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With Exorcist II, Linda Blair Was Doomed to a Career of Cult Movies, Thank Goodness

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Linda Blair died for your sins. Or, rather, Linda Blair’s career died for your sins. After starring in The Exorcist all she wanted to do was ride horses and maybe star in a few light comedies. She took on a couple of highly-rated, hot topic TV movies, but everyone wanted her to do an Exorcist sequel. The audience — we — demanded it. The studio demanded it. Her accountants demanded it. And so Linda Blair did it. Not because she wanted to, but for us. And it destroyed her.

William Peter-Blatty refused to be involved in a sequel to one of the biggest box office hits of the time. So did the original director, William Friedkin. Ellen Burstyn declined to return. Jon Voight, David Carradine, Christopher Walken and Jack Nicholson all passed. Besides Blair, only Max von Sydow and Kitty Winn (who? she plays Blair’s housekeeper) returned. Directed by John Boorman, the movie also featured Richard Burton, Paul Henreid ( Casablanca ), Louise Fletcher ( One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ) and James Earl Jones with music by Ennio Morricone and cinematography by William Fraker (Rosemary’s Baby). Now, it’s possible for one of these talented individuals to have a bad day, but the odds that they would all, simultaneously, turn in the worst work of their careers is nothing short of miraculous. Exorcist II: The Heretic is just that kind of miracle.

With Jones dressed as a giant locust, Blair cast as a New Age Jesus
Christ who can heal the sick, and Burton mumbling random words and
phrases (“Flames. Flames!” “The good locust.”) this is a movie in which
every choice is the wrong one. The movie was a bomb, earning less than
half what the original did. It was savaged by critics, disowned by its
creators and it effectively destroyed Blair’s career.

With no other option but to appear in low budget productions, Blair starred in Roller Boogie
two years later, the kind of light, youth-oriented comedy she
preferred. The movie did decent business and it exists today like some
kind of awful time capsule of fashion “Don’ts” circa 1979 and it forced
her to utter lines like, “I wanna win a roller boogie contest down at
the beach.” But she was doomed by the Exorcist movies to star in horror and cult films, and so it came to pass that her next film was women-in-prison movie Chained Heat .

Blair plays a new fish sent to a prison where the warden (John Vernon) is a coke-dealing sleazebag with a jacuzzi in his office. Stuffed with B-listers like Henry Silva and Sybil Danning Chained Heat
is an urgent wake-up call that our prisons need to be reformed, race
war catfights need to be stopped, lesbian scrubbings in the communal
showers need to be addressed, and rampant S&M relationships between
the staff and inmates, as well as illegal pit fighting in the tunnels
under the prison, and the smuggling of female inmates to posh Beverly
Hills mansions for cocaine orgies all need to be stopped by
long-overdue penal code reform.

Then John Vernon joined her as the bizarrely angry principal of an out-of-control high school in Savage Streets, which is out on DVD this month. Both Chained Heat and Savage Streets
take place in the early ’80s and feature the boom mic creeping into
shots on a regular basis, but otherwise this is a totally different and
less realistic film, although there are still plenty of catfights and
communal showers. But Savage Streets is its own beast, an uneasy melding of teen sex comedies and rape/revenge films.

Blair plays Brenda, leader of a gang of girls who hate dope dealers
but love hot fudge sundaes. When her deaf sister, Heather (played by
scream queen Linnea Quigley), is raped by the Scars, a gang of leather-clad over-actors,
ditches school to go out for revenge. But the principal doesn’t
understand. “I don’t understand,” he says. “You’re a bright girl.
You’ve got a pretty face. A good figure.” But Brenda wants blood. The
Scars kill her best friend and a long parade of cheesecake and girls
locker room shots culminates in Linda Blair naked in the bathtub,
smoking a cigarette and contemplating bear traps. The film ends in an
orgy, but unlike Chained Heat which had orgies featuring topless chicks and endless drugs, Savage Streets
ends in an orgy that features crossbow fire, foot-long switchblades and
Linda Blair dressed like a Tijuana streetwalker, screaming for blood
and throwing bear traps at people.

Blair would go on to make The Blair Bitch Project and Repossessed , but she only made one good movie in her career, The Exorcist,
never again coming within a country mile of another good script. And
for that, those of us who love bad movies, cult movies and bad cult
movies, owe her our thanks.

See where it all began when The Exorcist and The Exorcist II play tonight. For a full schedule of The Exorcist on AMC, click here.

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