James Olson - Father Tom Adamski
Jack Magner - Sonny Montelli
Burt Young - Anthony Montelli
Rutanya Alda - Delores Montelli
Diane Franklin - Patricia Montelli
Moses Gunn - Detective Turner
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts/Haunted House
Running Time - 100 Minutes
I think I've made it pretty clear on this blog that I'm not a fan of the successful and overrated 1979 film, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. I don't get how this supposed true story about a haunted house that drove people crazy enough to murder their own members of their family has become so darn popular, that it spawned multiple sequels, books, and even a recent documentary. While I'm sure the story itself and the novel that grew from it frightened people at the time, I just roll my eyes at the whole "franchise" now - especially when many have proven the story was pretty much made up for publicity.
Out of eight original films and a 2005 remake, I've only really been a fan of two of them [although I'm sure I'll enjoy some of the other films after a re-watch, as I remember some of them being sort of guilty pleasures at times]. One, being the Ryan Reynolds remake that I actually enjoyed more than the James Brolin/Margot Kidder original that bores me to no end. And the second one happens to be the film I'm reviewing here - AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. Whether or not it's really a prequel or a sequel [I'll get into that issue later] to the first film, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that AMITYVILLE II takes what the first film had set up and really kicks it in the ass. It's rare for horror sequels to be better than the first movie. But AMITYVILLE II happens to be one of those exceptions. Screw the Lutz family! Give me some of that Montelli drama any day of the week!
Supposedly taking place before the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, we witness the story of the previous family that had lived in the house - the Montelli's. Right from the start, things don't look all that great - especially when the patriarch, Anthony (Burt Young), is nothing but a Debbie Downer who takes out his anger physically and verbally on his wife (Rutanya Alda) and his children. It's his eldest son, Sonny (Jack Magner), who feels the blunt of it, causing tension within the family. The kid may be smiling on the outside, but he's miserable emotionally and mentally due to his abusive father.
As the family moves into the house, the demonic spirits that live inside begin to prey on every weakness the family has. Things move around by themselves. The spirits draw on walls, calling the family "pigs". The spirits sexually touch the mother, who has been feeling sexually deprived for a long time. The eldest sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin), starts feeling seduced by their presence. And Sonny begins hearing demonic voices telling him to kill through his Walkman.
Slowly but surely, the house begins to possess Sonny, as he's the angriest of the entire family. Now under the influence of evil, Sonny wastes no time molesting his sister, confusing her sexually. He also gets more violent with his father, who the demons want dead. Delores [the mom] and Patricia begin seeking the guidance of a local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), to bless and cleanse the house. However, his holy presence just makes things worse - eventually making him realize that Sonny is a vessel for the house's evil. Can Adamsky exorcise the spirit out of Sonny in time, or is the entire Montelli family doomed?
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is a slow paced, subtle thriller that wants to be scary. However, it ends up feeling dry - presenting a boring tale that's less about George Lutz being possessed by evil and more about the Church's feelings on the matter [which was presented in a pretty bad light]. AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION doesn't waste time on those sort of things. It just wants to creep you out through striking visuals, gross special effects, and a fast paced narrative that will keep you entertained for 100 minutes. In that sense, this sequel is a winner and a much needed improvement over the 1979 overrated "classic".
The first two films in the franchise are really presented differently due to each being a product of its time. The first film, which was capitalizing on the demonic craze that took over pop culture and the news during the 1970s [THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, etc.], wanted to create a haunted house story in which the evil was everywhere and couldn't be stopped by any force of good. This sequel is an obvious product of the early 1980s. The special effects are more elaborate and gross. The presence of evil is more subjective and concentrated on one single individual [Sonny], giving it strength to prey on the other members of Sonny's family.
We don't see the evil really in the first film. Sure, George Lutz is possessed and treats his family like a grade A jerk. But you never really feel a true threat to the Lutz family. They were also allowed to escape the house, which seemed to destroy any evil influence on them. In this film, the evil is more powerful, angrier, and truly a threat not only to the Montelli family, but anyone preaching the word of God. The fact that when the night Sonny must murder the rest of his family, the house shuts itself so no one can get in and get out, make AMITYVILLE II must creepier and bleaker than its predecessor. I think it also helps that this film is loosely based on the Ronald DeFeo Jr. story, in which DeFeo murdered his entire family in 1974 - claiming he had been possessed by an evil spirit from within the house that made him do the deed [although there hasn't been any proof]. But really, AMITYVILLE II just feels like a better haunted house/possession film than the original THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. It's not just because we really see the effects of the situation, but because more is done with the situation that makes us invested in it more. The sequel doesn't take itself as seriously, making it a bit more horrific, yet fun, as well.
I think Tommy Lee Wallace, who had written the screenplay, was also influenced by other films that were very popular at the time. The possession element is obviously a take from 1973's THE EXORCIST. In fact, the last minutes of the film are pretty much the greatest hits of that very film, where the priest going against The Church to exorcise the spirit out of Sonny, who pretty much talks dirty at him and reveals the priest's sinful thoughts about Sonny's younger sister, Patricia [Father Adamsky wanted to deflower her, but Sonny got there first]. There's even the obligatory scene where Father Adamsky wants to the spirit to enter his body to save Sonny. While it's inferior to THE EXORCIST on every level, at least it works within the context of the story and leaves the film on a downbeat note.
Wallace also turns AMITYVILLE II into a slasher film of sorts at times. While not a traditional one like HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH, you can clearly see some of the tropes being used. We get the first person point of view by the villain. We see members of the family being stalked and bothered by the evil presence. And we get the chilling scene of Sonny going after each member of his family with a shotgun, killing them one by one to satisfy the demonic force. It's not really a surprise since Wallace was part of the creation for the 1978 HALLOWEEN that he would present some of the story in such a way.
There's also a subplot similar to POLTERGEIST, which was released a few months before AMITYVILLE II. I'm sure POLTERGEIST wasn't an influence for the house being built on top of a burial ground of sorts. But it's interesting that both films had a similar reason for the demonic spirits around the same time.
I also gotta admire Wallace for taking things to the lengths that he does within the narrative. The main character actually murders his family in the middle act, which one would believe could be a character's thoughts or dream. In fact, Father Adamsky [who was actually seeing this violence in his sleep] wakes up startled in the next scene and decides to go to the house to check up on things. Then we learn that the events we witnessed really did happen, leading to the entire third act of the film. I think the fact that the murders weren't fabricated makes their timing more shocking and effective. I liked that it wasn't placed at the end, which would have been very predictable.
I also feel the sexual content must have really made some people uncomfortable back in 1982. The evil spirit sexually caresses the matriarch, Delores, who hasn't been with her husband that way in many years. And then the spirit, now possessing Sonny, seduces his sister Patricia into getting naked and eventually having sex with her. Incest is always a touchy subject, but it's a subject that's usually implied or teased, rather than actually accomplished. But the incest really raises the drama for Patricia and Delores. Patricia, who feels it was wrong to sleep with Sonny, still feels attracted to him in some way. And Delores, noticing how Sonny would caress Patricia, is not only repulsed by the sin, but almost seems jealous that her daughter is getting some action while she's in a dry spell. Add in the fact that Father Adamsky is revealed to also have lustful feelings for Patricia, an underage girl, and you got yourself a twisted soap opera that I was entertained by.
There's also some other subject matter, like Anthony Montelli being a real bastard to his family. The guy wasn't even possessed, and he was ready to whip his children with a belt because of the mess the house made in their presence. Hell, he even treated Father Adamsky like crap. I get that he was an atheist, but some respect would have been nice. Who would want Sonny to spare this asshole? It's no wonder he was the first person to go. I also found the scene where the younger sister covers her brother's head with a plastic bag as a joke. It was a bit morbid, especially since something like that can kill someone. I'm guessing Wallace put this in the story for shock value. Well it worked.
Do I have any issues with the story? Oh, absolutely. While I think Wallace was cool in using other films as an influence on the screenplay, it does come across as a bit derivative of better films. I have nothing against unoriginality [who can be original these days?], but I felt that the inspirations were a bit too on-the-nose. THE EXORCIST moment played out exactly like THE EXORCIST. Did the house really need to be built on a burial ground like POLTERGEIST? And what was up with the transformation that almost resembled something out of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON? In fact, much of the ending tended to rely on the presence of other films in order to finish the story. Honestly, much of the final act [which I didn't hate] had a much different tone and feel to the hour that came before it. It was like watching two different films that really didn't go together. Was it a complete failure? Not at all. But some of it felt forced just to capitalize on the horror trends that were still popular at the time.
I also didn't have much sympathy for the characters, which probably made the film more entertaining on a superficial level for me. The parents weren't that likeable. Anthony was an abusive prick, while Delores was too passive about the situation that made her hard to root for. The children weren't developed all that much. Sonny was only interesting once the demon possessed him. Patricia was just a tool to have someone pure being corrupted by the evil around here. Even Father Adamsky was revealed to be a pervert by the end, even though he was a good match for Sonny. I guess we weren't supposed to care about any of these people since they were nothing but lambs to the slaughter anyway. Still, I found the Lutz family more likeable, even if they were as dull as watching paint dry.
By the way, when does this film even take place? It's supposedly a prequel to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, which is obviously taking place in the 1970s. But we see 80s cars, 80s fashion, and even a Walkman that throw away any sort of time continuity between the first two films. There's still a debate whether this film is really a sequel and not a prequel, although the events in this film reveal what happened inside of the house before the Lutz family had moved in. Call it a big goof, I guess.
The special effects in AMITYVILLE II are definitely a step-above anything presented in the first film. While a brutal film, the film isn't particularly gory until the end. Obviously influenced by Rick Baker's and Rob Bottin's works on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING respectively, While the work of Glen Robinson, John Caglione, Stephen DuPuis, and Ed French don't come close to the imagination of Baker and Bottin, the visual spectacle of watching Sonny being possessed is quite interesting. Mainly, the special effects are just skin bubbling underneath the surface on the hands, neck, and even face. The biggest effect happens at the end, where Sonny's face begins to erode into a demonic form that was hiding underneath the shell. Not sure if it was actually needed, but I can definitely admire the hard work that went into it. Other than that, it's not really a violent film. Even the scene where Sonny shoots down his family is more implied than anything, with blood splatter here and there.
The direction by Damiano Damiani, in his first and only English speaking movie, is pretty damn good. With editor Sam O'Steen on his side [he edited ROSEMARY'S BABY], AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION flows better than expected. The picture looked good. The shot scales, composition, and framing were on the mark. The pacing is well done, as the film breezes by. And there's a ton of style visually, with Damiani's love for first person point-of-view shots and 360 degree overheads. It's a visually engaging film that feels more kinetic than the first one.
The acting is good in AMITYVILLE II as well. Burt Young, of ROCKY fame, is fun to watch as the abusive father, Anthony. He's pretty much Uncle Paulie, but with more Ike Turner in him. James Olson is a very good actor as Father Adamsky. He had some ridiculous dialogue at times, but he made it work for his character. Jake Magner carried the film very well as Sonny. I really like the conflict Magner displayed, although he was more fun to watch as a possessed shell for a demon. Diane Franklin is really cute, and quite convincing as the innocent Patricia. And Rutanya Alda is a bit melodramatic for my tastes as Delores. But she wasn't in the film all that much to be annoying, so I'll let it slide.
THE FINAL HOWL
I honestly consider AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION the best installment of a pretty uneven franchise in terms of quality. It does have continuity, tone, and even some character issues. But it's a more entertainingly twisted version of the first film, now with influences from THE EXORCIST, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and even a bit of POLTERGEIST towards the end. The possession angle is played with well, the direction is very strong and stylish, and the actors really elevate what could have been a piece of pure schlock. It's a sequel that may turn people off due to issues of abuse and incest that play a big role in the narrative. But along with the 2005 THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remake, AMITYVILLE II is probably the only time I don't regret spending time in this stupid haunted house. Compared to the first film, this sequel is the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition the franchise really needed at the time.