The riddle of the locust is that the locust is strong, but steel is stronger, so says (I wish) African locust shaman James Earle Jones in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and it is my unofficial recommendation for this weekend, depending on your state of pan-dimensional inebriation and yen for Italian-style nightmare logic. Mine is strong, and the riddle of steel asked by Jones in Conan, is it turns out answered a mere six years earlier. Such doth time melt in the hand of the shaman in the locust helmet.
And yet... fall approaches and doomsday December, and the bleakness of a member gone to ember turns one's heart turns to demon mentors, and as it's on the Netflix streaming, why not give Exorcist: the Heretic (1977) one more try? Me, I tried myself to watch it once years ago, but never got past that first mind-boggling scene where Burton first watches Louise Fletcher hypnotize Regan so she can go back in time to the events in her bedroom during the climax of the last film (he 'needs' to find out how Father Karras died) then he watches as Regan hypnotizes Fletcher (while still hypnotized herself) so she can join her there, in the past... and that's just the start of in nonsense. Soon Fletcher--in real time--is gasping in pain, because Pazuzu is clawing at her beating heart in the past. So Burton tells Regan to hypnotize him so he can go back and rescue Fletcher, as if pulling some Dreamscape/Inception-style dream invasion is is as easy as wearing a headband with some wires attached and staring into a flashing light for two seconds ("slow your tone!").
Back in time, Regan's devil make-up is being worn by a different actress massaging Fletcher's heart while Fletcher gasps and chokes and 'arghs'...
Minute-after-minute passes and Regan begs Burton to do something, anything, as he just stares at Pazuzu with her/its hands around Fletcher's exposed heart. Finally, after the moment plays on so long you think the editor must have fallen asleep, Burton croaks "in God's name," with nary a shred of holy conviction, and that's the end - Pazuzu fades away. In God's name indeed. I, like so many before me with some idea of how hypnotism and holy powder--I mean power--actually works, stopped watching. Regan, turn it off! Turn it off! Slow the tone!
|Blair and Burton meet at the Natural History Museum, perhaps to blur the line between|
its dioramas and the film's later unconvincing but interesting matte work
There's one Italian Exorcist knock-off in particular I'm thinking of, for it too mixes ESP, astral travel, mysterious shamans, and North African scenery, Lucio Fulci's Manhattan Baby (1982), which involves a mysterious amulet given to a kid visiting Egypt that later opens up a dimensional stargate between some lost Pharaoh tomb and the family's uptown Manhattan apartment. Baby fills in the gaps left in the original Exorcist's parallel stories, namely why/how Father Merrin's archeological dig in Iraq is responsible for Regan's possession. Is there a dimensional doorway involved between Iraq and Washington, and there seems to be here between Manhattan and Egypt? (see Acidemic Journal of Film and Media #3, 2007 - The Exorcist in Iraq).
As the story continues the family returns to Manhattan, and the children get sand all over their room from their travels back and forth and their parents are pretty pissed, and of course refuse to believe a word of explanation. But what's cool is for once the kids don't bother to tell their parents anything, and the parents never ask, so the Egyptologist dad never notices the amulet he's been searching for all his life is right there around his daughter's neck and magic dimensional doorways are opening all over the place and even if a mummy jumped out and swallowed him he wouldn't deign to act surprised, and that's a nice comment on the generation gap as it really was in the 70s, which is how it should be. In the 70s kids roamed free like wild animals, with only one caveat - be close enough by that you can hear your mom call you in for dinner, yelling your name out the window. They do their thing--bridge, wife-swapping, cocktails, golf--you do your thing--interdimensional doorway traversing, murdering snoopers--and everyone minds their own business.
I can't even remember how it ends, but hey... it's got its own thing going on. At least it will also help you sleep and make Heretic seem like Citizen Kane in comparison... or at least Beyond the Door.
Stealing the show in Heretic is James Earle Jones as etymology's Dr. Benway (top and below), a man who is simultaneously both a trippy locust-shaman and an etymologist working on ways to stop locust swarms that regularly wipe out crops all across his native Africa. I kept hoping he'd give Burton a flask of yellow bug powder so he could go around knocking on doors shouting "Exterminator!" and zapping Pazuzu's locust buddies even as his priestly collar turns into a black centipede with a patch of white on its forehead. At any rate its easier to believe Jones as a multi-dimensional locust shaman than it is to believe Burton's a priest or that they're really in Africa. If you've ever had a fever or done psychedelics or read any Phillip K. Dick then you know that simultaneous multi-dimensional existence is doable, and Jones makes you believe it. The way he effortlessly grasps Burton's lost, mangy situation on both fronts is pretty tripped out, and the highlight of the film.
The problem with Heretic is... and I hate to say this because I'm a fan-- Burton sucks in it. He must be unable to see straight in order to read cue cards, otherwise there's no reason he'd be so silent and sullen when he should be eating through the scenery like a wing-touched locust. Half the time he just ignores or doesn't answer direct questions posed by everyone from Regan to train conductors, like he's sulking because been promised a drink and isn't getting one. As the hours fritter by the shakes commence, or as he says as a much cooler priest in Night of the Iguana, "that's when the spook moves in." Burton at least got some opiate tea in that film, but he's pretty cut off in Heretic, and as the shakes come he tries to pass them off as holy madness, seizing his one chance at a diegetic libation by greedily gulping down a proffered sacramental wine goblet while atop the holy cliff in Africa. As any alcoholic knows one mere slam of wine when suffering booze withdrawal is like throwing a mug of water onto a bonfire. Son, you're gonna need more! Lucky for him he gets stoned (literally) by the locals before heading back home to more holy shakes. Later he starts abusing Blair, feebly shoving her against a wall over and over in a futile attempt to kill her --death by feeble shoving! It's one of the most embarrassing displays of Satanic possession in cinema. Finally he succumbs to delirium tremens, and "locusts" start swarming all around him. Richard, there are no locusts in Washington DC. Why couldn't you have stopped at a liquor store?
The 7 Stations of a Dry Burton
|Station 1: Hangover|
|Station 2: Existential Panic|
|Station 3: Blind Rage|
|Station 4: Brief Reprieve|
So forget about logic. Forget about comparing the sequel to the original. Just appreciate the dark, fuzzy, muted cinematography of William Fraker (Rosemary's Baby), turn up the Morricone and pretend it's Fulci's wing that's touching you instead of Boorman's. And lastly, look at the shots below and see if you can guess, which ones are from Manhattan Baby and which from Exorcist 2: The Heretic. The answer... may surprise you!
See also my 10/09 piece Bad Acid 70s-80s, Part III: Drive-In Dream Logic, Italian-style!