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by Jason Cook

18 Oct 2010


All the while “His Dark Exotica” has run, there have been short analyses of Ennio Morricone and his work on Exorcist II: The Heretic in the various contexts in which the music is played and intended. Now, as the series nears its penultimate piece, there is the question of the film’s actual theme. This theme (a culmination of the various tracks that precede its midway appearance on the film’s soundtrack) is memorable, to say the least. In under three minutes, one hears the coda from “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird in the Sky”. There’s the strange glossolalia of “Little Afro Flemish Mass”, and frantic chanted tempo of “Magic and Ecstasy”. Strong are the staccato exotica whip cracks, marimba sequences, and African drumming. It’s as if Morricone, in this piece, and to counter the previous film’s minimalist theme by Mike Oldfield, has given us everything, pouring into his simple modulation the weird keys that progress through the even weirder film for which he composed.

“Pazuzu (Theme From Exorcist II)” is about channeling. The track does not play prominently in the film. Rather, it emerges in aural corners and suggests all the witchery, locust-vision, and demonic possession that Regan and crew play out on the screen. It isn’t the theme of a blockbuster or even a considerable hit. It’s the sound of something too far gone for mainstream anything. It’s the certain sound of a demon, Pazuzu, and the way he rides the teeth of the wind.

by Jason Cook

11 Oct 2010


Perhaps the best and most descriptive title on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic, “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is one of the post-exotica songs from which this series derives its name.

Exotica, named after the respectively titled 1957 Martin Denny album, was a musical genre born out of a strange 1950s need for suburbanites to escape the glamor of their picket-fence nuclear era with impressionistic, pseudo-Oceanic lounge music, similar to the “space age pop” also of the era. Les Baxter’s Ritual of the Savage is perhaps the most important work of the genre, offering a true escape for turntable-listeners of that decade’s twenty-something generation by way of stereophonic strings, tribal rhythms of all sort, vibraphones, kotos, gongs, bird calls, and nearly anything “exotic” (or not endemic to white, suburban, narrowly cultured, unable-to-listen-to-real-jazz-but-rather-Sinatra-&-Swingin’-Brass). Is it a good genre? Yes. Did it die with the JFK era? Mostly.

In the same way that the 1990s gave birth to post-rock by reinterpreting standard rock instrumentation in Bark Psychosis’ Hex or Slint’s Spiderland, Ennio Morricone, probably not unbeknownst to himself, borne post-exotica with “Little Afro Flemish Mass”. The piece is culturally-aware; it behaves exactly as its title claims. In the film for which it was written, at the moment it plays we find, by our definition, an exotic setting (Ethiopia); a ritual of sorts (the Afro-mass); and all the chants, trappings, and impressionist garb one might have conversely imagined for Les Baxter’s work. Morricone’s piece is aware of Baxter’s work, and one might take this argument and scold it for the fact that “Little Afro Flemish Mass” isn’t a postmodern interpretation of anything: It is what it is—an imagined mass, a recitation of Catholic circumstance in a weird setting. But that’s false, I say. “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is to Ritual of the Savage on the basis of its outlandishness, its inherent association with a genre known for cultural misappropriation.

by Jason Cook

4 Oct 2010


Reedy and sustained, “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird of the Sky” both make for Ennio Morricone’s most focused coda-laden contributions to his soundtrack for the ill-received 1977 horror psychedelia sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. Guided by bells, tensely shuffling percussion, and a soft lone voice representative of Regan, the film’s possessed protagonist of sorts, “Rite of Magic” first delivers the film’s coda on the 1977 soundtrack—second in the film to “Great Bird of the Sky”, which plays only 20 minutes into the film and at its first dramatic point, a moment when Richard Burton, sweaty and orange-faced as ever, is handed a portrait of himself illustrated by a not-so-little Linda Blair as Regan.

“Flames… Flames. They’re getting bigger. We’ve got to put the fire out”, he says. Morricone’s piece begins and the weird aria starts amid buzzing strings like George Crumb’s Black Angels gone soft.

“Take it easy. It’s probably an after-effect of the hypnosis”, Louise Fletcher tells Burton.

They’ve been experimenting with a remote-viewing device, and when they do find the fire, somewhere in a basement and to the tune of silence—Morricone’s piece drops out after the soloist’s first few bars, Fletcher sees Burton standing before it, crowned with flames, and the film gets a little sillier. But the coda returns in a scene almost an hour later, emerging again with Burton in Ethiopia, praying to God in, remotely speaking to Blair who lays in bed, possessed and sweating like Burton, speaking to him: “Call me. Call me. Call me by my dream name.”

by Jason Cook

20 Sep 2010


Mimicking the naming convention for Morricone’s opening track on the Exorcist II soundtrack, and irrespective of the 1955 American film of the same name, Ennio Morricone’s “Interrupted Melody (Suspended Sound)” is a simple, almost processional piece, a highlight of the composer’s encapsulate work on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic. Considerate enough to run beneath the title sequence of a less conceptual film, its motif is repeated once more on the album, playing more slowly and with the earnest of a Disney film in “Interrupted Melody”.

Morricone’s naming convention, “(Suspended Sound)”—and, for “Regan’s Theme”, “(Floating Sound)”—seem to be implications of each respective piece’s dynamic timbre. “(Suspended Sound)” plays at a higher velocity, more within earshot of the listener. Its strings and slow piano are recorded and compressed at an almost pop-music level, sounding more literal and akin to something more fit for television. “Interrupted Melody” is cathartic and a logical antonymous motif to the shadow of Mike Oldefield’s “Tubular Bells” from the series’ first film.

by Jason Cook

13 Sep 2010


Somewhere on the downbeat in The Heretic’s “Magic and Ecstasy” are the ghost notes that the film’s teenage Regan must find alarming, like a Trashmen record played at the wrong speed. One of the coverable tracks on the album, the song tries very little to scare its listeners in the way they may have expected after hearing either incarnation of “Regan’s Theme”. Instead, a drum kit cobbles through a Voodoo Child rock beat, accompanying a fuzzed-out bassline that leads us into Hell.

“Magic and Ecstasy’s” psychedelic tendencies aren’t at all at odds with The Heretic’s imagery. In fact, if one were to excerpt the film’s African possession scenes (yes, Exorcist II has plenty of strange scenes set in an Ethiopian dreamworld, from the perspective of a third-person psy-locust controlled by Linda Blair’s thoughts—see what I’m getting at here?) and contrast them with those of a bandanna-clad Band of Gypsies, add a few wavering King Crimson solos, and, well—I think Ennio Morricone had it right here.  At its most interesting moments, The Heretic is fairly entertaining, and mainly during its dreamworld sidebar. We see stampeding wildebeest, red rocky caverns, perspective-skewed savannah after grassland after dark reddened riverscape. James Earl Jones shows up as an entomologist. At one moment, Blair’s Regan tells us commandingly as she flies in locust-form: “Come; fly the teeth of the wind. Share my wings”. All of this Morricone watched in a mixing room as he wrote “Magic and Ecstasy”.

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