Hear me out. I have to get this off my chest and I swear I’m not (totally) crazy. I’m not a fan of a silent house. If I’m not listening to music, I like to have a TV running in the background to keep my negative thoughts at bay. More often than not, I have my lil’ idiot box tuned to COMET TV because that joint is most likely to air something my speed. During the month of November, COMET aired a double-dip of AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION and AMITYVILLE 3: THE DEMON/3-D at least 4 or 5 times and I always seemed to find myself catching bits and pieces. Let me say first that AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION continues to blow my mind with how good it is. It’s genuinely scary and creepy (even when watched during the day), I adore DIANE FRAKLIN forever and I honestly think it’s the best possession film ever made besides THE EXORCIST. Furthermore, I’m totally entranced by the score and I think it has some of the most creative camera work this side of THE EVIL DEAD. The scene where we get a POV shot from a floating demonic spirit that stalks and ultimately ravages and enters a writhing body (the practical make-up effects are phenomenal too) I still find incredible to behold.
AMITYVILLE 3-D, of course, is another story. It’s just not very good overall. You can kind of feel it fighting to convince itself it’s not a sloppily cobbled together cash-grab/also-ran but it’s never entirely convincing. I’m also not down with giving the vaguely haughty TONY ROBERTS the responsibility of carrying the movie as a lead (especially when the charming CANDY CLARK was right there and would have been way more appealing). It doesn’t help that the special effects range from competent to cringe-worthy and that the most impressive 3-D bit involves a wayward Frisbee. Having said all that, I must admit that there is one scene in AMITYVILLE 3-D that truly gives me resilient heebie-jeebies and leaves me with a vague melancholy ache. Just being real. Critics and audience members alike have every right to rake this flick over the coals but I’ve got to defend this one bubble of effectiveness in the questionable stew.
Suuusssaaan! I could hear that familiar voice coming from the TV in the other room and I know it’s time for that scene again and yeah, I just felt a sting of sad dread. I’m stuck in a loop and this will happen forever. Here we go again: mother Nancy Baxter (TESS HARPER) hears the front door of the Amityville house open and investigates. She sees her daughter Susan (LORI LOUGHLIN) in the foyer inexplicably soaking wet from head to toe. Susan turns to her mother looking almost confused, smiles knowingly then heads up the stairs. “Why are you wet? What happened?” Nancy asks but she is ignored. She starts getting irritated, “What’s the matter with you?” Meanwhile, outside Dad is returning home with groceries and sees that there is some trouble down by the lake. An accident has happened. Mother yells irritated, “Answer me!” as daughter goes into her room and closes the door in her face. At the same time, Dad has rushed to the dock to see what the hubbub is about and it’s Susan…dead (as semi-predicted by a makeshift Ouija board earlier)! She somehow fell out of the boat and drowned!
Mother Nancy hears the ambulance siren. She runs to the lakeside and is told what happened but she can’t accept that the dead girl before her is Susan; it’s impossible because she just left her upstairs in the house! Maybe TESS HARPER is just a great actress or maybe I have some kind of chronic empathy disease but I’m pained by her every word as she angrily rejects the reality in front of her. She runs back up and through the house wildly bewildered calling her daughter’s name to no avail. As she leaves Susan’s empty room the camera lingers on a smiling doll on the bed. John tries to break through Susan’s refusal to accept events but he can’t. In a later scene in a trashed kitchen, we’ll learn Nancy has absolutely no intention of “moving on” and accepting what has happened. She doesn’t believe that other people’s perceptions of events are more valid than her own. She refuses to attend the funeral that, like the boating accident, the audience will never see.
I absolutely get that AMITYVILLE 3 is a lesser film in the franchise (though far from the worst) but something about this sequence resonates with me on an emotional level. I so understand the desire to carve out an alternate reality in your head when life throws you an unacceptable whammy. I also think that in the entire series this is a rare instance that reads like a traditional ghostly occurrence rather than a demonic event. There’s almost an M.R. JAMES tone for this brief little interlude before we get back to rubber monsters jumping out of wells (it’s rather ironic that this flick’s most powerful moment of horror required no special effect beyond drenching a character in H2O). Maybe it’s not enough to elevate the entire affair but I have to respect any horror movie unafraid to look at the cold randomness of death and the uncomfortable psychological ramifications. Anyway, I like the idea that a not great movie can carry within it a pretty great and effective scene (brief as it may be). That might not be the consensus but it’s my version of reality and I’m sticking to it.