Sunday, May 10, 2009

Final Girl Film Club - Amityville II: The Possession

I've got a bad feeling about this ...

Normally I'm kind of a completist -- I don't watch sequels or remakes without having seen the originals, and I never start a book series in the middle. I just like to know what's going on. (I also sleep with the lights on, but that's another story. Or is it?) So watching "Amityville II: The Possession" was an unusual experience for me, since it's a sequel to a movie I've never seen, based on a book I haven't read, and part of a horror franchise that I have no experience with at all. But I hadn't really heard good things about the other movies, or really about any of the books... still, this was for the Final Girl Film Club, which has not yet failed to introduce me to something new and interesting ("Phenomenon," for example). And anyway, "Amityville II" is actually a prequel, so there you go.

As I understand it, in the first movie Margot Kidder and her family move into a house where Something Awful Once Happened, and at the end they leave. The sequel/prequel covers the Something Awful that Happened, which apparently really did happen: Ronald DeFeo Jr., 23, shot and killed his parents and siblings in their home one night in 1974. "Amityville II" cheerfully changes the family's name to Monelli, then gussies up the story with extra gizmos, including demonic possession, Indian burial ground and incest.

Despite the ludicrous trappings, the first two-thirds of the movie are pretty straightforward: The Monelli family moves into a new house. They fight. The eldest son goes increasingly berserk and eventually out comes the shotgun. Knowing what's going to happen, it's just sickening to watch the tension build. Is it the house turning them on each other, or just amplifying their familial dysfunction? Although the movie's trappings are supernatural, the performances are good enough that all the characters seem organic. The father (Burt Young, who is indeed repellent) is a brute; his wife treats him coldly; the youngest children are scared. And poor Diane Franklin is terrifyingly vulnerable as the older sister. (I didn't even recognize her as the brilliant, mostly-silent comedienne from "Better Off Dead.") This is a family with real problems; the Indian burial ground in the basement is just decoration.

The family slaughter scene pretty well caps the movie; afterward there's some business about exorcism involving The Worst Priest in the World (who dashes out the door at the first sign of unpleasantness, then responds to Diane Franklin's pitiful pleas for aid by leaving on a camping trip). But the money scene is Sonny stalking through the dark house with his shotgun, hunting his family down one at a time. His surviving siblings huddle at the bottom of the stairs, unable to escape (you can't escape from family, after all), watching helplessly as his shadowy figure approaches and raises the weapon. They can't even scream. It's your very worst childhood nightmares come to life, and no amount of satanic trappings can keep that from being scary.

So thanks for the nightmares, Final Girl! I vote for something with maggots next time!