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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Amityville II: Electric Boogaloo

In 1979, American International released The Amityville Horror, starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger. It was a big hit but also a big snooze in my opinion. The 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds wasn't a whole lot better. But in 1982, a very strange sequel actually got a theatrical release in the U.S. It's a film that is so packed with hilarity and unbelievably sick situations that it becomes a genre unto itself. I refer to the Dino De Laurentiis-produced epic Amityville II: The Possession.

Although the screenplay was written by American Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part II, It), the director Damiano Damiani, who never made an English-language film before or since, gives it a distinctively Italian flavor, similar to one of Lucio Fulci's epics but with more coherence. Alternating between twisted family drama and supernatural thriller, it ladles on the child abuse, incest and religious trauma for the first hour or so before the troubled son, Sonny (Jack Magner) takes matters into hand and offs his family. It's literally a prequel, fictionalizing the story of the real-life DeFeo family, whose killings at the hand of their son, Ronald, formed the basis for the Amityville story. Now called the Montelli family, it is headed by father Burt Young (from the Rocky movies), the greasiest, meanest, most awful patriarch in screen history, making you wonder why his long-suffering and super-religious wife (Rutanya Alda) can stand living with him, let alone give birth to his four kids.

When they move into the Amityville house, Mom is hoping that a new, bright future can begin for them, but this is a far too screwed-up family unit. Even before they've finished moving in, blood is pouring out of the taps in the kitchen and Mom discovers a mysterious trap door in the basement covering a small, dark and wet space that serves no other purpose except to be nasty. She sends one of the movers in to check it out, and soon he's covered with flies and shit. Helpfully, she calls out, "Are you all right?" Later—again in the basement—she's doing laundry, and first encounters the Malevolent Force™ in the form of a weird wind. Sonny happens to come downstairs at just that moment and Alda, eyes bulging and Method acting like crazy, says "Somebody... touched... MEHHHHHHH!!!"

At dinner, before Mom leads everyone in prayer, she says, "I think we're a very lucky family," a moment which manages to be both pathetic and funny at once. The mirror above the sideboard suddenly comes off the wall and falls, an event which infuriates Pop, who blames Sonny. That night, the Malevolent Force™ bangs on the front door and Pop, furious at having his beauty sleep disturbed, wheezily runs outside with a shotgun and snarls at the unseen intruders: "There's a 12-gauge shotgun waiting for anyone tres-PASS-in'." Yes, he pronounces it oddly, with the emphasis on the second syllable.

Next, the two youngest children watch in horror as the Malevolent Force™ causes paintbrushes in their bedroom to rise into the air and cover the walls with violent and offensive graffiti. Though the kids protest their innocence, Pop starts whomping on them, motivating Sonny to seize the gun and stick it into his now repulsively sweating father's throat. His finger reaches for the trigger, but Mom, clad in a nightgown that gives her a strangely saintlike appearance, appears to glide across the floor, serenely take away the weapon and whisper, without a trace of irony, "What's happening to us?"

Soon the Malevolent Force™ is telling Sonny (through his Sony Walkman, no less): "Why didn't you shoot that pig?" Mom brings Father Adamski (James Olson) in to bless the house. Pop is hostile, Sonny is reclusive, and Adamski's holy water sprinkler starts squirting blood. This makes Alda go into the zone again, popping her eyes and kind of...well...grunting in horror. Incidentally, I was watching the film on cable one afternoon and decided to walk across the street to the grocery store to buy some snacks. There—and I'm not kidding you—was Rutanya Alda in the flesh, asking the cashier about soup. No, I didn't hiss "Somebody... touched... MEHHHH!!!" although I really, really wanted to. I don't mean to give her such a bad time. She's in one of my favorite misfires of all time, Mommie Dearest.

Sonny gets creepier and creepier. He initiates a sexual relationship with his sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin, from Better Off Dead and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). Then he's more or less raped by the Malevolent Force™, which takes control of him from then on. Feeling guilty but also kind of stylishly slutty, Patricia goes to Father Adamski to confess her sins, but it's too late. In a surprisingly tense and upsetting sequence, Sonny roams the house with the shotgun. As he blasts away, family members cower in terror, knowing they're next on the hitlist. And in a sick coda, after he shoots his kid sister, he runs the barrel of the gun over her foot and it twitches! He's hauled off to jail, and Father Adamski, who's been alarmed by a mysterious phone call from the dead Patricia, decides that Sonny is possessed by the devil. He needs an exorcism, but it can't be done in jail. He must be taken back to the Amityville house. Why? Because that's the name of the movie!

To meet the requirements of the exploitation audience who came to see possession hijinks, the film becomes an Exorcist clone for its final act, including much pumping of inflatable bladders under the skin, but it doesn't really spoil what has gone before. MGM has very kindly released a lovely widescreen DVD and occasionally airs the film on its cable network. MGM HD. Catch it...but you may want to take a shower afterwards.

1 comment:

Rickinator said...

thanks for the spoiler. asshole.

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