Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

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*. The Amityville Horror was a terrible movie, but was made on a budget of $5 million and did $86 million in box office. So . . . Amityville II.
*. Amityville II: The Possession is a better movie (it would be hard not to be), but on a $5 million budget (which was much better spent) did only $12 million in box office, and was panned with even harsher reviews than the first film (Roger Ebert thought it “slightly better” than the original, but included it as one of his worst films of the year for 1982 and gave it a “BOMB” rating anyway). What happened?
*. I think it disappointed critics and audiences for two reasons.
*. In the first place, there’s an incest subplot that is thrown in for no good reason. I say no good reason because it’s only something hinted at in the source and it has no dramatic purpose here. I think it might still have worked as a way of showing the devil at work in Sonny, but it’s actually hinted at even before the devil takes him over and, most bizarre of all, his sister is totally up for it! What? I mean, this is really weird.

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*. In the second place, the end of the movie is crap. Up until the murder of the Manelli family things were going well. It’s a far more suspenseful film than The Amityville Horror, and the sequence leading up to Sonny’s possession is really quite effective. There’s even one shot where the evil spirit yanks a tablecloth and drapes it over a crucifix that I think is excellent. But then . . .
*. But then the movie effectively ends. With the family dead there’s simply nothing else at risk and nothing for the movie to do but turn into a brainless Exorcist rip-off, down to the writing that appears on Sonny’s skin and the priest calling upon the devil to enter him at the end in an act of self-sacrifice.
*. I wonder what Hans Holzer, whose book was the source for this film, thought of all this. In his commentary on The Amityville Horror he stresses how the possession had nothing to do with religion, and that you don’t need a priest to do an exorcism anyway. But here the religious angle is placed front and center.

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*. I’ve heard complaints about the poor effects, but I thought they were pretty good. In my notes on the first film I mentioned missing some Fulciesque gore to go along with the stupid “opening a doorway to hell” plot so I was happy to see a bit more blood and latex introduced here. Sonny’s head peeling off doesn’t look bad for 1982.
*. It’s still not clear who or what the devil/demon is. An Indian spirit? A ghost? A pagan devil? As with the first film, many questions are left unanswered. Who are those people shambling out of the basement? What happens to the priest?

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*. Did you notice how the black moving man seems to sense there’s something wrong with the house? And how the black police chief has seen something like Sonny’s possession before, in Puerto Rico? That’s a horror cliché you don’t see as much any more, but it still pops up every now and then.
*. Technically this is considered a prequel because it deals with the events that occurred before the Lutzes moved in to the house. There’s not much attempt at maintaining continuity though. And the Walkman is definitely anachronistic.
*. The fact that, even more so than the first film, it was based on a true story (the DeFeo murders), actually makes it all a little more unseemly, since it seems as though the film wants to exculpate Sonny on the lame demonic possession defence.

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*. In almost every regard this is a better movie than Amityville Horror, and the incest angle gives it a trashy cult edge that holds up at least as well as the first film’s camp hamminess. The heartless destruction of the family strikes me as being downright contemporary, what with today’s nihilistic values making the slaughter of the family de rigueur.
*. Its poor reception might have ended the franchise. In a better world, perhaps. For whatever reason, however, the series kept going, taking its next step into a new dimension! 3-D! Let’s blow this shit up!

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