Ewwwwww. Now I feel dirty.
I'd never seen any of the Amityville films before and I didn't particularly want to. I'm a compulsive collector of movie series and I didn't want to start on the eight (to date) Amityville schlockers. I've read the original book. That's enough. But one word kept cropping up in reviews of this film... "sleazy". That's a good word. Sleaze is fun. Eventually I saw it on sale super-cheap in my local Blockbusters for £3.98 and gave in. What the hell. Let's see some nasty.
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
This isn't a cheap 'n' cheerful exploitation-fest. It's two films in one, the latter unfortunately being considerably less gripping than the former. We'll start with the first hour or so. A family moves into the Amityville house... and boy, are they ugly. I don't think I've ever seen a film go so strenuously out of its way to avoid anything glamorous. Being with this family is just unpleasant. The dad is a bully and a slob. All the women look like they just got bitch-slapped out of bed and haven't even heard of make-up. The child actor playing the little boy is so amazingly bad that he goes through the other side and becomes oddly convincing as one weird kid.
And then there's the house. The weird shit starts happening immediately, perhaps a little too soon for its own good. The audience gets no chance to settle down into a sense of false security. The Montellis move in and WHAM, it's invisible monsters flying out of the cellar and telekinetic activity all around. However here too is the anti-glamour. Haunted house movies today are an excuse for CGI and wacky special effects. Not here. It's all sordidly mundane and far more convincing for it. The house's ultimate den of evil isn't a place of glowing lights and wind machines, it's just shit-filled, crawling with bugs and incredibly gross. Already you feel dirty. The supernatural stuff feels ordinary. Windows opening and shutting, icky goo coming out of the taps, etc. Sonny Montelli has an evil Walkman. Not for one moment does it feel like a movie, if you know what I mean.
The cinematography is a big part of this. Apart from one shot that flips upside-down and crawls along the ceiling, the camera just stares dead-eyed at the Montellis. We aren't invited to get to know them. We don't feel for them. We're just stood in the corner of the room, watching as their ugly dysfunctional behaviour (putting a plastic bag over your little brother's head - WHAT THE FUCK???) crosses the border into just wrong. The first gun scene is where things start to get disturbing. Hmmh, guns. Chekhov said you could put a gun on the wall in Act One and the audience would know to expect someone getting shot in Act Three. He wasn't even working in horror! Here we've got a rack of the fuckers in the cellar. Boy oh boy.
I'm probably making this sound like a magnificent artistic landmark in film-making, but alas it's not. There's no point of empathy, no one you really care about. You merely get disturbed as things in Amityville get increasingly fucked up... until the incest. All of a sudden the elder daughter, Patricia Montelli, becomes the audience identification character as something really, really wrong happens. Suddenly you can't look away. The creepiest scene in the entire movie is a simple birthday party, in which evil Sonny cuddles his family one by one and says that he loves them. When he hugged his pre-pubescent sister, I shuddered. How old is she? Eight years old? When his evil Walkman starts telling him to kill everyone, it's an anticlimax.
However he does kill everyone and that's the end of the first half of the wacky double-bill better known as Amityville II - The Possession. I love that first half. It's creepy as hell and crawls over your skin until you want to scrub yourself clean with wire wool. The ending is horrible, too. Unspeakable. Not gory, just ewww. How many movies kill the little children? And I don't mean in a wanky slow-motion bit of art direction, but instead seeing their dying spasms after receiving high-calibre bullets at point-blank range. Man, this movie just kept getting wronger. I can't pretend it's wholesome or fun, but it's a cinematic achievement. So after killing (most of) the Montellis, where could the movie go next? Breathlessly I asked this question.
The answer, sadly, is down the toilet.
We leave the Amityville house. Bad move. Not scary! We embark upon an Exorcist rip-off. Even worse move. Zzzzz. The Exorcist's victim was a darling ickle girlie, whereas here the possessee is a moody, vicious son-of-a-bitch who we want dead. One could argue that he's as much of a victim as anyone since the devil made him do it, but that doesn't change the fact that we've seen him spend about an hour doing ever more unspeakably vile things to his family. His actions are appalling even by the standards of horror movies. We don't love the fucker. I suppose a possessed man is more physically threatening than a possessed girl, but the trade-off in audience interest isn't worth it. As for the priest... well, he didn't help the Montellis much, did he? He eventually shows a little backbone, but we don't much care what happens to him either. Put these ingredients together and the result is boredom. Courtroom scenes, police cells... come on, get back to the house! Eventually we return there and the film becomes interesting again. Unfortunately it's too little, too late.
Still, I'm glad I saw it. Sort of. It's an experience, anyway. Diane Franklin as Patricia Montelli really grabs the film as heroine when she gets a chance. She's got a beautiful smile too. That first hour is a headfuck and a half. It's also a haunted house movie that doesn't rub your face in CGI, which I appreciated. Overall, it's... different. Had it ended at the hour mark before charging off into Exorcist land, I'd probably be hailing it as a sordid masterpiece. As it is, it still has an odd kind of grimy integrity. Disturbing.