April 19, 2011

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)



"A family moves into their new home, which proves to be evil, resulting in the demonic possession of the teenage son. Only the local priest can save him."

Since I'm on an "Amityville" kick right now, I thought it was about time to rewatch this much maligned and controversial prequel which some wags refer to as "Amityville II: The Incest" for reasons which I'll come to later.

With a script by Tommy Lee Wallace (based very loosely on the book "Murder in Amityville" by Hans Holzer), this fictional account of the murders allegedly committed by Ronald Defeo is a masterpiece of dramatic license. Although all the names are changed from Defeo to Montelli, the family has more children, and there are a lot more supernatural goings-on, the source material is still pretty obvious.

Set in 1974 but with some anachronisms for the careful viewer, "Amityville II: The Possession" may not be quite up to the same overall standard as the original but it still has a few good moments. The house still looks as scary as ever with its evil-eyed windows plus there is a definite gloominess and feeling of dread for the first 60 minutes or so.

Burt Young from "Rocky" is typecast as a stereotypically thuggish Italian-American father, Anthony Montelli, complete with stained wifebeater and is instantly dislikeable. In case anyone forgot that he played Sylvester Stallone's brother-in-law in the "Rocky" movies, there's even a poster on his screen son Sonny's bedroom wall. Only truly eagle-eyed viewers will notice it though and I didn't until I was told about it either.

Jack Magner plays Sonny Montelli in what I think was the only major role in his career. The IMDb has only one more entry for him as a "Young Serviceman" in "Firestarter" (1984) and Googling doesn't shed any more light onto what happened to him after that. Maybe he just got bored with acting. It happens and it's always a shame but I expect his role in "Amityville II" was something that damaged his career even though he was really good in it. James Brolin, in the "For God's Sake, Get Out!" documentary on "The Amityville Horror" DVD claimed that he found it very difficult to find work for years after his starring role too.

Of course, the real star of the show is, no, not TV regular James Olson as Father Adamsky, but a deliciously young and hot Diane Franklin who you may know from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989). Yes, I've now got to the bit you've all been waiting for.

Basically, the possessed Sonny seduces Diane Franklin who plays his sister Patricia. I hate giving away spoilers but the controversy about this vileness and the reactions of some of the most famous movie critics of the time are quite well known. Leonard Maltin called it "alternately dull and disgusting". Surprisingly, Roger Ebert thought that the film was better than the original.

Personally, I think that the whole incest thing was laughably perverted. Sonny showing his sister's knickers to her and admitting that he stole them from the laundry had me smirking for all the wrong reasons. The whole scene is so uncomfortably contrived that quite frankly (no pun intended, Diane Frankin), it's embarrassing to watch.

Because the incest scene totally eclipses the rest of the story for most people, it's quite hard to focus on whether the supernatural and horror elements are any good. The effects are actually pretty decent in the ending which owes far too much to "The Exorcist" but there isn't a lot of gore otherwise.

Some dated but still quite nicely done latex bladder effects don't really have much of a scare factor to them but are amusing to watch. As ever, it really depends on your own point of view if any of them are gross, disgusting or just plain silly. I tend towards the last of those descriptions but I did think that the make-up was much better than the practical effects. While Sonny's transformation was similar to something from "The Evil Dead" (1981), Diane Franklin was made to look uber hot and slutty just when you thought that you wouldn't see her in the film again. That was a very welcome surprise and was almost as trouser-tightening as Linda Blair in "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (where they surely got the idea).

Overall, I think that the director, Damiano Damiani, did a pretty good job with what he had to work with although he really should have spent more time on Rutanya Alda whose Dolores Montelli was simply awful. I don't know what she thought she was acting in.

The ending itself, from the moment where Father Adamsky (whose name I associate with a UK popstar) persuades the detective played by Moses Gunn to let him take Sonny out of the hospital, is something which could only exist in a Dino De Laurentiis production and is necessary once most of the characters who you've got used to for the better part of the film have all disappeared. Some might say that the ending is noticeably tacked on just to up the horror quotient but there are indications all the way through the story that this is what will happen.

So, do I still recommend "Amityville II: The Possession" after all these years? Even in spite of its flaws, I do. If you've never seen "The Exorcist" or any other Amityville film then you will be thoroughly entertained by it.

"Amityville II: The Possession" has a high-quality look to it which hasn't allowed the movie to become too dated at all. Yes, it's full of as many clich├ęs as one of my movie reviews but it takes a lot of chances by not following the predictability of every other "haunted house" movie which preceded it.

If you want a derivative yet somewhat original mix of the best bits from "The Amityville Horror", "The Exorcist" and "The Evil Dead" all rolled into one then "Amityville II: The Possession" is for you.

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