Tag Archives: John Boorman

CAPSULE: EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Linda Blair, , Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn, James Earl Jones,

PLOT: Four years after Father Merrin died casting a demon out of young Regan, a priest investigates the affair and discovers the demon isn’t completely gone; further investigation takes him to Africa in search of the evil spirit’s roots.

Still from Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scenes like the one where James Earl Jones, dressed as an African prince, apparently turns into a leopard when he shouts at the devil made this goofy semi-Satanic sequel come closer than you might think to being considered for the List.

COMMENTS: You’ve probably heard that Exorcist II is a bad movie, and that’s certainly true. It’s important to note, however, that like most of ‘s bad movies, it may be laughable, but it’s never boring. Four decades out from its theatrical debut, the sense of outrage over the betrayal of William Friedkin’s horror classic has subsided, and more viewers are now willing to let The Heretic‘s hypnotic camp spell wash over them.

“Satan has become an embarrassment to our progressive views,” complains Richard Burton, speaking with the pseudo-Shakespearean diction he believes Catholic priests use (which includes pronouncing devil as “dev-ILL” and evil as “EEE-ville”).  Burton already knew a thing or two about embarrassment, and he discovers a couple of new tricks in this outing. The Heretic goes completely off the rails very quickly when Burton’s priest, investigating the exorcism-related death of Father Merrick four years ago, is inexplicably invited to sit in on teenage Regan’s private post-possession stress disorder therapy sessions with her skeptical secular therapist. He arrives just in time for her first therapy session with a dual-user hypnosis machine which allows her to relive the repressed horrors of possession. The device also allows them to speak to the demon directly, gives the therapist atrial fibulation (which Burton fixes with a little psychic open heart surgery after he dons the machine’s disco headband), and causes girl and cleric to form a permanent psychic link. “Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon inside of her!” declares Burton, with conviction.

The hypnosis machine, with its strobe-lights and a methodology which involves syncing “tones” via biofeedback, is a perfect encapsulation of the blend of the eerily effective and utterly ridiculous that characterizes The Heretic. And believe me, it gets more unhinged from there, as Burton goes to Africa searching for the demon Pazuzu and Boorman goes into one of his famous directing frenzies where he lays logic aside to focus on hallucinatory set pieces. You get multiple shots from the locust cam, including a great locust tracking shot where we follow the speeding insect as he zips across the savannah accompanied by the sound of a cracking whip.  You get scenes of tribespeople fighting off swarms of locusts on a golden-hued studio backlot. There’s a hidden city perched on top of a massive cliff, accessible only by scaling a narrow cleft between two mountains. And who could forget James Earl Jones dressed like an insect in his cave throne room, only when the priest puts a spike through his foot he turns out to be an entomologist? Meanwhile, back in New York City, demonic possession is a minor inconvenience for Regan, who is more concerned with her upcoming tap dance recital. It all has something to do with finding the “good locust” who will turn the swarm into “happy-go-lucky grasshoppers.”

As you can see, Exorcist II has a lot of issues, but being dull isn’t one of them.  Long tracking shots through a theater-bound Africa, set to Ennio Morricone’s typically great, chant-heavy score, provide an appealing dreamlike character to long stretches of the film that make you want to forgive (or even embrace) the lapses in logic. Add in a hammy, over-enunciating Burton giving his all to lines like “is there no hope once the wings have brushed you?” and you have a bad movie that keeps you watching. It’s no Zardoz, but, whether they be good or bad, Boorman does not make boring movies (or at least he didn’t in the 70s and 80s). The Heretic is far more entertaining than its poor reputation suggests and, although it may sound like heresy to Exorcist fans, given the choice between re-watching the terrifying original or taking another crack at this rollicking disaster, I would hesitate for a moment. The choice would depend on whether I’m in the mood for shivers, or shivery chuckles.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It more than lives up to its reputation as the nadir of the Exorcist franchise, but it’s also, by far, the most fun of them all.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy (DVD)

CAPSULE: POINT BLANK (1967)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Angie Dickinson, , Keenan Wynn, Lloyd Bochner, Carol O’Connor, Sharon Acker

PLOT: Walker is shot and left for dead by his partner during a heist; he survives, and returns to demand “the Organization” gives him back the $93,000 that was taken from him.

Still from Point Blank (1967)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Point Blank is pretty strange for a gangster revenge movie, but although it experiments with impressionistic techniques, it’s not too much more daring or avant-garde than other big budget arthouse films of the period (say, Midnight Cowboy). Compare this to Branded to Kill, another 1967 release featuring a lone mobster facing off against a criminal organization, to see why Point Blank doesn’t quite muster the necessary weirdness to crack the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made.

COMMENTS: With its fractured narrative and obscure feel, John Boorman’s second film, the revenge thriller Point Blank, was too ahead-of-its-time to be a hit even in freewheeling 1967. Although its critical reputation has grown enormously since its release, the movie has sadly been overlooked by the average cinephile even today. Point Blank is influenced by the French New Wave, not in terms of technique—everything looks slick and polished rather than rough and handmade—but by the spirit of reinventing genre pictures and investing them with existential ambiguity. Yet, it also remains true to Hollywood tough-guy antihero mythology, while amping up the sex and violence to then-shocking levels. It’s non-linear and confusingly told with flashbacks, memories and what could be dreams, but it’s really only disorienting in the six minute pre-credits opening where Lee Marvin’s betrayed and robbed Walker lies bleeding after being shot at point blank range. After that the movie quickly settles into a very clear and direct structure where Walker hunts down a mobster, asks for his money, kills him when he refuses, then sets his sights on the dead man’s direct superior, slaying his way up the ladder looking for someone with authority to cut him a $93,000 check.

Lee Marvin’s square-jawed squareness has never been put to cooler use than in Point Blank. Utilizing a vocabulary smaller than Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, he’s relentless and unflappable, standing like a rock while Angie Dickinson unleashes a fury of blows against him, then wordlessly turning on the TV when she collapses into an exhausted heap. Marvin even makes a tangerine shirt with a brown tweed jacket look hip. For fun, chart the number of people Walker actually kills versus the ones whom he simply manipulates into doing themselves in. Yet, as cool and mechanical as he is, Walker works as a character because he’s obsessed—the irrational way he barges into his wife’s apartment and unloads his gun into an empty bed in blind hope that her lover would be lying there tells us all we need to know about the sanity of his mission.

There are plenty of subtle dreamlike suggestions that what appears to be happening may not really be so, from the unnaturally stylized color schemes (the gray-on-gray of the compromised marital bedroom) to a mysteriously disappearing corpse. The mysterious Yost, who shows up with clues when needed and who is willing to help Walker against “the Organization” for unspecified reasons, adds another layer of suspicion. The script is cagey about Walker’s ultimate fate, but in the story he functions as a revenant: a remorseless spirit that can’t be killed, returned to satisfy a debt. Walker is inhuman in his single-mindedness, but we root for him nonetheless. There is something quintessentially American in his struggle against a bureaucratic mafia for his slice of the pie—more as a point of personal honor than for the pie itself. Point Blank is packed with classic style and star power, and has the perfect ratio of arthouse cool to gritty action.

Point Blank and the 1999 Mel Gibson feature Payback were both based on Donald Westlake’s novel “The Hunter.” John Boorman recalls that he and Lee Marvin loved the character of Walker, but hated the original treatment, and had the screenplay extensively rewritten. Boorman was not a fan of Gibson’s version of the story. “The script that he shot very much resembled the script that Lee Marvin threw out the window,” he quipped on the DVD commentary.

Point Blank was released on Blu-ray in July 2014.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Lee Marvin makes a perfect, unfazed human center to John Boorman’s bizarre, psychedelic universe in Point Blank.”–Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by PinstripeHourglass, who noted, “It’s not surrealistic weird, but it’s weird. Subtly weird, but very weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

78. ZARDOZ (1974)

“When I see the film now, I’m astonished at my hubris in making this extraordinary farrago.”–John Boorman in his 2001 director’s commentary for Zardoz

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: John Boorman

FEATURING: Sean Connery, , John Alderton, Sara Kestleman, Niall Buggy

PLOT: Zed is an Enforcer, a warrior and slaver who pillages the countryside and takes commands from Zardoz, a floating stone head, in a distant barbaric future.  One day Zed sneaks into the head and is carried away with it to Vortex 4, a land filled with technologically advanced people who never seem to age.  Zed is a curiosity to them and becomes both a slave and an object of scientific study, but his presence disrupts their society in profound ways.

Still from Zardoz (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Zardoz was John Boorman’s first film after being nominated for an Oscar for Deliverance.  Boorman had been trying to get an adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” off the ground, but the project fell through.
  • This was Sean Connery’s second role after completing his run as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 (although he would return to the role for a one off in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).
  • Burt Reynolds was originally slated to play Zed but fell ill.
  • According to Boorman the film’s budget was one million dollars, $200,000 of which went to Connery’s salary.
  • Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth also lensed 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many other films.
  • Boorman later co-wrote a novelization of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Try as he might to fill his film with unforgettable visions of giant floating stone heads vomiting firearms and of humanity’s entire cultural heritage projected onto the half-nude bodies of immortal hippies, the one image that adorns almost every review of Boorman’s Zardoz is a simple one: Sean Connery standing in the desert, pistol in hand, ponytail insouciantly thrown over one shoulder, dressed in thigh high leather boots and a red diaper with matching suspenders.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:   This sci-fi spectacle starts with serious ideas and weighty themes,


Original trailer for Zardoz

but gets weighed down under an avalanche of self-indulgent dialogue, a confused script, low-budget psychedelics, and consistently bizarre directorial choices.  Fill a talented young director’s head full of anticipation of adapting Tolkien, then pull that opportunity out from under him but instead give him Sean Connery and carte blanche to make whatever film he wants, and the result, apparently, is Zardoz.  (Oh, and LSD might have had something to do with it, too).

COMMENTSZardoz is introduced by a floating head weaving through a void, slowly Continue reading 78. ZARDOZ (1974)