Director: Damiano Damiani
Cast: James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Andrew Prine, Jack Magner, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn
Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace
104 mins. Rated R.
Following up the horror of the Lutz family, discussion began about where to take the Amityville story for a sequel. Various ideas were lobbied about, but the follow-up arrived in the hands of Orion Pictures, and the final decision came about to make a loose prequel about the DeFeo family who had the home prior to the Lutz’s occupation. Seems like a perfect idea, but Amityville II ended up being a very disturbing, very incest-y prequel/sequel. The question is: does the film work?
Set before the events of The Amityville Horror, the Montellis have arrived at their dream home. Patriarch Anthony (Burt Young, Rocky, Chinatown) is a cruel and abusive husband and father, and siblings Sonny (Jack Magner, Firestarter) and Patricia (Diane Franklin, Better Off Dead…, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) have a closeness which suggests mutual attraction. It isn’t long before the house takes advantage of these family fractures and begins its satanic work, eventually culminating in the horrific events that led to the Lutz’s ownership of the house.
Amityville II is a curious film. As a prequel, it treads largely familiar ground as what we already know going into it, but then the name of the family is changed from the DeFeos (as referenced in the first film) to the Montellis (likely due to some copyright or licensing issues, which is odd as it is supposedly based on a real family). Next, there are the “interesting” developing of the Montellis, including making Anthony such a bastard. The physical and emotional abuse runs rampant throughout the first half of the narrative. The screenplay, by Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, It), also introduces a nearly incestuous relationship with siblings that is furthered into actual rape once Sonny is possessed. Now, these elements are intended to be shocking, and they are. More than anything else, I’m just surprised by their inclusion in an 80s film. I would assume that the film’s inclusion of more complex and challenging material may be due to the Italian artistry behind the camera. That’s not me saying anything disparaging Italian filmmakers. I’m only talking about the idea that Italian horror of the time was never afraid to confront challenging and controversial material, of which Amityville II is full. With Damiano Damiani (A Bullet for the General, Confessions of a Police Captain) as director and uncredited screenplay work by Dardano Sacchetti (Devil Fish, Shock), Amityville II goes places most mainstream horror of the 80s would strive to avoid.
The performances are also quite strong, albeit rather unusual, compared to other popular franchise horror of the time, particularly Magner and Franklin as the siblings. I believed that they had this unrequited attraction that they knew was wrong, and I bought into Sonny’s possession and transformation always bubbling under the surface as the narrative weighed upon his character. On Franklin’s side of things, Patricia is a difficult character to really place, but Franklin portrays her with a sincerity and confusion that was rather convincing. Patricia has to contend with the unusual feelings she harbors and the terrifying notion that her brother plans on ignoring her concerns builds over the narrative.
The spirituality back-and-forth between Anthony and the local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson, The Andromeda Strain, Commando) also creates some layered tension. While the rest of the family regularly attends church, Anthony stays at home, in his cups, weakening his faith. When Adamsky comes by to bless the house (something this home desperately needs), he is met with conflict. It creates an interesting dynamic with multiple characters intersections being met with trauma which helps to wither them away from each other and themselves, resulting in a bloody finale.
Now, the film has some laggings aspect nearing the final act before things get flat-out bonkers, and some of the more traumatic elements may push some viewers away, I would argue that Amityville II: The Possession is altogether more entertaining and compelling than the original. There’s something wonderful about the main Amityville franchise when its installments embrace the batshit elements and just steer into them, and this film takes full advantage of it, ultimately creating a final product that is at times entertaining, provocative, intense, uncomfortable, and frustrating while occasionally stumbling along the way.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Stuart Rosenberg’s The Amityville Horror, click here.