The Exorcist II: The Heretic – John Boorman – 1977

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John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic is both a sophisticated argument for and a worthy counter-argument against the hive mind problematic. Using brain-linking technology Richard Burton is able to locate a man on the other side of the world who may help him defeat the demon Pazuzu. He extracts this from Reagan who was previously possessed by the demon. Yet when he meets Kukumo, the scientists are teaching the locusts how not to swarm. They remove their biofeedback, that same apparatus through which the priest was even able to arrive in Africa.

Confused yet? This film is way ahead of its time. As an experience the film is enjoyable enough, we don’t really get too much demon action, and the scares are sparse if not non-existent. The pace is fine and the performances are very good.

The story is a far out sci-fi parable about the dangers of shared consciousness. This stuff is what makes the picture much more than a horror franchise entry. Unfortunately, this futuristic fable was laughed off the screen upon its release, the synchronizing device seeming ridiculous. With today’s social media, and people being arrested for crimes they premeditate on the internet it is much less difficult to believe in a device that allows individuals to share their thoughts.

So what is the plot of this crazy story? Father Lamont, a journeyman exorcist is assigned by the church to investigate the death of Father Merrin. Because Merrin wrote a bunch of stuff about demons he is posthumously being charged as a heretic because the modern church wants to deny a literal satanic entity. What a bunch of jerks. So Richard Burton goes to meet up with Regan in NYC and the frog-eating teacher from Tobe Hooper’s Invaders From Mars.

Lamont and Regan mind-sync and he learns that once upon a time, James Earl Jones defeated Pazuzu in Africa. This sequence is pretty great. Pazuzu takes the forms of a swarm of locusts, symbolizing a shared consciousness moving as a many bodies. It’s one long swooping airplane shot over the African plains and the accompanying jittering vocal music is creepy and weird. Fun stuff.

Lamont goes to Africa to meet Kukumo who is teaching locusts not to swarm. Regan begins to reach inside the minds of others and speak to them. She teaches an autistic girl to talk. Here is where the film gets super contradictory.

Father Merrin belived that individuals like Kukumo and Regan were foreshadowers of a new type of humanity destined to bind the world in a global consciousness brought forth by their psychic power. But, Kukumo, you are teaching the locusts not to swarm! And why? Because if a demon infects one locust the psychic connection between all of them will bind them in the possession!

I’m not sure how aware Boorman was of what he is saying here. Does he expect the audience to recognize this dichotomy and sort for themselves a moral role on the proceedings? Is the film pro-mass consciousness or against it? Does it simply seek to explore the idea of shared mindscapes?

This is never answered. Reagan and Lamont go to Georgetown and face off with Pazuzu and the scene is big and loud and cool, but signifies nothing but Good over Evil. The three lead characters all survive, (not a bonus in my book). We are left with all this heady stuff about shared minds floating about but Boorman offers no easy out. All in all this film remains a smart sci-fi adventure, a bit dry, and a bit easy, but compelling nonetheless.

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