningly un-scary pile of old tosh. From now on I'll stick to the originals... I heard that The Exorcist 3 is pretty scary too, but I'm not willing to try it out to see if this is true. I don't think my poor eyes can take anymore car-crash cash-ins. As far as sequels go, this is as far removed from the original as it's possible to get. In saying that, I'm a tiny bit intrigued by The Omen 2... it can't be any worse than this surely?

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