‘The Last Exorcism’ just wants to go on and on

Producer Eli Roth has shown amusement at the contradictory title of his latest effort, “The Last Exorcism Part II.”  Just how long is this devil-possession story going to last?

Well, the devil has all the time in the world. Cast out the evil spirit and it can promise, “I’ll be back.”

The original “The Last Exorcism” was a low-budget — by today’s standards — $2 million film that grossed nearly $41 million, which is pretty good for a horror genre film. Thus the bad old devil gets another shot.

“The Last Exorcism” (2010) was set up as a documentary gone bad as a troubled evangelical minister, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), agrees to allow an exorcism to be videotaped. The victim was a sweet young lady named Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), and nothing makes the devil badder than when he goes after young innocent people.

Naturally, the spirit-evicting ritual is a deadly disaster, ripe for more exploration.

The best thing about of Part II is Bell reprising her Independent Spirit Award-nominated role as the traumatized Nell, a lone survivor now seen as a mental patient. She is put into a home with three other troubled young women, where under the guidance of the wise Frank Merle (Muse Watson) is convinced her “possession” was only in her mind.

She settles into the home, getting comfortable with her housemates, gets a job as a room cleaner at a hotel and even finds herself the object of attention of a fellow hotel employee, Chris (Spencer Treat Clark).

But the bad dreams that had faded for a while return. She is stalked by people in creepy Mardi Gras masks. She hears strange voices from the radio and gets visits by her father who warns her the demon is still in pursuit and needs to have her consummate a relationship to gain its power.

This is all standard stuff in the possession game and it leads to the inevitable confrontation between good and evil, a battle of wits amid the lit candles, symbols on the walls and chants.

Except for the cheap jump-in-your-seat moments, “The Last Exorcism Part II” is not all that scary. It is tragic, however, in its presentation of Nell, a decent, confused young woman, portrayed with masterful frailty by Bell, who is doomed to endure forces way beyond her control.

Nell once again faces gymnastic-style contortions and evolves from traumatized to hopeful to wary to weary and eventually fatalistic.

Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly, who co-wrote the script with Damien Chazelle, “The Last Exorcism Part II” is exactly what you would expect from a sequel — a continuation of the story that really would have been better off left alone. Ashley Bell, a second-generation actress (her mother Victoria Carroll has had a long career as a guest star in many television series), is clearly talented and should move on into roles where she does not have to be stalked by a demon.

Days of dead ahead

For horror fans, Days of the Dead will be held April 4-6 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, preceding Monsterpalooza 2013 in Burbank by a week.

Panels, screenings and a  tattoo contest are among the events, along with some stars of horror films: Roddy Piper and Keith David from “They Live,” Sid Haig from “The Devil’s Rejects,” Bill Moseley from  “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Dick Miller from “Gremlins” and P.J. (“Totally”) Soles from “Halloween.”

Learn more at www.daysofthedead.net.

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