William Peter Blatty will be forever remembered as the author of The Exorcist, but this spiritual sequel contains some of the writer’s best work. It’s a dark comedy, a horror, a mystery and a search for God in a seemingly godless place.
After the war in Vietnam, the American military witnessed a sharp rise in soldiers going insane. They established centres to see if these GIs were legitimately mentally ill, and our story focuses on one set up in a castle near the coast.
Colonel Hudson Kane (Stacy Keach) arrives to evaluate the men, becoming particularly interested in Captain Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who refused to launch a shuttle heading to the Moon (the character is the astronaut who Regan McNeill told “You’re going to die up there,” in The Exorcist). As the two men discuss the existence of good and evil, and whether there really is a God, the question of sanity begins to take a back seat.
Shot in Budapest (the castle’s place in the US is never really convincing), the film is a wonderfully atmospheric piece that starts as a weird comedy and becomes something quite different.
The collection of oddballs who are undergoing treatment are a fascinating bunch, with Jason Miller (The Exorcist’s Father Karras) trying to mount a production of Shakespeare plays starring only dogs, Robert Loggia in blackface, Moses Gunn in a Superman suit, and actual war hero Neville Brand as the soldier trying to keep these lunatics in line.
But it’s Kane and Cutshaw who are the film’s focus, as the latter challenges the former to give him one genuine example of man’s goodness. The dialogue is beautifully written as the two verbally spar with each other, and Blatty never really attempts to conceal the fact that Kane is hiding a pretty massive secret.
It slows down once it hits the halfway mark, but the key bar-room sequence late in the film is superb, and there’s a real emotional impact to the final reveal. It’s flawed but fascinating, and repeat viewings continue to reveal new pleasures.
The excellent Blu-ray contains new interviews with Blatty, Keach and others, and some tales of the raucous troubled production that fans will want to hear about.