The Exorcist director slams sequel as a 'disgrace'

The Exorcist director William Friedkin wants to exorcise Exorcist II: The Heretic from his memory — and from the entire planet, while he's at it. 

Speaking during a recent appearance on Oscar nominated-screenwriter Josh Olson's podcast The Movies That Made Me (via Entertainment Weekly), Friedkin got to talking about Exorcist II, the much-maligned sequel to his 1973 horror classic. Friedkin didn't direct the sequel pic — Academy Award-nominee John Boorman, the man responsible for films like Point Black and Excalibur, was the guy who did. But even with a talent like Boorman behind the helm and a cast that featured legendary actors like James Earl Jones and Richard Burton, Exorcist II: The Heretic was a commercial and critical trainwreck, and Friedkin maintains that it's the worst movie he's ever seen.

"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 s*** I've ever seen. It's a f***ing disgrace," Friedkin told Olson and his co-host Joe Dante, best known for directing Gremlins. "And God, what a cast it had — Richard Burton, and Max von Sydow, and Louise Fletcher, plus Linda Blair. James Earl Jones."

He added, "That's the worst 40 minutes of film I have ever seen, really, and that's saying a lot."

From a facts-and-figures-only standpoint, Friedkin isn't wrong: Exorcist II: The Heretic is pretty awful. When it debuted in 1977, the sequel film earned only $30.7 million — a staggering $162.3 million less than the original movie yielded during its theatrical run in 1973. Such a pull did see the pic recoup its production budget and pocket some extra millions, but the sharp, violent drop in revenue from the first film was alarming to say the very least. 

Exorcist II didn't perform much better on the critical side of things, either, as audiences reportedly "burst into hysterical laughter" during screenings and even took to the streets to chase after Friedkin and other Warner Bros. executives for green-lighting such a terrible film. (Friedkin didn't have any real skin in Exorcist II, he just got mixed up in an unfortunate situation when an angry mob went after the studio's brass, whom he was meant to have lunch with one afternoon shortly after the film's release.) 

In the years since, critics have continuously slammed Exorcist II: The Heretic, calling it "an often astonishingly terrible and inept sequel"; "118 minutes of endless flashy-light hypnotism, staggeringly terrible locust effects, and Richard Burton wandering around what appears to be Tatooine"; and "possibly the worst film ever made and surely the worst sequel ever made."

As eyebrow-raising as his comments on The Movies That Made Me are, they aren't the first shots at Exorcist II: The Heretic that Friedkin has fired. Chatting with Bob McCabe for his 1999 book The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows, Friedkin stated (via Yahoo), "I was at Technicolor and a guy said 'We just finished a print of Exorcist II, do you wanna have a look at it?' And I looked at half an hour of it and I thought it was as bad as seeing a traffic accident in the street. It was horrible. It's just a stupid mess made by a dumb guy — John Boorman by name, somebody who should be nameless but in this case should be named. Scurrilous. A horrible picture."

Though Exorcist II: The Heretic has gone down in history as the worst of the franchise and Friedkin's obvious least favorite movie in history, the film series almost managed to get back on track with 1990's The Exorcist III, which didn't bomb as hard as the sequel did and became something of a cult classic. (People still really disliked it, don't get us wrong, but not nearly as much as they hated Exorcist II.) Sadly, the film franchise never recovered, releasing back-to-back mega-flops in the 2004 prequel Exorcist: The Beginning and the 2005 flick Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Over on the small screen, The Exorcist lived on in a wonderful way through the well-received drama The Exorcist. Unfortunately, it too fell victim to the apparent curse that haunts the property when it was cancelled after two seasons on FOX. 

This all goes to show that building a franchise off an innovative, genre-changing IP isn't always a great idea — and that the saying "sequels are rarely as good as the original" exists for a reason.