Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; the existence of leftovers is a sign of failure. This is the internet column in which I gorge myself on bad movies in much the same manner as you stuffed your face with stuffing and mashed potatoes yesterday. But unlike you, I only occasionally slip into a 13 hour nap after my cinematic chow-downs. I will carve up these films and serve up exactly what makes them less-than-perfect, and then lovingly pour over it a gravy of praise that ultimately masks that distinctive schlocky taste. I will then pair the film with an appropriate junkfood selection in an effort to abuse your stomach the way the movie abuses your cognitive faculties.
This week’s film provides a nice two-for-one advantage that all you manic shoppers should appreciate. Incidentally, if you are currently reading this on your mobile device while waiting in line at Big Box Retailer #685, would it kill you to pick me up seven copies of Over the Top on Blu-ray? As I was saying, I had promised that the rest of November would be dedicated to recently-deceased industry legend Dino De Laurentiis, and today’s film is not only a De Laurentiis production but also resides in my favorite of film genres: horror. Today’s film is Amityville II: The Possession.
What Makes It Bad?
Remember what made The Amityville Horror so effective? You had a happy, upstanding family realizing the American dream by moving into their first home that are then terrorized by a hidden evil that nearly ruins their lives forever. It was so terrifying because of the innocence of this family and how easily we could identify with them. Meanwhile the sequel opts for a slightly different/polar opposite approach. The family that moves into this cursed house is so violently dysfunctional before they walk through the door that it’s hard to tell when the evil of the house is affecting them.
The youngest kids are wildly insufferable and surprisingly homicidal, the little girl finding it hilarious to put a plastic bag over her little brother’s head, and the older children have a disturbingly close relationship. They flirt back and forth to the point that I had to keep checking IMDB to verify that they were in fact playing siblings. And where the patriarch in the original film is the unstoppably likable James Brolin, the father in Amityville II is played by Burt Young. Being that Burt always seems like he downed a fifth and a half of bourbon just before stumbling onto set, it’s fitting that his character is a drunken ass. He manages to balance his time effectively between boozing and playing fist music on the faces of his wife and children. To complete this horrid nuclear family unit is the actress playing the mother with all the depth and skill of a community college sports mascot. Something tells me it isn’t wise to make the audience wish harm upon the family before you expect them to then hope for their safe escape.
Amityville II: The Possession is a twofold marketing ploy. As with most sequels, it hopes to cash in on the success of the original. This would be not only be forgivable but par for the course if not for the fact that the entire impetus of the post-colon addition to the title is to ripoff a separate horror film. The slow demonic possession of the family’s eldest son is such an Exorcist ripoff that I swore I could hear Tubular Bells underscoring certain scenes. It extends beyond the mere conceptual similarity and crosses into performance and makeup design as well. The priest who defies the church to fight for this child’s soul and the green-faced demon version of Sonny are so familiar as to be litigation-inciting.
Why I Love It!
Though the film doesn’t do much to advertise it, Amityville II is actually a prequel to the first film. The strange visions that keep manifesting in George Lutz’s mind involving the man with the shotgun are explained in detail. I like the idea of exploring the house’s evil roots more in-depth and really solidifying its legend. I do wish a little more time had been devoted to explaining the events that occurred before this family moved in so that young Sonny’s madness had felt more genuine. There is the briefest of scenes in which it is mentioned that the house is built atop an ancient Indian burial ground but it’s almost the exact same explanation from the first Amityville Horror and that film had the benefit of Sonny’s story to further the origins.
There are moments in Amityville II that are downright eerie and wonderfully effective. The scene wherein the unseen specter is moving through the house and covers the crucifix on the wall is chilling. The movement of the tablecloth used is so violent and yet so seamless that the hairs on my arm had no alternative but to stand on end. I’m also a big fan of fleeting background images made more frightening by their lack of explanation or, at times, even acknowledgment by the characters. There is a scene when the priest is in the basement where he sees a group of undead Native Americans wondering around in the dark and barely reacts. It honestly reminds me of the scene in Halloween when the patients are wandering around outside the asylum and are just barely visible in the glow of the headlights. Ok, I need to turn some more lights on.
The names attached to this project are impressive, especially to a mega geek like me. Obviously it was produced by the late, great Dino De Laurentiis, but I like that it’s an example of his less grandiose, more reserved films. Sure Danger: Diabolik and Flash Gordon are unfettered odes to the decades in which they were made, but it’s nice to see a more intimate film from Dino; albeit a supernatural horror film that goes off the rails near the end. But beyond its legendary producer, I am quite impressed with the writing team behind Amityville II‘s screenplay. First we have Tommy Lee Wallace who directed fellow JFC alum Halloween III: Season of the Witch as well as directing Fright Night II and Steven King’s It. His involvement may explain the wickedly bizarre ending. Also, though uncredited in the actual film, the script was cowritten by Dardano Sacchetti. This seldom lauded Italian writer was also the brains behind JFC alums 1990: Bronx Warriors & Demons as well as a host of films that will definitely adorn this column in the future. The guy just flat out gets me and, though I know it isn’t true, seems to make bad movies just for me.
Junkfood Pairing: Leftover Turkey Sandwhich
As I stated before, if you have leftovers in your refrigerator from yesterday’s meal, you have failed yourself as a glutton. But it turns out that a revisit to Thanksgiving via a day-two sandwich is more than appropriate for this film. Amityville II reheats many of the things that made the first one great and ends up tasting similar but the presentation is quite different. It also gets to the point in a much more streamlined fashion than did the first; biggest complaint I hear from first time viewers of the first film is that it’s too slow. So by microwaving the meat for this sandwich you will get to the eatin’ much quicker than the original bird which took sixteenity billion hours to cook.