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Tiger by the tail

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  November 18, 2008

And don't forgo the chance to see his maddest film, EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (Brattle: November 23 at 9:30 pm), on the big screen, where the astonishing visuals can truly be appreciated. The first of the Exorcist sequels (it came out in 1977), it has a stupefying William Goodhart script and a late Richard Burton performance — he's the priest sent to investigate the exorcisms of the late Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) — in which the combination of his embroidered Welsh-accented line readings and his physical stiffness turns him into a prize camp object. Pauline Kael once wrote that the movie would be amazing if you could turn off the sound, and a friend of mine once solved the problem by renting the DVD and turning on the dubbed Italian soundtrack.

The Brattle won't be offering that option, as far as I know, but the howlers in the script are probably worth the price of admission. (Burton actually says, "Evil is an insidious being.") And certainly the double-layered imagery is worth it in the eye-popping scene where Burton, Linda Blair, and Louise Fletcher as a forward-thinking shrink "go down" together via a "synchronizer" to revisit the exorcism at the climax of the first movie. The Exorcist was unredeemed, heartless junk; Exorcist II: The Heretic is simultaneously insane and visionary. Who could beat that combo?

John Boorman appears in person at the Harvard Film Archive November 21-22.

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