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Amityville II: The Possession

November 28th, 2008 by unkle lancifer · 16 Comments


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

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16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 DavidFullamNo Gravatar // Nov 28, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    So right, easily the best film in the series. It shoves it in your face, like real horror should. Ah, Diane Franklin. What young man in the early 1980s didn’t have a crush on her? BTW, when the film was shown on regular TV here a few years back, they failed to cut the brief scene of Franklin’s exposed breast. Little Erika Katz became a model and would be a regular in Sunday morning paper adverts for clothing for many years to come. Good to see Burt Young do something other than Pauly.

  • 2 Jeff AllardNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 12:46 am

    Great write-up, Unk! I haven’t watched this in years but I remember it as being one of the more hardcore early ’80s horror efforts. Definitely much seedier and grimmer than you’d expect from a sequel to a major hit like Amityville.

  • 3 mrcanacornNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Wow Unk, I haven’t thought about this movie in about…Oh, I don’t know, forever?  I know I watched it on cable as a kid, but I can’t remember a damn thing about it.

    After your write up I have to put it in my queue – toot sweet! Thanks for blowing the dust off of some of these forgotten gems!

  • 4 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I saw this movie twice in one week a couple of years ago. Once to write a review for the Amityville boxset for Pretty Scary and the other was just to see it at a revival house. On the big screen it is certainly magnificent. The possession scene is one long harrowing camera shot. I still can’t figure out how they did that! Leave it up to the Italians to take an American horror story and one-up us!

    The thing I remember most now is that Andrew Prine’s character seemed a bit more than a close friend to James Olson. At first I didn’t see it, and then a good friend pointed it out to me (this was many years ago when I first discovered the film). In the theater, it added some of the unitentional humor you mentioned. And boy was it needed. I do think, in the end they meant to say something more about the way the church will abandon you for “perverse” acts yet partake themselves (if in secrecy). It’s all about image baby!

    Andrew Prine is hawt.

    And yay for Rutunya Alda. I love that woman! I’m sure her roles in Vigilante and Girl’s Nite Out caused their own Kindertraumas!

    Great review. But then I expect nothing less.

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Amanda,

    Thanks for bringing up the role that the church played in the film. I really didn’t feel I gave it enough justice. In fact, that was my first thought when I woke up this morning! I think a great part of the heavy cloud that hangs over the film is the idea that rather than aiding this family the church just seems to dump piles of guilt upon them. Since the mother is so devout it makes it even more painful. It’s not a heavy handed message at all but more of a subtle feeling present throughout. For some reason when I was watching this I kept thinking that the possession was more of a symbol of mental illness. I tried to imagine the same story told without special effects and the supernatural aspect. If that was the case, the church failed the family miserably. I’m sure in real life it played out nothing like this but it really adds to the feeling that the family is entirely alone and that they are not seen as worth saving.

    Of course, I’m probably just bitter that DIANE FRANKLIN had to die!

    You are right about Rutanya Alda, I love her in this plus I gotta say the guy who played Sonny, Jack Magner does an excellent job. He succeeds where so many others have failed in possession films. He can do so much with just an icy stare even before he gets all bumpy! He was only in one other movie “Firestarter”, what a shame!

  • 6 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I love the aspect of it being more symbolic for mental illness and the church failing the family in that respect. I’d never thought of that. Most interesting.

    I just saw the TV movie the Haunted which was definitely saying that the church failed the family because the sanctity of their image was more important than helping the Smurls. They did it in such a way that you really felt the people in the church were good and it was organized religion that was at fault. I liked they way they presented that message, and it’s been on the front of my brain for a bit now, so it’s pretty cool that you wrote this review. We’re connected like twins, I say!

  • 7 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Amanda

    I absolutely love that T.V. Movie the haunted. The first time I caught it was very late at night and it seriously scared me. I started watching it as almost a joke and by the end I was sleeping with the light on.
    The black shadowy shape that drifted through the walls and followed them to the camp grounds really got me. Now that you mention it it is very similar to Amityville 2 and you’re right the church treated the Smurls like jerks too. I don’t know about you but If I’m throwing $ into the collection jar every Sunday I think I deserve a free (and prompt) exorcism when the time comes!

    By the way if anyone out there has not seen “The haunted” it is on youtube right now. Follow this link to the first part and take it from there. (the other parts are to the right.)

  • 8 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    P.S if you folks are not yet convinced to check out “The haunted” here is Amanda’s review from made for T.V mayhem:

    http://amandabynight.livejournal.com/17534.html

  • 9 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Awww, thanks Lance!

    Yeah, when I first began to watch The Haunted, I wasn’t expecting… what I got. It’s shocking. I also did a little research on the Smurls. I’m surprised they aren’t more famous.

  • 10 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I gotta say I’ve never really noticed Sally Kirkland too much but she’s great in the haunted. She is just perfectly frazzled without being too over the top. Part of what makes the movie work is her exhaustion and the idea that there is no where they can go to escape. It’s like their lives are just ruined forever. Back in the day I saw the Smurls on some day time talk show and they convinced me. (I just read that they appeared on a Philadelphia talk show called “people are talking” and that this instigated a retaliation from the spirits but I’m not sure if thats the same show I saw.) Anyway this is the type of stuff that really does give me the willies and it doesn’t matter how old I get!

    Also, I will never forget this and I’m not sure if it was the Smurls or not but I saw a daytime talk show once back in the ’80s where they were talking to guests who had been raped by spirits. The guests were crying and telling these nightmarish stories but every time the show would cut for a commercial break they would play the wacky Ghostbusters theme as they panned in on their anguished faces!!!! It was really inappropriate and seemed like an SNL sketch or something!

  • 11 djalicatNo Gravatar // Nov 29, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    me and my best friend, susan, were so inspired by amityville 2: the possession, that we tried to make our own possession themed movie…’possessed love‘ starring…ourselves and our friends!
    we mostly filmed at parties…so there were more willing victims…i mean actors.
    susan has the footage on vhs…somewhere. i need to get a copy so i can upload the whole mess on youtube. there’s even behind the scenes interviews.

  • 12 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 30, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    djalicat,

    I would LOVE to see that movie! You have to get that up on youtube! I am a big fan of home made horror films, a possession one sounds excellent!

  • 13 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Dec 1, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I’ve watched so many horror movies in my life that sometimes I cant recall if I’ve SEEN certain ones or not – they start to all run together in my mind. I never like the first AMITYVILLE but i know my best friend has made me sit through some of ‘em.
    One day about a year ago I was channel-surfing late at night trying to find something to “fall asleep too” and I saw the TV GUIDE info for AMITYVILLE 2 said “Diana Franklin” and I was like “REALLY?” and so I tuned in to watch. NOT a good movie to “try to fall asleep to”! I think I owe it another watch though (and now because of YOU I can watch it for FREE!)

    When you guys mentioned THE HAUNTED I was like “Hmmm..didnt that star Sally Kirkland?” I think I saw THAT one TWICE!

    Correct me if I’m wrong but at the end of the movie don’t they move into a new house and the Mom goes to do laundry and she hears a vocie in the basement??? THAT scene has scared the Hell out of me for YEARS (and to this day I hate going into my basement to do laundry!)

    A few weeks ago I was getting my drink on with a few friends and my sister said she had a secret she had never told anyone before – that she was lying in bed one night and had an ENTITY-like rape.Now  I believe in ghosts and evil spitits and all that ****, but I also know my sister so I was like “Get outta here! You’re lying!” My sister would move out of her house tomorrow if she saw a roach in it TODAY, why would she stick around for horny spirits????

  • 14 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Dec 1, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Mama, you are correct about the ending of the Haunted. It’s a well done moment too. That’s one of those movies that kind of sneaks up on you. I so wasn’t prepared for a lot of it!

    As for your sister – YIKES! That’s creepy! And if she made it up… even creepier! ;)

  • 15 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Dec 1, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Since we’re on the subject of the supernatural, I gotta tell you guys that Kindertrauma castle is reportedly haunted. Aunt John has seen an old woman on our basement stairs on several occasions. His friend Candace even saw it from the back yard through a window traipsing around the kitchen. John’s sister refuses to spend a night in the house. I had a friend stay over recently who woke up and felt there was a presence about as well. I have never seen this old lady but every night when I wake up inexplicably at 5 and go downstairs to watch T.V the basement door is usually open even though I know I closed it before going to bed. I don’t think the old lady spirit is hostile but I have to admit that the basement door does freak me out some nights!

  • 16 Wednesday's ChildNo Gravatar // Sep 6, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    This is a great review. I found this movie a bit much to write more than a little blurb about because it is so nasty (actually gave me nightmares upon first viewing it at age 35!), but you nailed everything that makes it so compelling: the body horror, the home invasion from within, and the sadness.

    Also I have to agree with Amanda’s comment in that I too got a gay-ish vibe from Andrew Prine’s relationship with the other priest, because of the intensity with which Prine would look at him, and that would be a comment on the Church’s hypocrisy in dealing with the family in the film. And seconded that Andrew Prine is hot!

    The Haunted is a fine example of a good true story movie. When I found it online a few years ago it was around the time that A Haunting in Connecticut came out and I had to write a comparison of the two that showed how A Haunting in Connecticut was lacking.

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