Of all the horror franchises in existence, The Amityville Horror series might be the strangest, with very loose connections between them. Spanning 18 films, most direct-to-video, that spawned from the bizarre case of the DeFeo family in Amityville, New York in 1974, and subsequent book based on the site of the murders. Released in July of 1979, The Amityville Horror became a huge hit for the indie studio that produced it, becoming the second-highest grossing film of the year. Naturally, the critics hated it, but it didn’t matter. The commercial success meant an inevitable sequel. Unsurprisingly, that sequel shifted into prequel territory by exploring the DeFeo murders prior to the arrival of the Lutz family. Despite its predecessor’s massive success, Amityville II: The Possession fared a much-diminished return at the box office upon release on September 24, 1982, reaching nowhere near the same level of success. I think that speaks more to the major flaws of The Amityville Horror, though, than the far superior and much more entertaining sequel.
The Amityville Horror may only clock in at 15 minutes longer in run time than Amityville II: The Possession, but boy does it feel much longer. Revisiting the original film, it’s almost stunning just how slow the pacing drags. Despite a high caliber cast for its time, James Brolin’s George Lutz starts out as a dick to begin with, so you never really root for him from the start. Not that the Montelli family (fictional adaptations of the DeFeo family) were winning personalities, either, but between Halloween III: Season of the Witch screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace’s screenplay, and director Damiano Damiani’s desire to make the sequel as shocking as possible, their likability isn’t as important for viewer enjoyment.
It also helps that the Montelli family has one of the weirdest family dynamics on screen. The patriarch, Anthony, is a stereotypical abusive type, gearing most of his ire toward eldest son Sonny. Dolores is the submissive, yet supportive mother who tries to keep her four children in line and away from their father’s wrath. So far, normal enough, right? Well, eldest daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin, who just recently filmed a stealth Amityville sequel) is very, very smitten with her older brother. To the point where one wonders if Sonny would have had to be possessed at all to push their sibling relationship into incestuous territory. Damiani got a little too overzealous with this particular plot point, as he had to cut more graphic sex scenes between the siblings when it didn’t go over well with test audiences. Neither did the scene in which papa Anthony anally rapes Dolores. Though these icky scenes were removed, the final cut is still one of the most insane sequels in horror history.
While the first act shares a lot of similar haunted house tropes with its predecessor, what really sets Amityville II above the rest is the weird detour its takes in the final act. Subverting the expectation that the story ends with Sonny killing his family to mirror the DeFeo case, that happens at the end of the second act. Instead, the climax borrows from The Exorcist, spinning into a full-blown exorcism sequence with fantastic practical effects. Though, no exorcism film I’ve ever watched had the possessed break down into a monster as it did here. Even the final scene is lifted, leaving the door open for a sequel. It may not be original, but it’s a far more exciting ending than the abrupt fleeing at the end of the first film.
Damiani forgoes any authentic connection to the actual DeFeo case and opts for a very loose fictional retelling more suitable for grindhouse theaters. That’s not a complaint, but a compliment. Continuity and originality be damned, Amityville II: The Possession is so off the rails crazy that it’s fun. Bolstered by great effects and a higher budget, this sequel is not only better than the first film, but it’s the best in the series. Though this franchise refuses to let go, filming secret sequels and reboots that have yet to see release, it’s hard to imagine any will ever top the strange story of the Montelli family, even 35 years later.