Tag Archives: richard burton

The Power of Christ Repels You

Here, I’ve got a fun exercise: let’s brainstorm some lists of words. OK, like, how would you describe The Exorcist? Hmmm. Let’s see: profitable, popular, well-loved, trendsetting, efficient, sleek, visceral, great. Well, now that we’ve established that, what words would you apply to its first sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)? Maybe “lumpy”? Incoherent? Work-for-hire? Dated? Oh, and you can’t leave out “really fucking weird.”

I actually pity Exorcist II; it’s the unsuccessful middle sibling of the Exorcist family. Forced to pick up where The Exorcist left off—with the demon successfully banished and both exorcists dead—it struggles to find a follow-up story worth telling, then gives up and resigns itself to half a dozen half-assed plot strands involving hypnotism, the Vatican, locusts, and James Earl Jones. It’s paced like a little kid trying to solve a maze, with nothing but false starts and dead ends.

As far as I can tell, this is what happens: a still-teenaged Regan Macneil lives in a Manhattan penthouse, cared for by a woman whom we’ll call “Ellen Burstyn Wouldn’t Come Back for the Sequel.” Sometimes she has counseling sessions with Louise Fletcher, who was then fresh off her Oscar win for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Richard Burton’s a worn-out priest sent to investigate The Exorcism, and this leads to lots of redundant flashbacks. Then he goes to the magical, red-skied land of “Africa.” Then he comes back. He and Regan revisit her old house, some cars crash, Pazuzu is re-banished, and they walk off into the sunset. The end.

“Why?” you may ask. Also: “How? Who? What?” If so, I sympathize with your sputtering. Logic does not reign in Exorcist II; it plays by its own shitty rules. The film expends great time and energy establishing the import of both the wacky, newfangled hypnotism machine and Father Burton’s African adventure, yet neither one’s relevance is clear by the end. You’d have to struggle to write a screenplay lazier, clumsier, or stranger than the one for Exorcist II. Worst of all, the film never explains how Pazuzu is back, why the previous film’s exorcism was apparently in vain, or what kind of threat Pazuzu now poses.

Consequently, the audience has to stumble blindly through Exorcist II’s non sequiturs and hallucinations, occasionally baffled but never scared. (Unless, like me, you’re really freaked out by locusts.) To put it succinctly, this is a bad movie. And yet, somehow, I can’t condemn it or write it off entirely. That’s primarily because John Boorman’s direction, compounded by Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, gives the film a tacky, idiosyncratic flavor. Boorman plays odd visual tricks with mirrors and aerial shots, all colored by a fire-and-earth palette. This imagery isn’t strictly “good,” but it is interesting!

In fact, the best way to view Exorcist II might actually be as the spiritual sequel to Boorman’s Zardoz (1974). With its anti-logical flights of fancy, its fossilized mid-’70s aesthetic, and its fuzzy moral dilemmas, it has far more in common with that oft-mocked dystopian epic than it does with The Exorcist. Does this redeem it as a horror movie? No. But it’s still a hell of an experience.

2 Comments

Filed under Cinema

One Hour Mark: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

By Andreas

“My father-in-law was a man of the lord,” says Nick. “And he was very rich.” Boys and girls, it’s story time. 1:00:00 into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Nick—played by the emphatically handsome George Segal—is getting very, very drunk on bourbon. Needled by his playmate George (Richard Burton), a history professor who’s been marinating for decades in alcohol and resentment, Nick’s reluctantly exposing the cracks in his storybook marriage to the young, beautiful Honey. Sprawled out on George’s lawn, he’s making himself vulnerable. And George is getting ready to pounce.

This may look superficially like a friendly late-night chat, but no: it’s a high-stakes game of betrayal, emasculation, and sexual jealousy. It’s part of the “Fun and Games” that titles Virginia Woolf‘s first act, with George playing the Socratic teacher as he draws out Nick’s secrets with leading questions. You can see him hovering right behind Nick, eagerly absorbing every word of his story while tracing out the seams in his youth and physical prowess. He’s subtly turning Nick’s confessional impulse into a weapon of mass self-destruction.

George demonstrates such emotional savvy as he toys with Nick. I guess you just get that way after twenty years of bitter, predatory marriage. His cruel gamesmanship might be cunningly planned out in advance, or it might just be second nature by now to barb any new relationship with quiet antagonism. All of these layers are concealed in this two-shot, which is sustained throughout Nick’s story. It’s a toxic, one-sided mind game masquerading as a liquor-fueled bull session.

So many of these dualities are brought out visually through Haskell Wexler’s stark photography. The nocturnal chiaroscuro, with the meager light offsetting shadows and the dull gray of the men’s suits, makes the scene feel dead serious. But this impression is instantly contradicted by George’s loose posture and the boyish smugness in Nick’s face. It’s as if an earnest, adult-oriented drama had descended into silliness and self-parody.

Just look at these men: lying around in the front yard, telling stories and playing games. Are these really mature, full-grown college professors? Or are they actually children play-acting as adults? (And don’t forget the swing hanging there, which George was riding on moments earlier.) I suspect that Edward Albee would debate whether there’s even a difference between the two.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema