AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION is not only the crowning jewel of its franchise, but it is also, in my opinion, one of the best possession films out there. Due to its numerical title one might be tempted to read this prequel as an empty cash-in on its predecessor and scan right over its singular vitality. Closer inspection shows a film that is, for the most part, unabashedly willing to glare at the dark corners of family dysfunction and the role organized religion plays in how we perceive ourselves and our actions.
Which is not to say that its wild, melodramatic strokes are not laughable at times. (Writer TOMMY LEE WALLACE also penned the borderline campy HALLOWEEN 3 and FAR FROM HOME). Still, all of the actors assembled do an above average job even as the film’s humorlessness reaches unintentionally hilarious boiling points. Although based on very real incidents, AMITYVILLE 2 draws outside the lines frequently and proudly and its presentation of believable police procedure is virtually nonexistent. That said, as a tale of horror, unlike most American productions, it has a single mindedness that is potent and persuasive.
Whereas the ultimate possession film THE EXORCIST mined adolescent female sexuality for its mettle, AMITYVILLE 2 takes on that of the poised-toward-adulthood male. Sonny Montelli (JACK MAGNER), who is destined to destroy his entire family with a shotgun, ostensibly succumbs to the demons that reside within this legendary address. The truth is, as supernatural and Satanic as the Amityville presence may be, with the Montelli family half of the work is already done upon their arrival; the ingredients are all there, just add holy water.
The preexisting demons in Sonny’s life are the anguish of being in the limbo between child and adult, and the guilt and fear associated with his sexual feelings, particularly those toward his adoring sister Patricia (DIANE FRANKLIN). Framed within the family’s constant tug of war between passive faith and aggressive control, as represented by bickering parents RUTANYA ALDA and BURT YOUNG, Sonny’s slide into madness is a short trip. Notably much of Sonny’s early “demonic” behavior coincides with his standing up to his bullish and physically abusive father. Even the comparatively innocent youngest siblings seem marked for darkness, little sister Jan’s (ERIKA KATZ) idea of a lark is pretending to suffocate little brother Mark (BRENT KATZ) with a plastic bag!
The fact that Sonny and his sister actually do eventually commit incest adds yet another layer of creepiness. Patricia’s shame attracts the attention of a priest when she admits to the incident during confession. She leaves out the fact that the act involved her brother, but reveals that the inspiration for it was Sonny’s attempt to, “hurt God.” Father Adamsky’s (JAMES OLSEN) subsequent impotency in aiding the Montellis, particularly Patricia, adds to the persistent cloud of hopelessness that lingers throughout. Adamsky’s guilt is tangible. A phone call from Patricia begging for aid just before her death is put on hold in favor of a ski outing with a close male friend.
Released in 1982, AMITYVILLE 2 fits in snugly with other body horror films popular at the time. When Sonny is ultimately taken over by the evil, it is staged as a P.O.V. rape with the camera lens standing in as predator. His later inability to control what is within is shown by bubbling and retracting skin and veins. At one point he seems about to sprout a secondary head. The voice that taunts and tempts him to demolish his family, to “Kill the pigs!,” once consigned to his Walkman earphones is now residing inside his skull.
Even non-fans of this movie have to admit that the staging of the brutal slayings is effectively upsetting. Imagine a home invasion scenario where the perpetrator is hidden within someone who sleeps under your roof. Italian director DAMIANO DAMIANI uses just about every camera trick conceivable to kick the legs out from under the audience, and the use of color and especially shadow is exquisite.
Even as the frustratingly feeble Patricia, DIANE FRANKLIN is virtually impossible not to have sympathy for, and her final moments, when face to face with the now monstrous Sonny, are painful and even a bit heartbreaking. As much as I appreciate the film as a whole, I have to admit that a lot of what makes it so compelling departs with FRANKLIN.
AMITYVILLE 2‘s finale does closely follow the lead of THE EXORCIST, but due to its earlier originality, I think it is nit-picky to fault it for eventually playing this card. The final confrontation between Sonny and Father Adamsky is, if not entirely original, at least garnished with some pretty impressive transformation effects. Thankfully, we are also granted one last moment with FRANKLIN, as the demon in temptress form, as she accuses Adamsky of his own repressed lust. (Apparently the producers pushed this more standard ending and another one was intended involving the lost souls within the house making an extended appearance. Stills do exist of this alternate take and are available on the U.K. special edition DVD).
A film like AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION has its work cut out for it as far as being viewed impartially. It’s a sequel, a prequel, and a bastardization of actual events. Its subject matter is unpleasant and its tone is repellent and grim. If AMITYVILLE 2 came up to your home unannounced and rang your doorbell, I wouldn’t blame you for turning off your lights and hiding behind the couch.
As for me, I have to give props to a movie that avoids heroics and false sentiment and dives head first into the pit. Where other possession films are more likely to showcase pure, innocent victims that require heavy pushing into the dark-side, AMITYVILLE 2 suggests the more frightening concept that some people just need a little nudge.
NOTE: You can watch AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION for free HERE