[7 September 2010]
It’s difficult to mention anything musically related to The Exorcist series without first recalling prog-meister Mike Oldfield and what his theme from “Tubular Bells” did for the series’ antecedent entry. Oldfield’s excerpt did something honest for the horror genre; it delivered a clear mood, one clear of the tense strings that mired many soundtracks then to-date. Ennio Morricone, prolific trafficker in beautifully sleazy lounge and synth-funky giallo soundtracks in the 1970s, did something different for the Exorcist series’ second entry: he brought us clever smatterings of Les Baxter; he brought us surf-jazz funk, he brought us atonal clusters. The man brought everything he could bring.
Morricone’s name is not quite a household one, but his music, through its influence, reuse, or appearance in Grammy-winning soundtracks, is instantly recallable and nearly a filmic entity unto itself. Recently, Morricone’s music was sourced for use in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and other films. And just over ten years after Morricone’s landmark work on The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and the rest of the Dollars trilogy, he wrote music for John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), featuring a vinyl-only release often shadowed by Morricone’s thin margin of spaghetti western work.
The film itself is bizarre and unlike William Freidkin’s 1971 classic. The Heretic works less succinctly, carrying on the first film’s storyline through a distorted, giallo-esque vantage. As we watch the film, we watch as Morricone must have watched; sensing throughout it the close of a hazy decade and the subtle onset of the `80s—a time when, until The Thing in 1982, Morricone’s work scarcely ventured out of Italy. The Heretic soundtrack comes as a liturgic and worthwhile lysergic extraction from a film too self-assuredly auspicious to succeed on its own merit. In many ways, Morricone’s soundtrack makes the film, giving it a tinge of dark exotica taken far out of the relaxed post-war `50s and into the era of New York City’s David Berkowitz terror, sex-cult the Children of God, and the returned US death penalty. And it shines. The film’s soundtrack album is an icily psychedelic 35 minutes, beginning with its finale.
“Regan’s Theme (Finale)”, an acoustic sequence as much a choral nod to Morricone’s Italian erotica scores as it is to Krzysztof Komeda’s title sequence for Rosemary’s Baby (1968), would fit well against the modern credits of some neo-shogun epic like Kill Bill. This first track is a longer sequence of another track, so I’ll consider both at this juncture.
The “finale” pairs later on the album with its twin piece: “Regan’s Theme (Floating Sound)”. Both themes make up half of this album’s selection of soft, typical film music for the era. But this isn’t to say they’re to be skipped: The former opens with a melodic guitar line irrespective of the film’s musical coda. Perhaps Morricone devised this suite as a glorious kind of ode to the film’s teenage Linda Blair. She appears much older in The Heretic than as the child she played in the series’ first film and no doubt may the audience notice as she nearly walks off a high-rise in a translucent nightgown.
What Morricone wrote for the “Regan’s Themes” is wistful; the songs feature simple strings that pad something of an aria. The latter theme plays more slowly, opening with a reverse echo effect predating the Pro Tools edits used often in today’s nu-metal Linkin Park-isms. The guitar passage is more pronounced in the latter theme, and, film aside, this passage would play well in Thomas Newman’s American Beauty soundtrack, scoring the universally recallable moment when Kevin Spacey’s character leers on while Mena Suvari bursts between her hips with roses. Both “Regan’s Themes”, akin to Newman’s “Arose” or “Angela Undress”, are not depicted as such in The Heretic but exist as so, beyond Linda Blair and the sexed-up manner in which she’s presented, and further into the film’s horror abound.
Someone should (though no one has) repurpose this pair of songs for the next throwback moment when a new indie starlet emerges, and when, in situ, her character entrances us and looks deeply unlike they have before. Morricone knew this moment just as he had known how to handle sex in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). The “Regan’s Theme” suite gives way to a certain hell that exists on each side of The Heretic album in a way so lightly executed that only a tune so proto-suburban could.