DECEMBER 12, 2008
After the first Amityville, it was pretty much a no-brainer that someone would make a film about the original case, that of the DeFeo family. But it’s not quite as clear why the makers of Amityville II: The Possession would change the creepiest aspect of the story, and also structure their film in a way that results in the second half being more of an Exorcist knockoff than a haunted house film.
While there have been theories and varying confessions from the involved parties, nothing can change the fact that the DeFeo family members were all killed sound asleep in their beds, none of them waking up at the sound of the initial shots. Yet in this movie (which, to be fair, is just based on the real case; their names have been changed and other details completely fabricated or left out) they are all awake, and there’s even a sort of chase scene implemented into it, as the fake Ronald DeFeo chases his sister/not-so-secret lover around the house; a sequence not unlike most of the slasher films of the era (it’s a triple genre offering!). Granted, it’s obvious that the movie is after cheap shock value more than creepy suspense, but still, changing this fact rubbed me the wrong way.
Also, the melding of two films has some structural problems. I can understand that having another movie set entirely around a family getting angry and seeing weird shit in their new home wouldn’t be particularly interesting, but it doesn’t change the fact that the 2nd half, after Ronny kills them all, is far less exciting. If I was Tommy Lee Wallace (who wrote the script, a fact I was not aware of until the credits began to roll), I would have had the “Ronny on the run” sequences come first, without knowing why people were after him. Then, once captured, I would present the haunted house stuff as a flashback (which would also help another problem, more on that next), and then end with the Exorcist nonsense, which I guess I’d be stuck with for some reason. I think the movie as a whole would work better this way, instead of feeling so all over the place.
Back to that other problem though – there is no time for sympathy for any of the family members. By the 5 minute mark they are already at each other’s throats and seemingly under the house’s spell. Brolin turned asshole rather quickly in the first one too, but not THIS quickly, and it was only him, whereas here the mom and older brother turn bitterly angry along with him. The only one who doesn’t seem very affected is the sister, but she’s a damn weirdo as well (she’s all over the brother from the minute she is introduced – I suspect that if the ghosts didn’t possess him, she would have just climbed into his bed on her own). It’s more entertaining, sure, but this means that the entire second half of the film resolves around trying to cure/help a guy who I didn’t like even before he began shotgunning his entire family.
Still, as you might expect, it works in a Grindhouse-y way. Indeed, Andrew Prine himself even shows up as a friend to the resident priest (James Olson, who is for all intents and purposes the star of the film). He’s rather subdued, and his role is rather minor in the grand scheme of things, but still, he brings along a whiff of the exploitative that the rest of the cast seemingly embraced. Burt Young in particular is delightfully despicable, and Jack Magner as Ronny (renamed Sonny) reminded me of Scream Bloody Murder’s Fred Holbert. Sadly, both men apparently never capitalized on their would-be breakout roles, though Magner popped up in Firestarter at least (Holbert has never been heard from again).
Plus, you could certainly never accuse the movie of being boring. The first half is nonstop haunted house clichés, icky incestuous scenes (complete with a “break up”) and hysterical family domestic disputes. And then Magner runs around half-possessed for most of the second half. Also, the complete lack of regard for continuity with the original film (this is a prequel, though that is never actually made clear in the film either) is pretty admirable, especially near the end of the film when the house is more or less blown up, an event that apparently left no damage for the Lutz family to endure when they move in a few months later. And even though the Exorcist stuff is a bit past its time (this movie was made nearly 10 years after that classic), it’s still enjoyable and fast-paced, with some impressive makeup as well.
Since I’m not a big fan of haunted house movies anyway, I’m probably not the best person to ask for a recommendation. But if there was one I would want to see at the New Bev, it would be this one for sure. On with the rest of the sequels!
What say you?