Ms. S. and I are both completists in a way. Once we start, we can’t stop. If there is a movie series and we begin it, we commit to it … of course, there are exceptions. This is just a preface.
Sunday is for us, as for many people, a ‘day off’. We’re working through Ebert’s year-by-year list of the greatest films of his career and are now around the mid-70s, but we do not limit ourselves only to ‘great’ films. Or even ‘good’. And after the heaviness that was “Cries and Whispers” — and, not wanting to just fall back on our usual television rotation — we opted for some so-so movie magic during our enjoyment of pizza, chips, and wine.
Consumed? “The Prophecy” (1995), which I’d seen previously, “Exorcist II: The Heretic”, and “The Exorcist III”.
I. The Prophecy
I watched this years ago. Not too many years ago … but definitely more than a decade. What does it offer us? Eric Stoltz, Virginia Madsen, Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas, Amanda Plummer … and Viggo Mortensen. It’s listed as a 1995 film, though it was filmed in 1993; this is amusing if only because when I think of 1995 and film, I think of watching “Pulp Fiction” in Budapest, even if it’s listed as a 1994 movie. Its principle photography began September 20, 1993 and wrapped on November 30 (so says Wikipedia); filming of “The Prophecy” ran from September 27 to November 8. Why is this interesting or relevant? The two movies share: Eric Stoltz, Amanda Pummer, and Christopher Walken. How did they end up on the same two movies filmed at the same time? Inquiring minds …
II. Exorcist II: The Heretic
Oh, Richard Burton, what were you thinking? A paycheck to pay for the booze? Too soon?
Again we have an ‘overqualified’ cast, in this cast Burton, but also Louise “I have n Oscar” Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Ned Beatty … and James “Darth & Thulsa Doom” Earl Jones. It’s by John Boorman … what could go wrong? Evidently just about everything. And yet I’m fascinated by it. It has three clear ‘acts’ that are not just related to plot development (in terms of building conflict and resolving it), but also in terms of style and kinds of narrative. The middle act, in particular, is a quest that plays out mainly in Africa. The first act is a back and forth between our exorcist and our doctor, between faith and science, with Linda Blair in the middle. And in the third it’s about pairing up Blair and Burton, and to a lesser extent Fletcher and Winn. It stands alone pretty well on its own but owes a debt to Friedkin’s movie, but by containing all of the von Sydow material and such it ties the movie into a larger mythology that also obscures the weird and wacky things this movie is doing.
I like to envision it this way: the first act establishes the traditional genre, and it reminds us of “The Exorcist” (1973) but also of much later films, like “Stigmata” (1999) the vastly inferior “The Reaping” (2007). You begin with your exorcist or scientist somewhere investigating a case that they either dubunk or which might prove meaningful later on. Then they’re drawn into a new case, have to go on location, etc. And so it is with Burton, who is introduced while performing one ritual, and then he has a discussion with his higher-ups, and then he’s off to see Blair. Our ‘conflict’ between religious superstition and Fletcher’s science and technology ensues.
As a lover of science fiction I of course find the device for synchronized hypnosis entirely ridiculous. But, I think … but: if it were placed in a movie taking place a hundred years later then we’d accept it as sufficiently advanced technology. And we laugh at this device, yet we accept Catholic mythology, demons, and exorcism … at least for the sake of the plot/story. And I ask, it’s really no more absurd, is it?
The conflict in this first act is ‘traditional’ in many regards. Formulaic. It develops as expected. It’s actually the least interesting part of this part of the movie … we have the fashion, we have the architecture. Oh, the architecture. Fletcher’s office/clinic and its technology. Where Blair is staying with Winn. It contrast so wonderfully with Catholocism and the Georgetown of the genre-establishing first movie. But it’s also just so … alive! There’s a whole world there I want more of, partially because it’s barely explored.
Then we get the second act which is a quest — and vision quest — that features Blair only insofar as she is linked with Burton thousands of miles away as he retraces Max von Sydow’s steps and seeks out James Earl Jones. It’s linear in storytelling but elliptical in mood. It also features that old-vs-new conflict of the first act, here contrasting James Earl Jones as more or less ‘witch doctor’ and as modern scientist. There’s a whole discourse on such movies, about how we deal with Africa in (popular) culture … there’s something problematic about how we use and objectify this particular other … but this movie doesn’t exactly engage this discourse as it tosses paint against the wall much like a monkey flinging feces. Some of it sticks, some of it stinks.
The third act is a return, seemingly a return to the first, to take it up and resolve it, but now informed by the resolution to the second. And it’s not exactly a faith vs. science debate that was framed as existential evil vs. mental illness; we get a new scientific model, one based on locusts and mass behavior. I like the idea that we can have an explanation for this ‘evil’ that does not require the supernatural but while naturalistic does not reduce to matters of psychological abnormality. We get hive behavior and ‘infection’ in a way. It’s a neat twist, though an idea that is more subservient to plot resolution than allowed actual development and realization.
“The Exorcist” is the much better movie but is basically horror comfort food now; “Exorcist II: The Heretic”, overstuffed with ideas, is more interesting and intriguing.
III. The Exorcist III
And of course 1990’s “The Exorcist III” would link into the first, ignore the second, and be written and directed by the guy who wrote “The Exorcist”. It’s not overstuffed with ideas; its cast is, of course, mildly overqualified. George C. “I also have an Oscar” Scott co-stars with Brad “How Many Ways Can I Play Chaotic-Evil?” Dourif.
It’s basically “Silence of the Lambs” meets, well, “The Exorcist”. We tying demon possession to serial killers, and really this is just an overlong episode of ‘The X-Files’, though that wouldn’t debut for several more years.
It’s perfectly acceptable and rather well-crafted. It holds no real surprises. Of course Brad is our villain.
At some point we’ll watching the duelling ‘prequels’, “The Exorcist: Beginning” and “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist”