Italian director Damiano Damiani gives the Amityville series some much welcome atmosphere. The original Amityville house is absent, though not noticeably, as Amityville II was the first of the series to be lensed on set instead of on location. The greater technical control available on set is taken full advantage of, as evidenced in elegant camera motions and foggy, classic haunted house lighting. Whereas the original Amityville was plain in style to match its real world setting, Amityville II revels in horrific fantasy.
Amityville II is based on the novel Murder in Amityville by parapsychologist Hans Holzer. The film series wisely chooses a prequel instead of the “true” story of the Lutz family, which was continued in the novel The Amityville Horror Part II. The Possession tells the tale the Montelli family murders, based in fact on the real life murders of the DeFeo family at the hands of their son Ronald DeFeo Jr. More urban legend than true story, the plot takes full advantage of haunted house tropes, telling the horrible past behind that spooky house at the end of everyone’s block.
Fresh off his Rocky (1976) fame, Burt Young plays the drunken, sacrilegious father Antony Montelli, providing one of his only turns as a villainous heel. The yin to Young’s yang is his wife Dolores, a proper, devout Catholic portrayed by Rutanya Young. Much like The Exorcist (1973) or any good ghost story for that matter, Amityville II includes a true believer and a skeptic, both of whom will be confronted with their conflicting ideologies. A similar dynamic is present in the son and daughter of the Montelli clan. The evil, possessed Jack Manger, who unfortunately only made one other film appearance, darkly portrays amoral Sonny Montelli. The moralistic, goody two shoes daughter is played by 1980’s it-girl Diane Franklin, better remembered for her turns in Better Off Dead (1985) and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).
Amityville II pushes the Catholic nightmare first explored in The Exorcist to its extreme, exploring possession, murder, lust and incest. Amityville II redefines the series and improves on the original. Sorely underrated, Amityville II is regarded by those in the know as the best film of the series and is most loved by true horror fans. Even Roger Ebert, a staunch horror film hater, admitted that Amityville II was “slightly better than The Amityville Horror.”
If one has not viewed The Amityville Horror II than one has not experienced the full potential of the seminal haunted house series. A precursor to recent hits such as Paranormal Activity (2007) and Insidious (2010), Amityville II dared to take a drastically original path in the horror genre. Slasher films dominated the 1980’s but The Possession harkened back to the atmospherics and sulky attitude of creaky, shadowy filmmaking. The only other 1980’s film comparable to this ghastly spook house is Poltergeist (1982).
Director: Damiano Damiani
Writers: Tommy Lee Wallace (screenplay), Hans Holzer (book)
Stars: James Olson, Burt Young and Rutanya Alda
Release Date: 24 September 1982 (USA)