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Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

"He can’t help it. He’s dominated by – another force."
"What force?"
"The boy is possessed…."

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Director: Damiano Damiani

Starring: Jack Magner, James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, Andrew Prine

Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace, based upon the book by Hans Holzer

Synopsis: The Montelli family moves into a large, lake-front house in Amityville. Although they are happy to be in their new home, there are tensions amongst the family members, particularly Anthony Montelli (Burt Young) and his eldest son, Sonny (Jack Magner). Before long, strange incidents begin to occur. A tap seems briefly to run with blood; a removalist discovers a hidden room that is filled with flies and filth; while in the basement, Dolores Montelli (Rutanya Alda) feels a hand upon her arm, even though she is alone. When the family sits down to dinner, the saying of grace is interrupted when a mirror falls from the wall with a crash, instantly precipitating a violent dispute between Anthony and Sonny, who hung the mirror. That night, a strange presence moves through the house, reacting violently to a crucifix and throwing a cloth over it. A loud banging at the front door wakens the family, but when Anthony investigates he finds no-one outside. Nevertheless, the noise continues, and finally Anthony seizes a gun and shouts threats from the porch. Dolores becomes terrified when she sees that her crucifix has been covered. Meanwhile, the two youngest Montelli children watch in fear as an invisible force uses the paint and brushes in their bedroom to cover the walls with pictures of hideous creatures and phrases such as "Dishonor thy father". Believing the children responsible, Anthony takes his belt to them. When Dolores intervenes, she is violently beaten. Patricia (Diane Franklin), the eldest daughter, flies to her mother’s defence, while Sonny picks up the gun abandoned by Anthony and places it to his father’s head. After a frozen moment, Dolores silently takes the gun from her son. Later, after the Montellis have returned to their rooms, Sonny is listening to music when a voice begins to speak through his headphones…. After church the next morning, Dolores asks the priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), to stop by and bless the house. Adamsky agrees, but when he arrives, Anthony is furious. The younger children go into the kitchen to get the priest a glass of water, while Dolores introduces Sonny. When Adamsky shakes hands with Sonny, an invisible force tears through the house. In the kitchen, the refrigerator erupts, spilling its contents all over the room. Anthony blames the children and begins abusing them, insulting Adamsky when he tries to stop him. To Dolores’ mortification, Adamsky leaves in disgust. Returning to his car, Adamsky finds that his bible has been torn to pieces. Dolores threatens to leave Anthony unless he accompanies her and the children to church that evening, and apologises to Adamsky. Reluctantly, Anthony accedes. Pleading illness, Sonny stays home. Hearing strange noises, he becomes aware of an evil presence that stalks him through the house, then finally engulfs him…..

Comments: I should probably start out by saying that I haven’t read the book by Hans Holzer, which purports to tell the true story of the family murdered in Amityville. I don’t know how close to the facts of the case the book was, but it upset relatives of the victims sufficiently to make them instigate a law-suit against it. If they didn’t like the book, you can only wonder how they reacted to Amityville II: The Possession, which is not only a very bad movie, but also a thoroughly distasteful one. After watching it, you want nothing so much as a long hot shower to wash away the grimy feeling left behind.

Amityville II is a sequel in the worst sense of the word. It takes the title of the original, and a single central image (in this case the house, which I don’t think we see enough of), then proceeds to defecate all over its predecessor by contradicting everything that film said. While The Amityville Horror (1979) was not a great film by any means, this one makes it look like a masterpiece. In the original, tension was built by a slow escalation of incidents. Here, the supernatural business starts when the Montellis are barely over their threshold. In the first five minutes, we get blood from a tap, a fly-infested hidden room, and ghostly touches. Now, me, I’m a simple person. I turn on a tap, I see blood, I leave. But not the Montellis: like most movie families, they can’t take a hint.

The incidents are therefore dismissed as "imagination" and practically laughed off. Next we have falling mirrors, floating tablecloths and paintbrushes, and the inevitable disembodied banging at the front door (total time of house occupancy: eight hours). Frankly, this doesn’t make much sense to me. If the "presence" wants people in the house so it can possess them, why does it start trying to scare them off immediately they move in? Alternatively, if it wants to scare people away, why didn’t it produce its routine while the real estate agent was showing the people around? (Now the big question: why am I trying to make sense of a senseless exploitation film?)

The biggest problem with Amityville II is that the supernatural horrors are nowhere near as convincing nor as frightening as the all-too-real ones that fill the opening section of the film. As portrayed by Burt Young with nauseating believability, Anthony Montelli is a much greater evil than the one lurking in his basement. Although the film tries to imply that his behaviour is "caused" by the house, that’s bull: we are in no doubt at all that the members of the family have been suffering at their husband and father’s hands for many years. Before the film is twenty minutes old we’ve endured verbal and physical violence of all kinds from Anthony Montelli, climaxing in an assault upon his wife that is stopped only by a gun to the head. The only thing more horrifying than these scenes is Dolores Montelli’s statement to Father Adamsky at church the next day, when she insists that, "My husband’s a good man, Father!" I’m surprised God didn’t strike her dead on the spot.

After all this, you really have to wonder why the "presence" in the house bothers possessing Sonny at all: frankly, the Montelli family seems quite capable of destroying itself without any sort of supernatural intervention. However, the usual manifestations are soon in full swing, and from that point Amityville II goes downhill at a rapid pace (not that it was ever really uphill, but you know what I mean). Alone in the house, Sonny has a close encounter with something nasty in the basement and is soon in the throes of prosthetic hell. To paraphrase a character from Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II: "He’s possessed – Linda Blairsville!" Indeed. Air bladders, bodily contortions, supernatural writing on the skin, creepy greenish eyes--- Now, where have seen all this before? (Could it be---? But that would mean that Dino de Laurentiis ripped-off another film! No! – impossible!)

The first act of the new improved Sonny – as the movie hits absolute rock bottom – is to begin an incestuous relationship with his sister. (As played by Diane "Last American Virgin" Franklin, Patricia Montelli has been presented as a nice, well-behaved, church-going Catholic girl. Yet she sees nothing strange in her brother’s request that she strip for him, and has no hesitation in complying.) In desperation, Patricia tries to confess the relationship to Father Adamsky, and later goes to see him to ask for help. In the film’s single least credible moment (and believe me, there are plenty to choose from), Adamsky turns her away. Now, this is a man, let alone a priest, who knows that this teenage girl has an abusive father. She has all but told him that she’s being molested, and five minutes earlier he was begging the church to allow him to perform an exorcism after the water in his sprinkler turned to blood while he was blessing the house. Yet when Patricia goes to him for help he practically pats her on the head and tells her to run along. Not content with that, he then ignores her desperate phone-call, and goes off camping with a friend. Why? To allow the massacre of the Montelli family to occur, of course. Shortly after Patricia’s cry for help goes unanswered, Sonny takes up one of his father’s guns from a collection kept conveniently on a nearby wall. (I’m not a gun owner myself, nor do I know much about the way they think. However, if I were a foul-mouthed, priest-insulting, child-abusing wife-beater, I think I’d keep my gun collection where it was just a tad more difficult to get at.)

Here, Amityville II swings from the supernatural-silly back to nightmarish reality. However it actually happened, an entire family really was murdered by its eldest son, and that fact lends a horrifying edge to the scenes of Sonny’s methodical slaughter of his parents and siblings. This sequence should, of course, have been the climax of the film, but since we’ve moved on from a "history of a haunted house" film to become a "possession" film, we all know what those remaining thirty minutes or so of running time mean. Adamsky turns up the morning after the murders, alerted to the tragedy by a nightmare (too bad Patricia wasn’t as convincing as his dreams, huh?). Here I retract my statement about the incest subplot being the low point of the film, and instead nominate the shots of the body bags being opened up at the site so that we get a nice long look at the murdered girls, and Adamsky can cross them (I’m surprised God didn’t strike him dead, too.)

Visiting Sonny in jail, Adamsky correctly interprets his rotten makeup job and realises that he’s (gasp!) possessed. Outside the Montelli house, Adamsky is accosted by an old dear who conveniently knows the entire history of the place, including the fact that it was built by a woman expelled from Salem for witchcraft (wait a minute: expelled!? I gather they had a liberal government in Salem that year!), and that it was built on the site of (wait for it!) an ancient Indian burial ground. (Now, where have we seen all this before? Could it be---? But that would mean---!) After the Montellis’ funerals, Adamsky announces "I’m responsible!" (no-one’s arguing, bub) and starts trying to convince people that Sonny’s possessed. He succeeds in two cases: the cop in charge of the case ("I saw one once in Puerto Rico!") and Sonny’s lawyer, who starts off the trial with an unlikely plea of "not guilty by reason of demonic possession". (When the judge suggests he think of something else, the lawyer grumbles to Adamsky, "I wanted to plead insanity!") The fact that the only two people who believe Adamsky are both black lends an uncomfortable hint of racism to this section of the film (but then, what the hell? – it’s offensive on every other level).

Finally, in a completely stupid scene, the cop allows Adamsky to abduct Sonny from the hospital so that he can be exorcised (I may simply be displaying my theological ignorance here, but I’ve never understood why desecrating the proverbial ancient Indian burial ground should result in possession by something that can be exorcised by a Catholic priest….). Suggesting that Adamsky hasn’t really thought things through, the priest simply tries to walk Sonny into a church, and actually looks surprised when Sonny attacks him. The final showdown, naturally, occurs in the dreaded house itself, where we get an unimpressive exorcism that climaxes when Adamsky, unable to bear Sonny’s torment, calls the demon into himself. (Now, where have we seen all this before? Could it be---? But that would mean---!) The grateful Sonny is saved (well, his soul, anyway. The fact that he now has no possible legal defence left obviously doesn’t occur to him!) and Adamsky is left to face the prospect of a prosthetic hell of his own. All of this seems to me to beg the question of what exactly happened next? After all, when the Lutzes moved into the house in The Amityville Horror, they just heard about the murders. The story didn’t go, "Oh, but then they said the boy was possessed, and a priest abducted him, and there was an exorcism, and the house blew up (although it wasn’t damaged), and…." And what happened to Adamsky? Given the consequences of Sonny’s possession, you’d think Adamsky’s friends and colleagues would have noticed a slight, ah, personality change. But I’m sure I wasn’t intended to be thinking along those lines, any more than this film was intended to be a genuine account of the events in the Amityville house rather than, say, a cheap, sleazy, exploitative piece of rubbish peppered with sex, violence, and second-rate makeup effects.