Before the residence at 112 Ocean Avenue became infamous in The Amityville Horror, its supernatural legacy of terror had already begun. Inspired by a true story, this chilling prequel is a bloodcurdling, special-effects-laden encounter with all-powerful, all-consuming evil.
Although the Montellis are not exactly the “perfect family,” at least they’ve found the perfect home. And even though a liquid that looks like blood gushes from the kitchen faucet and every window has been nailed shut, it still qualifies as their dream house… until all hell breaks loose! A local priest tries to rid the house of unclean spirits, but what he doesn’t yet suspect is that teenage son Sonny Montelli has been possessed, body and soul, by a murderous demon bent on total destruction.
eyelights: the basic plot. Lalo Schiffrin’s score.
eyesores: the development. the many inconsistencies. the generally poor performances.
“You’re disobeying, the church. Now, you’re alone, Adamsky.”
For those unaware of the premise of ‘The Amityville Horror‘, it is based on a supposedly true story. In the mid-’70s, the Lutz family moved into a house on 112 Ocean Avenue, in Amityville, New York. They had gotten a good deal on it: the three thousand square foot home cost a fraction of its worth due to a multiple homicide in that house only a year earlier: the Defeo family, the previous owners, were all slaughtered by their eldest son.
‘Amityville II: The Possession’ is a fictional account of what took place at 112 Ocean Avenue before the Lutzes moved in. In essence, it’s a prequel.
Loosely based on Hans Holzer’s book, ‘Murder in Amityville’, it changes the name of the family to Montelli and throws in many supernatural elements, including demonic possession – hence the title. As with the book, which is based on Ronald Defeo Jr.’s own story, it suggests that the murderer wasn’t in control of himself on that fateful night. However, the movie also adds the involvement of a priest, Father Adamsky, who investigates the matter.
In the movie, the Montelli family are extremely dysfunctional: the younger children are shown suffocating each other for laughs, the two teens have an uncomfortably intimate relationship, and the parents are constantly fighting. The father, a classless brute who likes to command his family as though they were in the military, is verbally and physically abusive – he’s constantly threatening the kids and his wife with beatings for any perceived offense.
It doesn’t take long after they move in that the house starts acting up, making the father freak out thinking that the kids are breaking things and being a nuisance. Tensions flare up and the father and the son wind up at gunpoint at different moments. As anyone who’s familiar with the Defeo case or who has seen the first picture knows, it will get messy (or it should, if it had been allowed: for some inexplicable reason, this rifle barely draws any blood).
What’s interesting is that, in a departure from the original film, the murders don’t take place while everyone is asleep. In actuality, the facts of the DeFeo case had been in dispute right from the onset precisely for that reason, with DeFeo eventually giving a variety of accounts on that fateful night, none of which had the whole family asleep. So this movie is unusual because it reflects the true events more, but is in conflict with the film it’s a prequel to.
Now, anyone familiar with the original case or even with the original movie will no doubt imagine that there really isn’t much to ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ beyond the bloody slaughter. But they’d be wrong: in this adaptation of the story, which is based on Holzer’s book, it doesn’t end with the murders: DeFeo claimed to have been possessed, so there’s actually a whole third act that is pretty much inspired by ‘The Exorcist’ – except not nearly as well made.
James Olson (from ‘Moon Zero Two‘ and ‘The Andromeda Strain‘) plays Father Adamsky, who belatedly begins to clue in that there may be some form of evil in the house after quite a few all-too-obvious hints (ex: the house reacts to his presence or to the family saying grace). So he plans an exorcism. That goes well. Thankfully, Olson, the only worthwhile actor in this thing, has enough gravitas to pull it off, even if the script is pretty risible.
In fact, some of the writing is so silly that you need a robust suspension of disbelief. For example:
- Right from the onset, the eldest son, the mom, and one of the movers, all feel something strange in the house. Their reaction: something akin to indigestion! That’s right… evil spirits give me bellyaches too!
- A mover discovers another room in the basement, barely hidden by a large wooden panel (this was nowhere to be found in the original film). He offers to the mom to check it out and finds the darkened room filled with feces and urine – both raining from the ceiling. Yuck. But he goes in anyway. When he comes out covered in crap, the mom can’t tell what it is and apologizes for the mess in an insincere manner. Man, I’d be rightly pissed! (ha… puns!)
- When the eldest son is left alone in the house and it attacks, water pipes burst, fires start and spew from basement. And yet, when the rest of the family returns one can’t tell that anything has happened.
- Similarly, at the end, when the house sets on fire, another priest walks in but doesn’t even notice that it’s taking place – heck, there isn’t even a sign of it ever having happened. And yet, from outside, the house is ablaze.
That’s the least of it, of course, but those were the most jarring moments of the picture. For the rest, I had been mentally prepared for inconsistencies the moment that the Montellis walked into the house: maybe it was just me, but it looked quite different somehow, as though the layout had changed (It is said that they used the same house, and it’s quite evident from the outside, but I couldn’t tell on the inside. Maybe the insides were shot in a studio?).
Of course none of this was altogether surprising: director Damiano Damiani clearly didn’t care for detail (the fact that he was hired at the last minute and struggled to make the film his own likely didn’t help). The way he staged scenes, the way it was cut together showed a certain disregard for consistency and logic. I know nothing about him but, based on his brief filmography, he doesn’t seem to have made any other films of any note.
However, for all his inattention, he was creative in some respects. For instance, there’s this cool effect when the table cloth flies off the covered table and glides onto the hallway wall to cover the crucifix; it was slick, well-choreographed. There’s also an awesome camera movement while the eldest son is going around house with his gun: it went upside down then twisted back in proper angle. It was really unusual and unnecessary, but it was a blast.
But it’s not enough to save ‘Amityville II: The Possession’.
Still, while it’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, despite its flaws, it’s pretty entertaining. I really can’t explain it: it doesn’t bear any scrutiny and I can list endless problems with it, but it was fun. If anything, its most glaring problem is that it doesn’t jive with the previous film, so you actually can’t watch them chronologically; you have to watch them as separate, albeit connected, works of fiction. Based in fact. Based in fiction.
Date of viewing: September 14-15, 2014