Amityville II: The Possession (1982) / Horror-Drama
MPAA rated: R for gore, strong violence, disturbing images, sexuality, brief nudity, a drug reference, and language
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Jack Magner, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, James Olson, Diane Franklin, Erika Katz, Brent Katz, Moses Gunn, Leonardo Cimino
Director: Damiano Damiani
Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace (based on the book, "Murder in Amityville", by Hans Holzer)
Amityville II: The Possession is actually a prequel to 1979's The Amityville Horror, despite the 'II' in the title. It tells part of the history of the Long Island home, spinning a tale similar to that of the infamous real-life DeFeo murders from 1974, though none of that really matters for those just looking for some scares, shocks, and thrills. While not nearly as good a horror film as, say, The Exorcist, which this film borrows more than a little from, it is nevertheless a much better effort than the first film, and it is the only sequel in the series where the filmmakers actually put some effort into making a quality production. Fans of the original 1979 film might be slightly annoyed by some of the narrative inconsistencies that develop from the storyline, but if you can suspend disbelief in this for the greater whole, this film is interesting enough as a standalone piece to merit taking on its own terms.
In this telling, the dysfunctional Montelli family moves into their new home and finds many curious things right away, including every window being nailed shut and a secret room in the basement of the house that is full of flies, muck and smells to high heaven (or down to low Hell). The longer they stay, the more they begin to witness strange events, and bicker violently with one another, until the eldest son of the family, Sonny (Magner), actually begins to exhibit behavior that may not be his own, including a desire to kill his abusive father, Anthony (Young, Rocky III), and defile his younger teenage sister, Trish (Franklin, Better Off Dead). Before things get completely out of hand, the mother requests that a local priest, Father Adamsky (Olson, The Andromeda Strain), come out to investigate the supernatural events of the place, but without the backing of his superiors, he's going it alone against what appears to be a portal to unfathomable evil that resides below the house.
Directed by Italian spaghetti western helmer Damiano Damiani (A Bullet for the General, A Genius Two Friends and an Idiot), in his first English-language film, from a script by first-time screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, Fright Night Part 2), it looks and feels like a giallo, with its surreal events and haunting musical score by Lalo Schifrin (Caveman, The Big Brawl), perhaps the only leftover from the first film other than the house. Camera work that often shoots in first-person style whereby the frightened look directly into and run from the camera, it's not a bad piece in terms of credible acting amid a house full of events which aren't too dissimilar to those that transpire in Poltergeist, released the same year, including the building of a family home atop an ancient Native American burial ground. Paint brushes float in mid-air and paint disturbing messages on the walls, crucifixes fly about, and unseen demons lurk around the family, drumming up all form of trouble. Interestingly, the climax of the film isn't at the end, but about 2/3 of the way in, leaving the final half hour to the aftermath. Even if the momentum rolls down, it's all quite interesting how it plays out.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film is the incestuous relationship between the eldest brother and eldest sister, though the sexual act is only alluded to rather than shown. Still, it is quite racy material for its type, and along with the horrors of witnessing a family try to kill one another, there is a powder keg of sensationalism that runs throughout. This is good, tawdry trash, if you like that sort of thing. It's all sold by the quality actors, who deliver better than average performances for the often junky subgenre. The kids are all cute, perhaps too cute to believe they are the offspring of Burt Young (sorry Burt), but the interplay among them on the screen does feel more natural than most families depicted in horror films. Perhaps as a carryover from her nomination the previous year for Mommie Dearest, Alda (The Deer Hunter, The Long Goodbye) would receive the shameful Razzie award nomination for her work here. Outside of her final scene, which is terribly acted, her performance is one of the highlights, I think. Diane Franklin is also very good, and works well with Magner, in his first and only significant film role, especially in the tricky chemistry between siblings and lovers. And Olson, who becomes the film's star during the last half of the movie, lends credibility to a demanding role as the conflicted man of God.
If you prefer the eerie scares of the aforementioned Poltergeist and The Exorcist and don't mind that it's basically a hybrid knockoff of both thematically, you might actually find yourself caught up in the events of Amityville II, perhaps the best film in the long-running horror series The flaw of every Amityville film is that there is no real family who would have stayed in the house anywhere nar as long as the family in these movies do. It's all a bit over the top at times, and perhaps more than a tad unintentionally campy during others, but wile it's on, given the prurient subject matter and bizarre events that take place, it's still hard to take your eyes off of the screen as they transpire.
©2012 Vince Leo