I remember being at my cousin’s house and one of his friends telling me about this movie he saw where this dude takes naked pictures of his sister, has sex with her, and then kills his entire family. Sounds absolutely horrific by not only early 1980’s cable standards, but pretty much now or any other time… right?
He didn’t give me a title, just that it had something to do with a haunted house. All that visualization percolated inside my mind until I finally saw Amityville II: The Possession on VHS. It didn’t disappoint. It was dark, hopeless, nihilistic, and evil. I wasn’t expecting anything like that because, in the first film, everybody just had the crap scared out of them, but they lived to tell the tale. Not only did the family in Amityville II die, but they were put through a ringer of Satanically amped up family dysfunction first.
This first sequel in the Amityville saga was penned by Tommy Lee Wallace. He’s no stranger to outlier sequels with his treatments of Halloween III, Fright Night II, not to mention this one. Amityville II beat Halloween III on the release date by about a month, back in 1982, but Druid sacrifice was way lighter fare than this.
Amityville II acted as a prequel to the first film. It deals with the fictional Montellis standing in for the real-life DeFeo family. The sweet deal the Lutzs got on the house by the water was a by-product of the mass murder of the DeFeo family that happened there first. It was alleged that the killer, Ronnie, and his sister, Dawn, had an incestuous relationship, and she was also an accomplice in the murders of the other family members. Things were also supposedly rocky between Ronnie and his father, and their relationship was constantly in a state of varying volatility. Those elements coupled with a demon possession arc made Amityville II one of the most unforgettable horror films I’ve ever seen. Somehow, it flew under the radar of scrutiny or controversy in an age of video nasties.
The Ronnie Defeo character, Sonny Montelli, means well, but never seems to measure up to his overbearing Dad, Anthony. Burt Young plays the family patriarch, and he’s the dad that everyone walks on eggshells around. He could be fine one second and slapping everyone around the next. Shockingly, a deleted scene included him anally raping Mrs. Montelli. It’s a strange dynamic in the beginning because the sympathy is with Sonny trying to respect his father, but now being old enough to not have to take his crap anymore. While everyone else is submissive, he’s the only one that stands up to him.
After pointing a gun at his dad during a family altercation, a voice comes through his headphones that asks him why he didn’t shoot that pig, and “dishonor thy father pigs” gets scrawled on the wall by some demonic, unseen hand. Every time I hear that term in regard to murder, I always go back to the Manson Family murders. I don’t know if it was intended here, but it definitely resonates. From there, Sonny hits a downward spiral and becomes the conduit for the evil that lives in the bowels of the basement.
What is by far the most controversial and hard to stomach part of Amityville II is the incestuous relationship between Sonny and his sister, Patricia. Dianne Franklin was also the virgin in The Last American Virgin that same year. I was way cooler with the douchy guy, Rick, taking her virginity instead of her brother. They loved each other with an uncomfortable closeness to start with anyway, and when Sonny becomes possessed, he seduces her in a skin-crawling faux photo shoot that always elicits an uncomfortable hover of the finger over fast forward – but it’s hard to look away because of the disbelief that it goes there. It cuts to another scene just before anything happens, but far more explicit scenes were shot that didn’t make the final cut. What’s left to the imagination is definitely effective enough.
Later, Patricia goes to confession and tells her family’s priest and says that her brother did it to hurt God. When this happens, you suddenly realize that this family has careened past the point of no return, and they’re not going to make it. Diane Franklin is ironically the best at playing virginal in every film where she loses her virginity and she exudes a tragic naïve vulnerability. Amityville II has a giallo pedigree by proxy from Italian director, Damiano Damiani. The fearlessness of crossing social mores shows, and the only other incestuous comparison I can make to it is the creepy kid/man and his buxom mom from Burial Ground.
When Sonny murders the family, what he and Patricia did seems even dirtier when he kills her too. In a day where we are used to hearing about psychotics holding rifles and roaming through corridors looking for someone to shoot next, fortunately, I’m not jaded enough to stop finding it just as shocking as a previous viewing.
I’m a big Tommy Lee Wallace fan, and I think for all of his unfairly maligned work, he was ahead of his time. Amityville II is by far the most terrifying of all the Amityville installments, and would not find a theater friendly R rating without some cuts even today.
When the light stuff in a movie deals with demon possession, that’s pretty hardcore.