Film Review: Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Release Date: September 24th, 1982
Directed by: Damiano Damiani
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti
Based on: Murder In Amityville by Hans Holzer
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, Leonardo Cimino, Ted Ross

Media Transactions, Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Dino De Laurentiis Company, Orion Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“If these walls could talk…they would shriek!” – tagline

I think that the original Amityville Horror will always be the best of the films that carry the Amityville name but I have to say that this one, because of how absolutely fucked up it is, is my personal favorite.

This features a new family moving into the immensely haunted, demonic house from the first film.

The father is played by Burt Young a.k.a. Paulie from the Rocky movies, which always weirdly fascinated me, as it’s hard to separate him from his most iconic role. And in this, he’s sort of the worst version of Paulie imaginable. Granted, most of that is due to the demonic influence of the house.

There is also the mother, an older brother and sister and a couple really young kids.

The older brother and sister have a weird incestuous vibe from the beginning and it’s actually hard to tell how much of that already existed or how much of it comes from the house. It’s an odd, taboo side plot that is supposed to make viewers feel uncomfortable and it is pretty effective, especially by the time they go full incest, as the brother falls deeper into demonic madness and the sister comes under the evil spell of the forces living inside her.

As religious horror goes, there is also a priest character that wants to save the family but doesn’t have the support of the church, as they find all of this to be too insane to believe.

This movie really goes much further into darkness than the original, as the end of the second act actually sees the oldest brother violently murder his entire family while being fully possessed. It’s an insanely fucked up sequence but it immediately makes the original tame by comparison. I’m sure the critics of the time hated just how gruesome this movie actually got.

The priest, even after the murders, still feels as if he must conquer the demonic energies in the house and with that, he is driven to save the possessed son.

The final showdown is really damn intense and the special effects are pretty fucking incredible for 1982. The effects make the finale work really well and it adds to the agony that both characters have gone through and are going through.

I can’t say that this is well acted or even well directed but it’s still an effective horror film that pushes the bar pretty far and succeeds at that without feeling like it jumped the shark. This could’ve very easily fallen into looking and feeling like cheap exploitation for the sake of shock value but it sort of maintains its humanity and leaves us with a truly heroic character that was willing to throw away his own soul to save a kid from Hell.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: When A Stranger Calls (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979 (Indianapolis premiere)
Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Steve Feke, Fred Walton
Music by: Dana Kaproff
Cast: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley, Rutanya Alda, William Boyett, Ron O’Neal

Melvin Simon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Embassy Pictures (re-release), 97 Minutes

Review:

“[thinking it’s Curt again] Leave me alone!” – Jill Johnson, “Jill, this is Sergeant Sacker. Listen to me. We’ve traced the call… it’s coming from inside the house. Now a squad car’s coming over there right now, just get out of that house!” – Sgt. Sacker

This movie would be a bonafide classic, if it was just the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. It’s bogged down by the stuff in-between but I still love the hell out of this picture and when I was a kid, it was this movie and Scrooged that made me really appreciate Carol Kane, her range and how damn good she is in everything she does.

It also made me appreciate Charles Durning, who has done a slew of great things but he’s always this sort of gruff, cop-type character. Here, he really turns that up though, as he searches for the killer who has murdered children, as well as others.

The opening twenty minutes of this movie is one of the greatest horror segments ever filmed. It’s a version of the classic babysitter horror story about a killer being upstairs. We’ve all heard or read a version of the story, especially those from my generation who loved the Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz.

While this takes a famous tale from American folklore, it gives it to us in the best live-action version that has ever existed. It’s stood the test of time and even with a sequel and remake of this specific movie, it’s never been replicated at this level. Sure, the original Black Christmas is a better movie, overall, and predates this but it’s more about the caller/killer being in the house and not specifically about a babysitter, alone with sleeping children.

After the incredible opening, the film switches gears and almost goes from a slasher film to a serial killer crime thriller with some noir vibes. By the final act, though, it goes into high gear and comes full circle back to a slasher-y horror flick. Granted, there isn’t enough onscreen slashing to actually categorize this as a traditional slasher. The psycho in this will just use whatever tools are at his disposal and he seems more focused on fucking with people’s minds than outright murdering them.

This is a really well acted film and it is also made better by its atmosphere and the general creepiness of the killer. However, the pacing is a mess after the first act and it is tough to get through that middle hour or so. Had that portion of the film been more fine tuned or leaned a bit more into either the slasher bits or become neo-noir (or both), I feel like this really would’ve been one of the best horror movies of its day.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Girls Nite Out (1982)

Also known as: The Scaremaker
Release Date: June 20th, 1982
Directed by: Robert Deubel
Written by: Joe Bolster
Cast: Julia Montgomery, Hal Holbrook, Rutanya Alda, James Carroll, Carrick Glenn, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda

Independent International Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Whore!” – The Dancing Bear

This is one of those films that I didn’t even know about until recently, as slasher pictures were a dime a dozen in the 1980s and this one isn’t particularly good, other than a few things I found to be amusing.

The biggest thing that this film has going for it, other than Hal Holbrook being a sole campus cop dealing with murdered babes, is that the killer wears the school’s mascot costume. What we have, is a psycho dressed as a dancing bear. However, the bear has a makeshift bear claw comprised of serrated steak knives that he uses to shred college girls as he calls them “whore” and “slut” or my favorite line of the film, “Bitch! You bitch! Time to pay the price for being a slut!”

Girls Nite Out doesn’t feature any notably successful teens. Well, there is Julia Montgomery, who was in Revenge of the Nerds and two of its three sequels. Also, the super beautiful Carrick Glenn is in this. Her only other notable film was The Burning. She kind of disappeared after this film, which sucks. I thought she seemed like a cool chick that could do better things than where she was when she stopped acting.

As far as the teens go, they were all fairly unusual and goofy but it worked in a really entertaining way and at the very least, they all stood out in different ways and made the movie more playful than it otherwise would have been. There was great chemistry and camaraderie with the cast and it looked like a film where they were all having fun on and off camera.

The real problem with the movie, is that it is just such a cookie cutter slasher flick and it doesn’t do anything notable or new other than having a killer in a bear suit. However, there is a twist ending that I thought worked pretty well, even if everything leading up to it was sort of basic bullshit.

I do feel that the movie was a missed opportunity for the writers to come up with some really fantastic bear puns. If I wrote this thing, I’d be dropping puns all over the place. “Who do you think murdered these babes?” “I don’t know, deputy. But this is certainly… grisly.” Or something like “Hey, aren’t you that nerd from my civics class?” “No! But I’d like to express my right to bear arms!” “Arghhhhh!!!” Or how about “If you thought that was bad, bitch… you’re going to find what happens next… un-bear-able!” Or after hitting on some slutty chick at a party he says something like, “You’re too clingy, I’m going to have to claw my way out of this relationship!”

Such a missed opportunity for great bear puns.

Anyway, Girls Nite Out isn’t a total waste, even without those bear puns but it could have been much better. Hal Holbrook automatically improves just about anything and the teens were better than typical slasher fodder. There could have been a bigger emphasis on boobage and more creative killings but a bear mascot with a knife hand, two years before Freddy Krueger, is pretty creative.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: The Stuff (1985)

Also known as: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff
Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Anthony Guefen, Richard Seaman (jingles)
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Rutanya Alda, Scott Bloom, Brian Bloom, Patrick Dempsey (uncredited), Mira Sorvino (uncredited)

New World Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The name’s Mo Rutherford. They call me that ’cause when people give me money, I always want mo’.” – David ‘Mo’ Rutherford

The Stuff was a film that flew under the radar when it came out in 1985. Its theatrical release was very limited. Also, when it was released in New York City, a hurricane hit on that day and newspapers weren’t able to be delivered. Apparently, as the director Larry Cohen claims, the film had good reviews that never made it into the audience’s hands. In 2017, the film does hold a 70 percent critics’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

There was also probably some genre confusion about the film. While it appears to be a horror film in all its marketing material, which it is, the film is also a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the health fads of the 1980s, which saw a huge influx of “diet”-branded foods hit the market that people jumped on like hotcakes covered in crack cocaine.

I never even heard of this film until the early 1990s and I was a kid that spent a great deal of time in video stores, wherever I went. I think that most people discovered this later, as it has since developed a pretty large cult following.

One thing this film has, is pretty brilliant special effects. Different substances were used throughout the movie to represent “The Stuff”, as it moved and attacked people. The scene with a lake of “The Stuff” was done by superimposing imagery and using animation techniques. It came off great for a film from this era with a very small budget. Also, the rotating bedroom set used in two scenes of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street is used in The Stuff to recreate the same effect but instead of blood crawling up the walls, we get homicidal marshmallow goo.

The effects that were especially cool where when people’s bodies started to rip apart and ooze out “The Stuff”. The scene, at the end, where Garrett Morris’ head starts to tear apart is a fantastic practical effect and still pretty horrifying.

Now the acting is far from commendable but this picture does feature the always great Garrett Morris as well as Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino. Also, Michael Moriarty’s “Mo” is an entertaining character.

The Stuff is a fun movie and it is hokey in all the right ways. I’d almost like to see a sequel that is sort of the reverse of this that pokes fun at all the anti-GMO hysteria and the religiously pro-organic people.

Rating: 7/10