The Exorcist (1974, William Friedkin) / Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, John Boorman)

The critic Mark Kermode once said of The Exorcist, “It’s the greatest film ever made.” That’s a stupendously misguided and embarrassing statement. (It’s not even the greatest American horror film of the ’70s. That would be Halloween.) And he’s stuck with it. Like a supporter of the invasion of Iraq who refuses to admit they were wrong, Kermode can’t bring himself to recant his position. I almost feel bad for the man.

Obviously, to single out any movie as the greatest ever is plain dumb. (There are masterpieces of such markedly differing styles and tones how can you possibly play them off against each other?) But, in the case of The Exorcist it’s particularly painful because we’re talking about a film directed by William fucking Friedkin! Murnau, Renoir, Hitchcock, Welles, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Ford, Hawks, Bergman, De Sica, Kiarostami, Kieslowski… They’re all competing for a spot behind the genius that is Billy.

But maybe I’m falling into Kermode’s trap and he was deliberately being provocative; trolling before the phrase had been added to the national lexicon.

Anyway, The Exorcist may not be the greatest film ever, or even a great film period, but is it any good? Well, it’s got a few things going for it: Tubular Bells on the soundtrack, that poster shot of The Exorcist himself arriving to do battle with the cringe-makingly named demon, Pazuzu… OK, maybe it’s got 2 things going for it. And it’s surely the most humourless horror film ever.

[If, dear reader, you’ll permit me a moment of scaling the moral high ground, may I also say this film (and any other dealing with “possession”) is deeply offensive towards people who suffer from seizures and mental health problems.]

John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, on the other hand, is completely bonkers and absolutely brilliant. If you have any interest in studio films that break with convention and push the cinematic form, you have to see this flick.

I’m yet to see another sequel that differs so greatly from the original. Boorman has a gift of visual virtuosity that leaves Friedkin looking like a tired craftsman, studiously adjusting his spirit level without a shred of imagination.

If you can’t be arsed to watch the whole film, I beg you, please check out the trailer – surely one of the best ever:


Sam Bowles


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