The Exorcist director William Friedkin recalls watching infamous sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, and thinking it was the worst movie he'd ever seen. Released in 1973, The Exorcist is one of those films that's so iconic that it surpasses its own genre, and is likely to have been viewed even by those who don't generally care for horror films. A critical darling, the adaptation of author William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel earned ten Oscar nominations, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.
Most everyone is familiar with the head-spinning tale of young Regan MacNeil's (Linda Blair) possession by a vile demon, and her mother Chris' (Ellen Burstyn) struggle to free her daughter from evil's grip. Helping her do this is a pair of priests, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Merrin is an experienced exorcist, while Karras is struggling with his own faith. The Exorcist was also a huge box office hit, earning $443 million worldwide (over $1.6 billion in today's money, when adjusted for inflation).
Naturally, that kind of success led to a franchise, but unfortunately, that franchise has been very uneven. Most would point to 1977's John Boorman-directed sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic as the low point, with many horror fans considering it one of the worst sequels of all time. During a recent edition of The Movies That Made Me podcast (via EW), Friedkin went a lot further than that assessment, dubbing Exorcist II the worst movie he's ever seen, but in much more colorful language. His full quote is below.
“I tell you, I did see a great deal of Exorcist II, under the following circumstances. I was at the Technicolor lab, color timing something, and one of the timers said, ‘We just finished Exorcist II, would you like to have a look at it?’ And I don’t know why, but I went into the room and I sat through maybe 40 minutes of it. It’s the worst piece of sh— I’ve ever seen. It’s a f—ing disgrace….And God, what a cast it had — Richard Burton, and Max von Sydow, and Louise Fletcher, plus Linda Blair. James Earl Jones. That’s the worst 40 minutes of film I have ever seen, really, and that’s saying a lot.”
As Friedkin points out, Exorcist II actually boasted quite the strong cast of acclaimed actors, even getting Blair and von Sydow to reprise their roles from the original. Unfortunately, the sequel is nearly as long as the original Exorcist, but probably not even half as interesting. It also features some ridiculous imagery, such as the esteemed James Earl Jones dressed up in the giant bug head outfit seen above, and Blair playing both a regular and demon-possessed version of Regan in the same scene. She also grossly attempts to seduce the much older Father Philip Lamont (Richard Burton), despite Regan being only 16-years-old in-story.
Thankfully, 1990 follow-up The Exorcist III - which ignored The Heretic and tried its best to be a worthy sequel to the original - was directed by Blatty himself, and has become a bit of a cult classic in the decades since its release. It also features arguably the most effective jump scare in history. Back on the bottom shelf, the troubled production of prequel Exorcist: The Beginning infamously led to two different films being released. More recently, The Exorcist became a FOX TV series, which earned acclaim, but earned poor ratings and was canceled after two seasons. In Friedkin's opinion though, Exorcist II is clearly the bottom of the barrel.