31 Days to Scare ~ Amityville II: The Possession

The Facts:

Synopsis: A family moves into their new home, which proves to be evil, resulting in the demonic possession of the teenage son. Only the local priest can save him.

Stars: Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Prine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, James Olson

Director: Damiano Damiani

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Few would argue that 1979’s The Amityville Horror is any kind of movie to write home about.  While it’s poster, preview, and press shots suggested a snazzy new twist on The Exorcist the final product was ham-fisted, poorly acted, and more funny than scary.  Still, the public that had made the book that inspired the movie a bestseller turned the feature film adaptation into the second highest grossing film of the year ahead of Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and The Muppet Movie.  I mean…think on that…it made 86 million dollars, 20m short of the #1 title, Kramer vs. Kramer.

Three years later new producer Dino De Laurentis took over the property and made this prequel to the events that transpired in the original.  Now the movie would focus on the murders that took place in the house and supposedly were the source of the haunting that plagued future tenants.  While it’s considered one of the stronger entries in the franchise of countless sequels spawned over the next several decades, it’s easy to see where director Damiano Damiani and screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2 and Halloween III: Season of the Witch) ripped off other films when piecing together their contribution to the Amityville legacy.

The Montelli family has moved into that soon to be infamous house with the windows that look like eyes.  Nestled into the sleepy hamlet of Amityville in Long Island, NY the family has relocated to start a new, quieter life.  Still, they bring some major baggage with them.  The father (Burt Young) is an abusive drunk, the mother (Rutanya Alda) is religious woman frightened of her husband’s anger, and while their two youngest children seem to adjust well to the new living arrangements it’s tougher on eldest son Sonny (Jack Magner) and daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin).

Sonny’s a loner, a perfect vessel for the evil that lurks within the house to prey upon.  It isn’t long before Sonny’s demeanor changes and he becomes more physically hostile to his father and sexually predatory with his sister, both unfortunately icky subplots that just don’t feel good.  The more the family fights to save Sonny’s soul, the deeper the possession becomes.  If you’ve seen the opening of The Conjuring 2, you’ll know what happens next…if you haven’t, well, it doesn’t end well.

Though operating on a small budget, Damiani makes his film effectively creepy and often downright frightening as Sonny begins to show outwardly the possession going on within.  There’s good use of lighting to keep figures in the dark so that they can be discovered at precisely the right moment and the tension builds slowly but aggressively.  Performances are uniformly good and, gross incest plotline aside, Wallace’s script goes for realism instead of hyperactive hysteria.  The film has several climaxes, and each arrive with an assured flair for intensity.

Far less successful than its predecessor, Amityville II: The Possession still gives me the chills all these years and multiple viewings later.  It’s a dark movie though, filled with some hard to watch sequences of physical abuse and inappropriate conduct that’s in no way glorified or excused.  The focus of the horror is on the house but it’s tenants might not have been all that good to begin with.

31 Days to Scare ~ Fright Night Part 2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three years after killing the vampire in the original, Charley Brewster has started to believe it was all his imagination and starts to forget that vampires truly exist – until four strangers arrive at Peter Vincent’s house and starts to have an unhealthy interest in Charley, Peter and Charley’s new girlfriend.

Stars: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Brian Thompson, Russell Clark, Ernie Sabella

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: After 1985’s Fright Night became a schlocky fun hit, it’s not a shocker that a sequel was greenlit and found its way to theaters. What is surprising, however, is that it took nearly three years for it to arrive. Remember, this was a time when every year a new Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street came out because there was big money in quickly churning out a sequel, not to mention a whole host of like-minded horror films that wanted their own franchise to materialize. The extra years likely helped the overall satisfaction level of Fright Night Part 2, even though it didn’t make nearly as big of an impact on the box office as its predecessor.

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has spent the last three years putting the frightening events that took place in his otherwise quiet neighborhood out of his mind. With the help of his psychologist (Ernie Sabella) he’s even managed to convince himself that he dreamed his neighbor was a vampire preying on young women and eventually went after Charley once the high-school student started investigating the deaths. Aided by campy late night TV host and former C-Movie actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), the two vanquished the vamp and things went back to normal.

Now a college student with a new girlfriend (Traci Lind), Charley continues to make a new life for himself but while visiting Peter’s new apartment he catches a glimpse of a new tenant, Regine (Julie Carmen), and her entourage. Strangely drawn to the beauty, Charley soon falls under the spell of another vampire who’s out for more than just blood…she wants an eternity of revenge. It’s up to Peter and Charley’s gal-pal to fend off vampires, werewolves, and one bug-eating macho man and save him from falling victim to the vampy vixen.

While it is admittedly a carbon copy of the original operating on a slightly smaller budget, this is a fine looking film that manages to make sense from scene to scene. Directed by horror veteran Tommy Lee Wallace (Amityville II: The Possession, Halloween III: Season of the Witch and TV’s IT) who was also the production designer on the original Halloween, the movie has a real moody ambiance that blends nicely with its surprisingly wacky asides. McDowall hams it up again with panache while Ragsdale and Lind have more brother-sister chemistry than any true actual heat. Carmen dives head first into her killer seductress and sports some hysterically ‘80s hair and clothing in the process. Special mention to Russell Clark as an ahead of his time trans vampire who not only makes his roller-skating bloodsucker quite menacing but looks damn good in the process.

So many sequels can’t manage to get out from under the shadow of their previous installments and the same is true with Fright Night Part 2. While it’s a sequel that’s not quite an equal, it’s a noble effort with ideas that work far more often than they fail. A word of caution, it’s hard as heck to find this movie on DVD without paying a fortune, might I point you toward the YouTube link below instead?

In Praise of Teasers ~ Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

halloween_3

I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

I still feel that Halloween III: Season of the Witch gets a bum rap.  Look, it’s no classic and is pretty silly overall but most of the ire directed toward the film is because it doesn’t feature Michael Myers, the masked killer who stalked Jamie Lee Curtis through two previous films.  Original writer/director John Carpenter originally thought about making the Halloween series an anthology…but the audience reaction to this one and the overall popularity of Myers effectively killed that dream.

This teaser for Halloween III: Season of the Witch is pretty creepy, not giving any indication the series was about to take a step in a different direction.  Probably a good idea considering I’m not sure how many people would have gone to see it had they known in advance Michael wasn’t stopping by.  Also included at the end is the final trailer that incorporates parts of the early teaser in it as well.

Like Halloween?  Check out my reviews of the Halloween films from my 31 Days to Scare last year:
Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall