Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)


I have to open this review by saying that I consider The Amityville Horror (1979) to be a truly abysmal movie. It is a stultifying traipse through the conventions of the haunted house film; a lousy melodrama, one that is anchored in a swamp of po-faced seriousness due to a faux ‘based on true events’ gimmick that hamstrings any attempt for inventiveness or imagination. Nevertheless this feeble garbage became something of a sensation thanks in large part to a clever marketing campaign, and in even larger part to the gullibility of the American movie-going public. The most successful aspect of the film is Lalo Schifrin’s spine chilling music, its scariest moment a brief scene in which Rod Steiger (fly covered and gasping for air) is yelled at to “GET OUT!!” by a disembodied voice. Three years later Italian super producer Dino De Laurentis felt enough time had passed for a sequel, and to the enormous credit of all involved it totally dispenses with the restrictive ‘true story’ trick and fully commits to the supernatural. This is indeed ironic, considering that a major plot event of Amityville II is based on actual recorded events! In fact there is more true-to-life basis in the second film than the first! Amityville II is also technically a prequel, in the days before that term wasn’t synonymous with crap Star Wars movies. But it’s clear from the outset that the filmmakers couldn’t care less about evoking a specific period in time. This is not slipshod on their part; it’s illustrative of creative minds unshackling themselves from the supposed ‘reality’ of the Amityville story, and choosing to follow a trail blazed by The Exorcist (1973) and the more concurrent Poltergeist (1982). It comes to something when the major influence on a sequel isn’t the film that spawned it.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Them! (1954)

Country: USA

The rich and fertile landscape of American science-fiction was sown in the 1950’s, and the production companies that ploughed the land most consistently were Universal International Pictures and American International Pictures. The former were able to bring a certain degree of filmmaking sophistication to such efforts as It Came from Outer Space (1953), This Island Earth (1955), and The Monolith Monsters (1957), and they gave director Jack Arnold a platform to investigate his thematic concerns in a series of sci-fi pictures that culminated with his unqualified masterpiece The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In some quarters Arnold is considered an auteur, and so too is Roger Corman, who was to AIP what Arnold was to UI. By contrast the productions of AIP were marked by ultra low budgets, non-existent production values, and owing to their status as independent producers and distributors a certain amount of political and social radicalism. Like the cycle of monochrome horrors initiated in the 1930’s by Universal every major production company got in on the act, and independent production outfits had a field day with material perfectly suited to the drive-ins and the affluent teenage demographic; for whatever reason Warner Bros. were consistently uninterested in the booming sci-fi/horror cycle of the 1950’s. This mirrored their lack of interest in the horror cycle of the 1930’s, which was paid the slightest lip service with a small handful of films. Their influence in the 1950’s extended mostly to the area of distribution as they put out The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), X the Unknown (1956), and The Black Scorpion (1957). Their sole foray into the area of production was clearly intended to emulate the success of 20,000 Fathoms, and it did so and more, with a prehistoric dinosaur being replaced by a colony of giant irradiated ants.

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