Let’s say you slept with your brother, watched your husband die, then set your childhood prison on fire, which sent your mother to the looney bin and your grandmother to hell. What would you do next?
This part of the Dollanganger series is set in the 1970’s. It looks like it — cinematographer James Liston utilized vintage anamorphic lenses to create more depth and atmosphere, just like the films of that era.
Six years later, Cathy and Chris have escaped to California with her sons, Jory and Bart, who feels constantly in the shadow of his older brother. One day, a woman in black moves next door and invites the boys over for tea. She’s rich but her only family is her butler, John Amos. Then, she asks if she may have a photo of the boys.
Jory decides to never come back, but Bart keeps coming back. She gives him gifts, like a pet snake and a journal that belonged to his great-grandfather, Malcolm. Their relationship must remain a secret, because she is really his grandmother Corinne (Heather Graham, the only actor to return from the previous movies, despite rumors that her part was going to be taken over by Goldie Hawn).
Malcolm’s journal is bonkers, filled with hateful rants about women being whores, so of course, Jory loves it. After all, of the two people who could be his dad, one is his mom’s brother and the other was a maniacal ballet dancer who put glass in people’s shoes.
Cathy starts to hide beds in her attic, convinced that her children will be taken from her once everyone learns about all the incest. Chris is worried, but that’s forgotten when they adopt Cindy, a girl from Cathy’s ballet class who died from cancer.
Bart disappears and is found in the woods with an infected cut. This all leads to his grandmother dropping the bomb on him that his mom and stepfather are siblings. He reacts pretty much like how you expect — like a complete maniac, even listening to John Amos about how he needs to escape the sins of his family. For some reason, this means killing the family dog. And then Corinne reveals that Bart’s real dad is her husband and seriously, my head is spinning so I can only wonder how this kid is keeping it all together.
Actually, he’s not doing well at all, trying to drown his adopted sister, which lands him in the attic, where he starts talking a whole lot like his insane grandmother from the previous two films. That’s when everyone finds out that mom is living right next door.
The hits keep on coming — Cindy sees her mother while dancing and falls, losing the ability to ever do the carioca again. Jory’s grandmother tries to expose the incest and steals her grandson. And then John Amos knocks out Corinne and Cindy, throws them in a barn and tries to burn them alive to finally ends the family’s cycle of abomination. Luckily, that makes mom and daughter love one another again. It doesn’t save her from a burning building, but it still seems like everything ends up pretty happy.
Except, you know, this is a V.C. Andrews story. Bart still has the journal and has started dressing like his grandfather. Looks like there’s one more movie to get through.
Bonus: We discussed this movie on our podcast.