Once upon a time, during a real estate crisis not wholly dissimilar from our own, a couple that found itself unable to afford the house they’d just bought got together with their attorney and, over a bottle of wine, seized upon a way to spin their straw into gold: a hoax. That hoax begat a book and the book begat a movie series that started with the exploitation of a senseless tragedy and ended with Ryan Reynolds beating a dog to death for our entertainment.
I sing the Amityville series! Provoker of laughs, boob flasher, slammer of cabinets, player with silly scares and the nation’s gullible: loathsome, squalid, tasteless, rancid, the saga of the small headed.
But I’m not here to pick on the whole franchise. This week’s Quaint and Best Forgotten installment focuses on the worst of the series–and that’s saying something–Damiano Damiani’s Amityville II: The Possession.
Amityville II, ostensibly a prequel to the first film, tells the story of the Montelli family, who move into the cursed house at 112 Ocean Avenue and suffer gradually escalating incidents of the heebie-jeebies, culminating in the titular “possession” of the oldest son. The kid’s walkman starts issuing orders to him–maybe the entity that possesses him is a peon, and the voice from the walkman is his boss–leading the kid to have consensual sex with his sister (more of this in a minute). Now that the movie has exposed the genre-mandated minimum amount of boobage, the demon compels the kid to blow away his entire family away with a rifle.
At that point, is it Miller Time for the demon? Yes it is…or is it? Showing the audience no mercy, Amityville II lumbers on, blowing its final forty-five minutes or so shamelessly (get used to the word “shameless” when watching an Amityville flick) ripping off The Exorcist, even throwing in a priest who calls upon the demon to “take him, not me!” during the climactic exorcism scene. How this will help the kid with the four murders he’s charged with the movie never says. (Given his situation, the lad might have been better off with the demon in. The ability to telekinetically spin people’s heads around would sure come in handy on C Block.)
I’m not usually one to get hung up on whether characters are likable. But it seems to me that any straight up haunted house story, as opposed to a satire of same, should employ protagonists at least marginally more likable than the evil entity that torments them. Halfheartedly, the movie tries to sell the idea that the evil house spirit is making the husband violent, the wife weepy, and the kids bratty, but our lying eyes tell us they were all like that when they arrived at the front door with their luggage. As I watched, I ended up feeling sorry for the demons. Here they are lurking in the shadows, waiting for a nice family to defile, and all they get is a parade of abusive, codependent jerks with poor impulse control and a taste for incest. It’s the sort of thing that should make a demon want to step away, take a hot bath, and maybe reevaluate his life.
The incest scene encapsulates this. The demon tells the kid to go into his sister’s bedroom. He finds her sitting on the bed in her nightgown. He says he wants to play “model and photographer”. (Already I need a shower.) After clicking off a couple of photos, the kid tells the sister to take off her nightgown. Now at this stage, I would think the possessed kid’d be getting thrown out of the room, and that this would be followed by many calls to appropriate police and child protective agencies, or at least that the sister would exhibit terror at the realization that she’s about to be sexually abused by a sibling. But no, the kid’s sister says “Oh, all right” and TOSSES HER NIGHTGOWN OFF.
At this point, I imagine the demon’s having a healthy, cleansing vomit. Then he wipes his chin, breathes deeply, and says to his boss, on the other end of the walkman, “Holy fucking shit! I planned to engage in something profane and evil, but this is just sick! Hey, Satan, this is more than my job is worth. These people are fiends. Screw this. I’m out of here. No, no. Forget it. I’m going into the greeting card business with my brother, like my dad said I should. It’s steady work, maybe a bit hectic on the holidays, but it’s a good life. I’m done. I respect myself too much to let a couple of teenaged creepazoids corrupt me. I’ll let you know where to send my last check. Good day to you, sir.”
Students of directing and editing should pay close attention to Amityville II, because Damiano Damiani puts on a clinic of how not to shoot a scary scene. One particular tracking shot amuses me the most. The camera follows the kid through the basement and up some stairs. Halfway up, the kid looks back at the camera, as if something behind him had surprised him. Seeing nothing, the kid continues a few steps. The camera follows him. He turns around. I shout at the screen “Hey, Damiano, why don’t you turn the camera around so we can see what he’s looking at?”. More slow climbing and more scared glancing follow until, halfway up another flight of stairs, the kid turns and watches in horror as the camera rises and slowly rotates. In fairness, the actor has reason to be afraid, because apparently the person operating the crane is drunk or high and that camera is heavy. Then I reason that even filmmakers this incompetent wouldn’t keep footage filmed by a drunken crane operator; this has to be deliberate. Then it finally dawns on me that the camera is supposed to be the ghost.
The effect of this scene on me is much the same as the effect of figuring out that someone’s drawn The Falcon and the Snowman in a game of Pictionary. That’s a Falcon, and that’s a Snowman. I see.
Amityville is available on DVD, but you’d be better advised to catch it, if catch it you must, on Youtube, below. This is not a movie that needs to be seen under ideal conditions, or indeed any conditions.