Today, I have a horror movie two-fer, 1979’s The Amityville Horror and 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession. Amazingly, BOTH films feature reel librarian characters. Are there any similarities? Do the reel librarian characters serve the same purpose in both films? Let’s dive in!
The Amityville Horror (1979)
In the horror classic, The Amityville Horror (1979), a newly married couple, played by Margot Kidder and a bearded James Brolin, merge their families and move into a large house for sale at a bargain price. Why priced so low? Because the house was the site of a mass murder, based on real-life events, where a son murdered his parents and siblings in their family home in Amityville, Long Island, New York. The film begins with a brief re-enactment of those murders but focuses primarily on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family who moved in afterward, as written about by Jay Anson in The Amityville Horror, published in 1977. The story caught the attention of the public, with both the book and the movie being big hits (and spawning multiple sequels and remakes), but the story has also been controversial and led to multiple lawsuits.
About 70 minutes into the film, James Brolin drives off on his motorcycle to the Town Hall for building plans, to investigate what’s been happening in the house. (His dog has also been scratching and whining at one walled-up part of the basement.) The next scene cuts to closeups of drawings of flies, panning over to bookshelves in the public library.
Instead of the buzzing fly sound effects heard throughout the film, we hear loud whispering. Spooky… until we realize the whispers are coming from two older women at the Circulation Desk. Hmmm… symbolism?
The two reel librarians are wearing conservative blouses with high necks and long sleeves. While they are whispering, one flips through a stack of cards and photographs. They are too engrossed in their gossiping (I could make out the phrase “Oh no, no, no, she’s a nice person”) to notice that Brolin steals a book!
FOR SHAME, James Brolin, FOR SHAME. This is obviously another example of how his character has been influenced by evil spirits. ;)
Note: By the way, the bookshelf he was looking at is marked “100’s,” which is the “Philosophy and psychology” section in the Dewey Decimal classification system. Parapsychology and occultism are in the 130’s. At least they got that detail right in the movie!
Is the book important? We next see him in a local bar, sitting with friends Jeff and Carolyn. Brolin is describing weird things happening in the house, as Carolyn is flipping through the book. (So he can’t even be bothered to look at the book he stole from the library!)
After spotting an illustration that looks similar to the Amityville house, she cries out:
“Of course, it’s right here. It’s history! John Ketcham. We ran him out of Salem for being a witch. He built his house exactly where you’re living. You’re living on some kind of special ground that devil-worshipped death, sacrifice. George, there’s one simple rule. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms.”
John Ketcham, also spelled Catchum, is mentioned in Jay Anson’s book, where he claims the following info:
One of the more notorious settlers who came to the newly-named Amityville in those days was a John Catchum or Ketcham who had been forced out of Salem, Massachusetts for practicing witchcraft. John set up residence within 500 feet of where George [Lutz] now lived, continuing his alleged devil worship. The account also claimed he was buried somewhere on the northeast corner of the property.
From what I’ve been able to find online, there are historical records of a John Ketcham who settled in the area, but any ties to witchcraft seem to be unsubstantiated.
Back to the film… no more is seen of the stolen library book or the reel librarians, after they’ve served their purpose. (The same could be said of pretty much everything else in this oddly disjointed film.)
Margot Kidder does some research of her own later, as a clerk explains how to use microfilm to look through newspaper archives. However, it’s clear that she’s in a newspaper office, and not in a library. Peter Maloney is also listed in the film credits as Newspaper Clerk.
And yes, the Newspaper Clerk merits a mention in the credits, but neither of the two reel librarians are listed.
Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
The second film in the “Amityville” series is actually a prequel, even though the “II” in the title suggests that it’s a sequel. The events in Amityville II: The Possession are based on the real-life 1974 murders of the DeFeo family in Amityville, Long Island, New York (the eldest son was convicted in 1975 of murdering his entire family). The film credits parapsychologist Hans Holzer’s 1982 book Murder in Amityville as its source material. The prequel/sequel made much less money than the original film and was nominated for a Razzie Award the next year (Worst Supporting Actress for Rutanya Alda, who played the mother).
The film mixes together elements of the original The Amityville Horror (same house and setting), The Exorcist (the last third of the film), Flowers in the Attic (incest) and Poltergeist (building on ancient Indian burial ground).
The reel librarian enters the picture 80 minutes into its 104-minute running time. After the murders and subsequent arrest of the eldest son, a local priest is staring at the iconic Amityville house. A ghostly hand reaches out and touches his shoulder and startles him… and he turns around to find a kindly, grandmotherly woman all wrapped up in a scarf and overcoat. She asks if he’s okay and if she can give him a lift. As they walk away, she reveals that she knows “some strange stories about that house.”
The next scene cuts to a room that looks like an archives room in a basement (fluorescent lighting, low ceiling, and pipes are visible, adding to the basement feel). There are shelves and shelves of archives, and the older woman walks down the aisle, carrying a large volume.
The older woman reveals some personal info:
“I’ve been working here for 25 years. At first I thought it would be boring, but these records are more interesting than any novel.”
Her voice is soft and mellow, but it doesn’t quite take the sting out of hearing that this woman thought her job — apparently as an archives librarian — would be boring. SIGH. She’s also dressed quite conservatively (and stereotypically for a reel librarian), with a high-neck bow blouse and sweater vest cardigan.
She then fulfills her role as an Information Provider, as we get a close-up of the archives volume.
She tells him about a witchcraft lady who long ago desecrated and violated Indian law against building on an ancient burial ground, and that the house and land have been desecrated by people with no right to live there.
And the other foot drops. Shades of Poltergeist, anyone?
It’s also interesting to note that this is a different take on the reason given for the evil spirits in the first film. But at least this time, the reason is provided directly by a reel librarian.
Also interesting to note that the older woman is wearing a ring on her left hand, so it’s clear that she is married. No Spinster Librarian in this film! Although we never hear her name onscreen, the reel librarian character is revealed in the credits as Mrs. Greer, played by Petra Lea. This is Lea’s only film credit, and she passed away a few years later, in 1989.
Here’s a table comparing-and-contrasting the reel librarians in the first two films of the Amityville Horror series:
|Title||The Amityville Horror||Amityville II: The Possession|
|Source Material||Based on the real-life experiences of the Lutz family, as written by Jay Anson in The Amityville Horror, 1977||Based on the real-life murders of the DeFeo family, as written about by Hans Holzer in Murder in Amityville, 1982|
|Adaptation||Original film adaptation||Prequel to the events in Amityville Horror (despite the II in its title, which suggests a sequel)|
|When reel librarians appear on screen||70 minutes into the 117-minute film||80 minutes into the 104-minute film|
|Reel librarian characters||Two older women; not listed in film credits||Mrs. Greer, played by Petra Lea, works in the public library archives|
|Appearance and dress||One blue-haired female, one white-haired female; No glasses; Conservative clothing, with high-necked blouses||Grey hair; Glasses; Conservative clothing, with bow blouse|
|Total screen time||A few seconds||1-2 minutes total|
|Reel librarian roles||Information Providers, providing visual cues to library setting||Information Provider. Voices the reason why there is evil in the house, as revealed in the town archives|
|Category||Class IV (cameo roles with little to no dialogue)||Class III (minor character with speaking lines in a significant scene)|
It is interesting that reel librarians are in both the first two entries in the Amityville Horror series of movies. In both films, they serve as Information Providers, but for different reasons. I am also glad that the reel librarian in Amityville II had a speaking role — and got included in the film’s credits!
Have you seen any of the Amityville movies? Did you remember there were librarian characters in both the first two entries in the Amityville Horror collection of movies?
Until next time…