Five years after she killed three men during a bout of demonic possession, Regan MacNeil seems at peace as she enjoys a privileged but lonely adolescence. Her actress mother, absent on-location, leaves her in the care of her childhood nanny, Sharon, who feels inextricably bound to her young charge despite the terror she endured during the girl's possession. Regan attends frequent counseling sessions with Dr. Gene Tuskin, an unorthodox psychologist who believes Regan remembers more of her ordeal than she admits.
Faith won out over psychology in the original The Exorcist, so screenwriter William Goodhart gives the shrinks a higher handicap in Exorcist 2: The Heretic. Pseudoscience runs amok here, especially in the coolly modernist panopticon of Dr. Tuskin's treatment center. What appears to be an ordinary pair of strobe lights is actually the catalyst for not only telepathic communion between doctor and patient, but also a deluge of new age psychobabble that says more about the self-help '70s than it does about the conflicts between good and evil or religion and reason. As the good doctor, Louise Fletcher manages to keep a straight face -- and her dignity -- by playing the material straight, but Richard Burton, as the priest who must provide the spiritual component to Regan's therapy, gives in to the material's patent silliness, chomping scenery in his wake. James Earl Jones, as the grown-up Kokuma, makes the most of a small role that puts him in both loincloth and lab coat. Linda Blair, however, looks uncomfortable in an alternating series of schoolgirl outfits and negligées, bereft of the makeup and head-spinning that made her earlier performance so memorable. Perhaps she's trying to figure out why anyone would give her character -- who threw not one but two people out a window in the original film -- a penthouse apartment with a practically railing-free balcony. The answer: because it looks cool. Yes, despite the dearth of good writing and acting, director John Boorman, cinematographer William A. Fraker, and the special effects crew with Albert J. Whitlock have great fun concocting chic cityscapes, exotic, cast-of-thousands tableaux, and trippy supernatural sequences. From burning martyrs to voodoo ceremonies to aerial sequences shot from the viewpoint of a demonic grasshopper, they turn the visuals into improbable psychedelic poetry. Not until Alien 3 would a blockbuster sequel again so flagrantly sacrifice plot and characterization in favor of impressionistic imagery
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