Amityville II: The Possession. 1982. Directed by Damiano Damiani. Screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace; based on the book by Hans Holzer.
Starring James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Pine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, Ted Ross, Erika Katz, Brent Katz, & Leonardo Cimino. Dino De Laurentiis Company/Media Transactions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Not sure why certain horror sequels aren’t appreciated as much as others. It’s a strange phenomenon that doesn’t always happen to crime or drama movies when sequels come out. Many people love The Godfather Part II above the original, which is fair; I do, too. Other people loved Die Hard so much that Die Hard 2, despite its many shortcomings, thrilled them to no end. Yet horror fans seem much more reluctant about which sequels they approve of, which ones they think are trash. I’m definitely in the minority here, but I love movies such as Exorcist II: The Heretic (in no way better than the original Friedkin – still an awesome, unfairly judged sequel), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (an unheralded sequel that doesn’t beat its predecessor and still manages to do great things in retrospect), and yes, Amityville II: The Possession.
Where those other two horror sequels were good but failed to outdo the originals, I feel Amityville II beats the first on all counts. You heard me.
Why is that? Well, there are a lot of reasons. You can never tell for sure if the sequel is really a sequel; it can almost act like a prequel. Of course it’s a sequel. Just fun that there’s a lot of interesting parallels with this film and the actual story of Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr’s, the man whose vicious crimes against his family inspired The Amityville Horror. Then there’s the sheer terror of the plot, a much darker vision of a family torn apart by supernatural forces than the first could ever have hoped to become. Part of the big reason why this movie does so well is that Tommy Lee Wallace wrote the script. There are those who might not agree with me, however, Wallace hasn’t been given the credit he’s due over the years. He did a handful of things that weren’t so great. But Halloween III: Season of the Witch (he wrote/directed) and It (directed both parts; wrote second part) are classics, to my mind. His work here has gone largely unnoticed except for a small group of fans worldwide. He manages to take the scariness of the series in an appropriately disturbing direction, perhaps why so many refuse to recognise the film’s greatness. Regardless, Wallace creates a much more penetrating nightmare than the original with uncredited screenplay help from Dardano Sacchetti (too many movies to list) and wonderful cinematography from Franco Di Giacomo.
If you haven’t seen this yet: do it now. If you’ve seen it and forget its greatness, it’s time to revisit.
Quickly you’ll find the camera work is more inventive and fluid than the first film, as well as the fact it helps put you in a very different psychological perspective. Almost like we start to see from the point-of-view of the house, or the ghosts and demons lurking within its walls. For instance, early on when the mother is in the basement and has one of the men look in the crawlspace, a tracking shot comes out of the hole in the wall and sneaks behind her. She tells her son moments later: “Somebody… touched me.” Di Giacomo and Wallace utilise this shot to great effect. In another film we’d see the mother walking away from the crawlspace, a ghostly apparition behind her reaching to touch the shoulder, and then cut to NOTHING behind her. Instead, this makes us feel as if we’re seeing what the ghosts (or demons or whatever) are seeing. It’s a visceral shot, placing us in the ghostly perspective. This reoccurs over and over. Not repetitively, but to amplify this effect.
There’s a moment when this ends, and we then witness things normally, as Sonny Montelli (Jack Magner) is possessed. The camera techniques change, though still effective. Moreover, the narrative changes and we’re dragged through a disturbing story that decidedly overshadows the first film.
Whereas The Amityville Horror focused on George Lutz (James Brolin), his normal family, and his later complete mental breakdown at the hands of the house, Sonny’s possession comes from a darker place. The Montelli family are a troubled bunch already. Before we ever see Anthony Montelli (an excellently rough performance from legendary Burt Young) lay a finger on anybody, a bit of dialogue tunes us into his abusiveness. From there on the abusive father figure in him comes out, terribly at times. It gets worse, too. Apparently a couple scenes that had to be cut include one where Anthony forces himself on his wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda), to a graphic extent. What’s left in the film includes dialogue behind closed doors, suggestions from daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin). Once the house starts possessing Sonny, on top of making most of the family look crazy to the violent patriarch, everything gets really evil. Sonny seduces his own sister into incest, and then later murders every last one of them with a rifle; exactly like Butch DeFeo did. The original depicted an otherwise loving family man, a stepfather taking in his wife’s children as if he were their own, becoming a sinister, abusive person. The sequel taps into something more ugly, in the right kind of way for good horror, by way of the already fractured family. A large reason for this being better than the first.
The big changeover scene where the possession fully takes place, crossing us over from the point-of-view tracking shots to a more steadily framed view of the horror – is what I call “the stomach scene”: we watch as the camera zooms in and out on Sonny’s body, mostly his stomach, as he sweats and screams and moans while the demonic spirit enters him. It’s a – pardon this pun – gut wrenching scene. Magner sells it totally, which is amazing considering that his only other film is the Stephen King adaptation Firestarter. But Magner, the camera technique, really takes you into his physical transformation. I also consider part of this sequel body horror. Reason being, Sonny experiences a physical shift, his skin often fattens up, getting lumpy, or getting more emaciated. The process of possession, naturally, wouldn’t be such a breeze as all of a sudden there’s a demon inside you, some ghost inhabiting your flesh. Sonny goes through a terrifyingly nasty transformation before our eyes. This culminates in an amazing scene near the end where we actually see the demon in him for a moment, breaking through the skin to emerge in all its sticky, gruesome glory. There are a number of moments where the body horror element takes hold. Each worth the time to pause on, as even the makeup is bang on.
Some other favourite moments –
When Patricia figures out her brother, or whatever’s inside him, only seduced her for the evil of the act, it’s a heartbreaking moment. Because incest is awful, first of all. Secondly, she admits to Sonny that their time together didn’t make her feel bad; she genuinely feels love for him, no matter if it’s an awfully wrong thing to do. Still, to see her shamefully admit to all that with the priest, the fact she understands Sonny(/the demon) only does it to “hurt God” is crushing.
One of the best tracking shots in the demonic POV is when it goes through the quiet house and sees a crucifix hanging on the wall. The demon makes strange noises, groaning, then tosses a sheet over the crucifix to hide it. A brilliant, brief scene that I always have to replay a couple times. It’s eerie, as well as kind of darkly humorous.
The priest flicking the aspergillum, both he and Patricia seeing it as thick bloody being sprinkled all over the bedroom, is an awesome horror movie moment. Both for the blood flying everywhere and the fact of the double hallucination. Very cool.
For me, Amityville II: The Possession is a classic of the horror genre. Totally underrated, underappreciated. You don’t have to think it’s the greatest, there are still mistakes or things Wallace could have made better. I can’t discount what’s he done with this sequel, though. He outdoes the original, adds a bit of backstory (we get short mentions of a supposed witch expelled from Salem who built the house over an ancient Indian burial ground; an element reused in the original’s 2005 remake). His story of the family is beyond disturbing material, in a way that makes for a compelling supernatural-leaning plot. Finally, the camera work and the way it plays into the psychological terror is perfect; the one aspect of the film I find untouchable.
Maybe you don’t feel the same way. Nothing wrong with that, either. I only urge people to reconsider, watch the film again. This time you might just discover something that you didn’t the first time you saw it. I suggest a double bill of this and the original, compare them. This is the better movie, by a long shot. Dig in. There’s lots of horror here for a dark October night leading up to Halloween.