Retro Review: It’s All In The Family With “Amityville II: The Possession”

what, me worry?
Amityville II: The Possession
Dino De Laurentis Company/Media Transactions
Director: Damiano Damiani
Writers: Hans Holzer, Tommy Lee Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Jack Magner, Burt Young, James Olson, Diane Franklin

Quentin Tarantino once cited Amityville Horror II: The Possession as one of his top 50 sequels of all time (Video Watchdog #172). That surprised me, as up to that point I had only heard pretty negative things about it—this, despite the fact it’s obvious the film had some sort of an influence on the latest crop of “retro” horror flicks like V/H/S (for example, compare the creepy hands emanating out of the walls from both).

But one screening was all it took to convince me that Amityville Horror II possessed the sort of primal, deep disturbing quality of a Alice, Sweet Alice and Sleepaway Camp— a quality that sets it apart from its predecessor, and, at least in the mind of the “mondo video” consumer, makes it a (albeit somewhat flawed) cult classic.

This film should have been called, “Surprise! Burt Young Is Your Dad!”

If The Amityville Horror was all about the unfortunate real-life Lutz family, who unwittingly moved into the staging area of a previous multiple homicide, the sequel is all about that initial tragedy. And whereas the cinematic Lutzes start out as a relatively loving and normal family, the Montellis—based on the ill-fated DeFeos—are dysfunctional from the word “go.” I mean, for God’s sake—the father is played by Burt Young. If Burt Young is going to be your dad, you gotta expect some trouble.

And trouble is what the Montellis, who have just moved in, find rather quickly—their internal struggles seemingly yummy fodder for the demon(s) who apparently resides in the house. The diabolical spirit is particularly interested in eldest child Sonny (Jack Magner), who is filled not only with a seething resentment of his abusive father, but (spoilers!) possibly latent incestuous feelings for his lovely sister (Diane Franklin).

the most infamous scene from Amityville Horror II: time for eye- *and* mind-bleach

It is what develops from that latter plot point that puts Amityville II on the map as one of those horror films with a grotesque “centerpiece” scene so memorable, it pretty much blots out all other residual memories of the film. A “signature scene,” if you will: brother and sister Montelli “doing it”! As Tarantino recounted in Video Watchdog:

That scene riveted me when I saw it at the theater. People were chewing their popcorn and then, all of a sudden, everybody stopped— that was like a Pasolini scene!

I, for one, had to pause the film and consult Wikipedia during the start of said incest scene, convinced that there had to be some sort of “explanation” for it that would lessen its taboo nature (for example: perhaps they were from a “blended” family like the Brady Bunch). But no—the brother and sister, after some agonizingly squicky foreplay, actually “did it.” Well blame it on the Devil, I guess.

Notice how the most shocking sequence in Amityville II didn’t even involve blood or guts. One will feel similarly sickened by the depressingly plausible scenes of domestic violence, whether it being father Montelli viciously beating the younger kids for “pranks” pulled by the ghosts/demons, or the implication that he basically rapes his wife. Again: unlike some possession movies where horrible things seems to inexplicably befall nice families, the seeds for the possession and subsequent violence that is to come are already there in this flick.

Remember: guns don’t kill people, demonically-possessed teenagers do.

Which brings us to what should have been the ending of Amityville II a fully possessed (and quite evil looking) Sonny brutally shooting his family dead in cold blood. Taking the supernatural element out, even this horrific and relentless scene seems again horribly realistic, ripped from the headlines (which it was).

But, unfortunately, this massacre does not close out the film—there is still about 20 minutes left about an ineffectual priest that nobody really cares about (James Olson) trying to save Sonny’s soul. Now we’re moving into the cheesiest of cheesy possession flicks, complete with sloppy, aborted exorcism attempts, overdone gross-out special effects (Sonny’s head—after throbbing in bubbles like leftover FX from The Howling— basically cracks open in a pile of goo, revealing some insect-like demon creature), and “procession of the grotesque” (compare the gaggle of deformed creatures that stumble out of the basement’s “gate of hell” to a similar scene in The Sentinel).

Help! I’m being attacked by jazz hands!

Little sister Montelli even makes a reappearance during the film’s (anti)climax, as the demon takes on the appearance of a slutty version of her, accusing the priest of having dirty thoughts. Haven’t we seen this already in Exorcist II: The Heretic? It hardly matters. All of what made Amityville II a uniquely disturbing film is over at that point, the rest strictly a “best of” montage from both “Exorcists” (though the scene where the priest confronts a possessed Sonny in jail strangely mirrors that of 1990’s Exorcist III).

Despite a poorly-done ending, there’s still enough in Amityville II to satisfy the connoisseur of weird movies. And while it carries such a bad rep, it has also seemed to linger in the collective unconscious of a whole generation of filmmakers—the forbidden embrace of the Montelli siblings and the sad secret of Sleepaway Camp heroine Angela Baker psychosexual landmarks half-buried within the magnificent desert wastes of cult cinema.