Monday, May 11, 2009

Haunted Homes, Demon Teens, & Long Island Lolitas That Aren't Amy Fisher

Before we revel in the sexual depravity, mass murder, and withering disappointment of Amityville II: The Possession, allow me to bid you a warning:

I will spoil this movie. Because I’m a bad person. Or maybe because if you’ve seen any of the other Amityville spinoffs, you already know the ending (or rather, middle) or The Possession and it’s just too darn tough (or I’m too damn dumb) to discuss a film that hits its mark 60 minutes in without, well, spilling the red paint. If you’re truly looking forward to the twists and turns of this 1980 prequel, I recommend coming back here after viewing or just donning a pair of those cool 80s plastic sunglasses that didn’t actually protect your eyes from the sun, but did make it really difficult to see anything clearly.

Ready? Here goes:

Some movies were just made to be watched on a hot summer night at a drive-in. Amityville II: The Possession is clearly one of these relics. With its exploitation-y atmosphere, early climax, and okay-to-fall-asleep third act, this first sequel to Long Island’s pride-and-joy-horror smash made me want to win the lottery, buy some land, and build my own outdoor movie heaven.

This doesn’t mean that I loved Amityville II. It just means I love drive-ins.

Quick Plot: Some years before the ill-fated move of Mr. & Mrs. Lutz, the best-named director in the world Damiano Damiani tells the far more ill-fated tale of the Montellis, a normal enough family who apparently didn’t read my advice on navigating the real estate market.

 Instead, they arrive at their bargain-priced dream home to meet some pesky ghost squatters that have a talent for shortening the tempers of humans they encounter. Little time passes before the sink is leaking red paint, Burt Young’s Papa Montelli is dripping heavier sweat wads than Sylvester Stallone sweatin’ to the oldies, and the teenage siblings are taking their relationship to V.C. Andrews levels of inappropriateness.

By little time, I mean almost none. The film isn’t one hour through before the central act of violence occurs, and while it’s shocking, graphic, and thoroughly upsetting, we in the audience still have another 45 minutes to get through. Therein lies the problem.

While there are flaws the first act, Damiani does succeed at creating an intriguing buildup to the collapse of the refreshingly authentic Montellis. For once, I actually didn’t want to kill the youngest child actors (even as they played hide-and-seek in plastic bags and could have made the job easy), which made their doomed fate truly horrifying. Diane Franklin is sympathetic as the naively seductable Patricia, and some of the latex-heavy effects have aged quite decently.

Unfortunately, the second half of The Possession loses all the intensity it so quickly built up. It’s hard enough to carry a film when 5/6ths of the main characters have been slaughtered, but much harder when your game plan is to rip off The Exorcist right on down to the silhouette of Father Merrin’s hat. As Sonny, actor Jack Magner doesn’t make for a particularly save-worthy soul and the guilt-baiting ghosts nagging at Father Adamsky have no real weight when all we’ve really seen of his sins were turning down one phone call. Some film fans may enjoy the boy-on-the-verge-of-manhood possession analogies, but for me, there just wasn’t enough character or story to really invest any care into.

High Points
The opening Rosemary’s Babyish la-la singing is rather haunting

Diane Franklin looks enough like a 15 year old to make the statutory incestuous stuff sufficiently creepy. This isn’t exactly a “high point,” per say, but I give it a nod since I imagine a 2009 remake would skirt this issue by casting a rapidly Benjamin Button-esque aging Lindsay Lohan and putting her in an 18-hour Playtex bra (how I fear your possibilities, Let the Right American One In 2010)

The massacre is truly disturbing, in part because the film’s lack of weight doesn’t really prepare you for such an early scene of no holds barred violence

If you’re going to have a mustache, take a note from Sonny’s lawyer and have a fucking MUSTACHE

Low Points
Maybe it’s just the poor luck of being chased down so quickly by Spielberg & Hooper, but floating paintbrushes got nothin’ on evil clown dolls

Sonny’s stomach-pumping bed scene demonstrates just how important good acting ability is to pulling of any form of the prolonged “Nooooo!” and not sounding like Darth Vader’s lament of Padme’s death

Lessons Learned
Introducing your son as your first born and letting your 15 year old daughter call you Mommy and Daddy may not be fostering the best environment for sexually confused teenagers

Chekhov’s law that introducing a gun in the first act requires said gun to be fired later in the story applies to horror movies in full force

Don’t piss off Burt Young when he’s wearing a belt

When in doubt about how to end a mediocre horror sequel, blow something up

Stray Observations
Yes, that’s Mommie Dearest’s loyal assistant playing Mama Monticelli, and yes, Rutanya Alda has the dubious honor of receiving two consecutive Razzie nominations for Worst Supporting Actress, proving that Ms. Crawford wasn’t the first one to take a second ‘round at the rodeo.

Is there some curse on adolescent male antiheroes that head the second installments of multi-film franchises? I’ll give Magner a gold medal if Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s Jessie silvers and Silent Night Deadly Night 2’s Ricky cleans up the garbage around the base of the podium.

Amityville II is not a terrible film, nor is it particularly good. Having seen bits and pieces of most of the series (like the good native Lawnga Eyelandah I am), I was quite shocked at the brutality in the central murders. If you press stop after the bodies are messily removed, you have yourself an above average demonic dream home thriller that will darken your day considerably. If you continue through the Exorcist-lite mood switch, however, you may find yourself drifting into MST3K jokes or sleep. Anyone with an interest in the Amityville saga should definitely give this a rent, but I don’t imagine a rewatch will be necessary enough to warrant a buy. If anything, give it one viewing to appreciate a simpler, sweeter time in cinema history, before the MPAA created the PG13 rating and studios smartened up to where the actual money market was. This is 80s horror sleaze without limitations. If only the script supported it the whole way through.

Special thanks to Stacie Ponder and Final Girl’s Film Club for assigning this as May’s pick. Take a virtual field trip to wander through what promises to be a diverse and entertaining mix of other horror bloggers taking their rifle shots at this misshapen gem of a movie.


  1. I hope you're going to follow this up with a review of Amityville 3D, my personal favorite of the series for all the wrong reasons.

  2. I'm a huge fan of sequels that are wonderful for wrong reasons (ah, how I heart thee, Jason Takes Manhattan).

    Consider it added to the queue!

  3. "If you’re going to have a mustache, take a note from Sonny’s lawyer and have a fucking MUSTACHE."

    I could not agree more!! That facial hair was breathtaking.

  4. If I'm not mistaken (and I probably am), Amityville may have even had a drive-in theater at some point. I know that there was one a couple of towns over. That would have been freaky...seeing this at a drive-in. Of course, I was too young to drive so my parents would have had to take me. Along with my sisters.

    That would have been uncomfortable.

  5. Babylon definitely had a drive-in at least into the late 80s, as I have fond memories of vowing to never have braces after watching Poltergeist II in the open air.

    It's a much better family film than Amityville II.

  6. Oh, that facial hair! I neglected to mention it in my piece, but yeah. Wow. I actually dragged my wife out of the bath just so she could, too, get a look at it. If I could grow a 'stache-and-beard combo like that, I'd do it in half a heartbeat.

  7. I don't know that you grow a combo like that; I think it grows you.

  8. jervaise brooke hamsterOctober 23, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. jervaise brooke hamsterOctober 23, 2010 at 8:45 PM

    Emily, you shouldn`t have made the decision to delete me, what i wrote was hilarious and brilliant, you know it was.

  10. Sure Mr. Hamster, except this post is about Amityville II, not an underage Linda Blair.

  11. jervaise brooke hamsterOctober 24, 2010 at 8:24 PM

    I actually think "Amityville II: The Possession" is one of the best sequels of all time, it was infinitely better than the ludicrously over-rated 1979 original.

  12. You know, I don't know that I've ever sat down and actually watched the original. I've never really had the interest in it and I know far too many people like yourself who've said it's incredibly dull. Eh, I guess it was all about timing.