The big shocker about this movie is that it’s GOOD! It’s MUCH better than its predecessor, though it still maintains a solid cheese core, especially notable near the end. But until then it is genuinely scary and intense. The main difference between this movie and the first is that this one takes the terror of the house seriously, in contrast to the sensationalistic, “OH MY GOD!!” tone of the first film.
The awesomely-named director Damiano Daminai, who from what I can tell never made another American film, brings an Italian horror sensibility to this film that works very well, in the same way that American movies now are importing a great deal of Japanese horror techniques. Like Dario Argento, Damiani uses long, slow, wide tracking shots and a steadily rising score on a scene in which NOTHING is happening, using that to suggest powerful invisible forces about to strike. Haunted house films share the challenge of making something that is often invisible interesting on a movie screen, and this one does a good job [like the original The Haunting] of including scenes in which nothing is really happening except people being scared, feeling a presence, or hearing a noise. Lalo Schifrin also contributes a great score [unlike for the first film] that is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann. For the first half at least, this thing is pretty scary!
The intensity is ramped up by some out-of-control family dynamics. There are shocking scenes of child abuse in this film! What’s more, there’s the whole incest vibe going around the whole family that is really disturbing. The older brother [Sonny] and sister do end up getting it on, but what I found more bothersome was the intimations of attraction of the mother for Sonny, as well as the hints of the same kind of thing burgeoning between the two younger kids. The whole sordid family dynamic is shown in a much more shocking way than would ever be allowed today, with all the editorializing that current films seem to do. I also like the idea that the house would destroy the family by making them all lash out at each other.
Alas, there is also a lot of bad to this film, but it never crosses the line into being a drag. Alright, it puts a toe over the line toward the end, but…. The main problem of the first half is that the house is RIDICULOUSLY active. At night, not a second goes by without something not subtle or gently creepy, but all-out exploding drawers, paintbrushes-painting-by-themselves kind of active. At one point Sonny is home alone and the entire wiring of the house seemingly goes out, an explosion rips open the cellar doors, etc., and yet when his parents arrive home an hour later no one notices anything amiss. In the last third the movie takes a heavy turn into Exorcist territory, with many of the components of that movie recycled here, and it was a big mistake. It removes the focus from the house and just puts it on Sonny, and the entire film, rather than being a distillation of haunted house movie tropes, becomes a cheap rip-off of just ONE movie.
Here are a list of individual hootworthy elements:
> That sister is a vixen! Look how she comes on to Sonny! Of course, later everyone unjustly blames HER for the two of them sleeping together. The tawdry tramp!
> One of my favorite parts is when the repairman just STAYS in the cellar room that is dripping blood and shit on him, making no attempt to exit [though the door is a mere 4 feet away]. Finally, when the mother suggests that he come out of there [and what exactly was SHE doing prior to this?] the repairman is like “Oh yeah, I guess that’s a good idea!”
> The actress who plays the mother is Rutanya Alda. She’s good, but please, don’t name your children after exotic vegetables.
> The mother says at dinner “all we’ve been doing is fighting since we got here,” but there have been no scenes of fighting up until that point.
> Someone on IMDb was very impressed with the tablecloth scene, saying it had been done in one take, but if you watch carefully I think there are two separate tablecloths, one that flies off the table and out of frame, another that comes in [from a different angle] and covers the crucifix.
> There’s an Uber-80s element with Sonny wearing his big clunky walkman while in all stages of undress. I love how the demon talks to him through the headphones.
> One thing the movie tries to coast by on is that there is NO WAY this prim, uptight, God-fearing Christian would marry this nasty, dumb, abusive, church-hating schlub!
> During the birthday party for Sonny, note how the family is all alone, and then suddenly about 40 guests come piling in the door! The Birthday Bus arrived!
> Throughout there is much confusion about whether it is night or daytime, to the point where you wonder if this was intentional.
> Check out Mr. Booth with his bald head and freaky goatee! This is the same guy who played the Lion in The Wiz.
> The black cop ran into a possessed person before, in Puerto Rico! Travel enough, you’ll see ‘em.
> The house explodes as though there’s four tons of TNT down in the basement!
> Watch for completely superfluous cracking open of head. It’ll be hard to miss.
You can’t really go wrong.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is the first movie, not quite as good as this one, but still a striking cheesefest in its own right.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR [REMAKE] is a slightly juiced-up version of the first movie, and quite pointless.
AMITYVILLE 3-D cannot be seen in 3-D on video, thus removing any reason there may have been to see it. The rest is crap. I was “lucky” enough to see it in 3-D at the theater, and trust me, you’re missing nothing, not even in a funny way.