How many Amityville films are there? Why do I keep putting emphasis on the wrong syllable of the word "Amityville"? Where do I recognise Rutanya Alda from? Is this a sequel or prequel to the original film? And if it's a prequel, why is it called Amityville II?
These and many other questions will not be answered in the following Final Girl Film Club review.
I confess I never "got" the first film. I caught it on TV once, and having heard of it thought it must be decent, surely? Ho, oh to be young and naive again.
This film tells the story of the family who lived in the house with the evil eyes beforehand (although different websites tell me different things) and what became of them. The "diabolical influence" inside the house, built on an ancient Indian burial ground(!) and how it possessed certain family members and led to their destruction.
The family are fairly riddled with issues from the get-go. Dad is abusive; mother is at her wit's end trying to keep the family together and turning to religion for guidance; the two eldest children get along way too easily for teenagers of opposite gender and the two youngest do this kind of thing for laughs:
I repeat: this was before any demonic intervention! So it's pretty much a finger buffet for malignant spirits in this household.
Lamentably, again, we have a case of the plot sounding promising but questionable acting, dodgy ill-advised effects and pacing problems taking most of the punch away.
Floating paintbrushes. More Mary Poppins than haunted house.
To my delight the 99mins didn't pass completely without its effective moments. My two favourites being the scene which sees the already tactile brother and sister get even closer in a way close relatives probably shouldn't.
Being an only child, depictions of incest do not disturb me too much, but this segment was surprisingly uncomfortable to watch. One of the most unsettling things about the scene itself is just how far the girl lets her brother go before appearing even remotely concerned about what is happening.
Afterwards we are shown her confessing her sin to a priest, uttering a line I thought was one of the best in the movie: "We do not love each other. He does it to hurt God."
My second favourite point was the way in which it was revealed who was killed in the massacre at the house. It is set early in the morning, looking bright and cold; the priest arrives too late to save anyone, instead all he can do is bless the bodies as they are removed by the police.
It must be the stark, hand-held documentary style in which this is shot, as there is something I found really quite heartbreaking about it, even though I wasn't that attached to the characters in question.
Despite these two nicely unnerving episodes, Amityville II unfortunately doesn't get elevated from mediocrity into anything scarier or more entertaining. Nor do the cheesy instances pack quite enough cheese to make this a fun schlocky horror. It's just maddeningly stuck in the middle somewhere.
It also feels like two very separate halves. The relatively subtle haunted house yarn and the far more OTT possession and exorcism conclusion. In the first half we have flying paintbrushes, spinning beds and popping electrical sockets (and all I kept thinking was The Money Pit), in the second we have licked crucifixes, rivers of blood and The Fly-like body horror.
The two don't sit completely awkwardly next to one another... but they don't exactly meld perfectly, either. It felt to me like a decision should have been made as to what kind of film this was going to be, and stuck with. The haunted house culminating in family tragedy could have been the entire plot, with the stark depressing body bag sequence ending it on a nice downer. OR it could have gone balls out from the beginning with all the fun of goo and bleeding walls. Both shoved together just feels disjointed and untidy.
The last glide through the destroyed innards of the house, and up to the attic where the priest sits bloody and exhausted is undeniably impressive. However even this is over-egged. It should have concluded with us simply reaching him - fade to black - end. Instead we are treated to needless pulsing latex effects to really hammer home what his fate will be. Argh, no! We get it!
One sentence to sum this film up? Okay then... It has given me a hankerin' for The Exorcist.