The Amityville Horror was a surprisingly competent horror flick from American International Pictures and Samuel Z. Arkoff, names not often covered in glory, except in the land of shitty movies. It made a pile of money, recouping about twenty times its budget at the box office. With a hot property like that, it’s no surprise there was a sequel. This time, however, it wasn’t Arkoff and company that were set to reap some of that sweet Amityville cash. Like a hyena scavenging a kill after the lions have had their fill, it was Dino De Laurentiis and his people who crept up to make Amityville II: The Possession. Things didn’t work out quite as well for Dino, as the production began with a rights dispute. That’s why this film is called Amityville II and not The Amityville Horror II. It also wasn’t the cash cow that De Laurentiis wanted. It’s still an Amityville flick, though. It was even filmed at the same house in New Jersey as the first film.
A prequel to The Amityville Horror, Amityville II: The Possession is based on the novel Murder in Amityville by Hans Holzer, which was a fictional telling of the events leading up to Ronald DeFeo Jr.’s murder spree. This movie switches things up a bit, changing the DeFeo name to Montelli, and eliminating one of the children altogether.
The film stars Jack Magner as Sonny Montelli, the Ronald Jr. analogue, with Burt Young as Anthony Montelli, the Ronald Sr. analogue.
The Montellis have just moved into their beautiful new home in Amityville, with its distinctive upper windows and gambrel roof, and it doesn’t take long for director Damiano Damiani to establish his characters’ bona fides. Anthony comes close to taking a swing at Sonny in the first scene, and yells at his wife, Delores (Rutanya Alda), for good measure. The character is an abusive sonofabitch, but it’s not at all clear if Anthony terrorized his family like this before, or if something in the house is changing his behavior. Because, there is some presence in the house. This movie is not just the story of Sonny murdering his family and his motivations behind the crime. Oh, no. De Laurentiis wasn’t going to let that happen. This is a haunted house flick, too. And, because Dino De Laurentiis never met a successful idea he wouldn’t steal, the final act is also a ripoff of The Exorcist. There’s so much movie crammed in here.
Ghostly stuff happens in the house, the family gets more and more frightened, Anthony becomes more of a dick, Sonny becomes more and more unhinged and demonic, and then the expected murders happen. But that’s not all. There are also multiple Catholic Church subplots, a jailbreak followed by an exorcism, and incest between Sonny and his sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin). Yep, incest — subject matter known to pack them into the theaters. Apparently, this scene was more graphic in the original cut, but it went over with test audiences like a visit to the dentist, so it was cut down to a rear nude shot and a single boob. Such editing would normally get my shitty movie hackles up, but, in this instance, I would have been fine with leaving this entire scene on the cutting room floor.
Despite this being an inferior film to the original, and a shameless cash grab, it does do some things well. It doesn’t do subtle when it comes to the ghostly stuff. This had the potential to hurt the storytelling, as going big early can ruin tension, but it, combined with Burt Young’s natural rage, put the Montelli family on a knife edge early. Storytelling tension is lost, but personal tension is raised.
Burt Young, god bless him, plays a pretty good abusive father. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities for a role this substantial, and he did decent work. However, most of the weight of the film was borne by Magner. This was his first credit, of two, in his ouvre, and a career in acting was just not for him. Watching this performance, I get the sense they were looking for a bargain basement Mark Hamill, and that’s what they got.
A handful of contemporary reviewers thought this was a better movie than the first Amityville Horror flick, but that’s not that high of a bar. It’s only time that has made The Amityville Horror look better than it did in 1979, and I have to think part of the reason is the dreadful string of sequels that began with this flick.
But, the serious viewer’s loss is the shitty movie fan’s gain. It’s not that raucous of a flick, although it does have moments, making sure that Amityville II does not fall into the nether regions of the Index. It slots right into the mediocre middle at #189, a perfect neighbor to lesser flicks from Enzo G. Castellari and Bert I. Gordon.