Retro Review: The Insane ‘Amityville II’

Happy family? Front row: Erica Katz, Rutyanya Alda, Burt Young; rear standing: Jack Magner, Diane Franklin, Brent Katz.

Since the MGM-backed Comet TV came to town, a lot of funky films and shows can now be seen on your television screen. It’s really the on-air equivalent of your favorite mom and pop video store. MGM had acquired all sorts of libraries over the past couple of decades, so Comet is able to broadcast such cult classics as Blacula, The Oblong Box, Graveyard of Horror and the magnum opus that is Amityville II: the Posession.

In 1979, American International released The Amityville Horror, starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger. It was a big hit, but also a big snooze in my opinion. The 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds wasn’t a whole lot better. But in 1982, a very strange sequel-in-name-only was released to an unsuspecting American public. It’s a film that is so packed with hilarity and unbelievably sick situations that it becomes a genre unto itself.

Of course, I’m referring to the Dino De Laurentiis-produced epic Amityville II: The Possession. Back in the ’70s and early ’80s, a lot of Italian-made films got theatrical release in the states, so we were treated to such Neopolitan epics as Beyond the Door, L’Antichristo (both Exorcist rip-offs) and Dario Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria.

To add to the confusion, Italian filmmakers like Lucio Fulci would even make their films in the States with American casts, but their foreign roots would always be showing. Did you ever see The Curse? Tiny Wil Wheaton, fresh off the hit Stand By Me, might as well have been speaking lingua itaiana! The special effects are the giveaway…nobody does them like the Italians. Oozy and with lots of blood-pumping bladders.

Although Amityville II‘s screenplay was written by American Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part II, It), the director Damiano Damiani, who never made an English-language film before or after, gives it a distinctively Italian flavor, similar to one of Fulci’s epics but with more coherence. Alternating between twisted family drama and supernatural thriller, it ladles on the child abuse, incest and religious trauma for the first hour or so before the troubled son, Sonny (Jack Magner) takes matters into hand and offs his family.

It’s literally a prequel, fictionalizing the story of the real-life DeFeo family, whose killings at the hand of their son, Ronald, formed the basis for the Amityville story. Here called the Montelli family, it is headed by father Burt Young (from the Rocky movies), the greasiest, meanest, most awful patriarch in screen history, making you wonder why his long-suffering and super-religious wife (Rutanya Alda) can stand living with him, let alone give birth to his four kids.

Diane Franklin (Better off Dead, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure).

When they move into the Amityville house, Mom is hoping that a new, bright future can begin for them, but this is a far too screwed-up family unit. Even before they’ve finished moving in, blood is pouring out of the taps in the kitchen and Mom discovers a mysterious trap door in the basement covering a small, dark and wet space that serves no other purpose except to be nasty.

She sends one of the movers in to check it out, and soon he’s covered with flies and crap. Helpfully, she calls out, “Are you all right?” Later — again in the basement — she’s doing laundry, and first encounters the Malevolent Force™ in the form of a weird gust of wind. Sonny happens to come downstairs at just that moment and Alda, eyes bulging and Method acting like crazy, haltingly says “Somebody… touched… MEHHHHHHH!!!”

At dinner, before Mom leads everyone in prayer, she says, “I think we’re a very lucky family,” a moment which manages to be both pathetic and funny at once. The mirror above the sideboard suddenly comes off the wall and falls, an event which infuriates Pop, who for some reason blames Sonny.

That night, the Malevolent Force™ bangs on the front door and Pop, furious at having his beauty sleep disturbed, runs outside with a shotgun and snarls at the unseen intruders: “There’s a 12-gauge shotgun waiting for anyone tres-PASS-in’.” Yes, he pronounces it oddly, with the emphasis on the second syllable. He’s also sweaty and wheezy and probably smells bad.

Next, the two youngest children watch in horror as the Malevolent Force™ causes paintbrushes in their bedroom to rise into the air and cover the walls with violent and offensive graffiti. Though the kids protest their innocence, Pop starts whomping on them, motivating Sonny to seize the gun and stick it up against his even more revoltingly sweaty father’s throat. His finger reaches for the trigger, but Mom, clad in a diaphanous nightgown that gives her an oddly saintlike appearance, appears to glide across the floor, serenely take away the weapon and whisper, without a trace of irony, “What’s happening to us?”

A subdued Rutanya Alda.

Soon the Malevolent Force™ is telling Sonny (through his Sony Walkman, no less): “Why didn’t you shoot that pig?” Mom brings Father Adamski (James Olson) in to bless the house. Pop is hostile, Sonny is reclusive, and Adamski’s holy water sprinkler starts squirting blood. This makes Alda go into the zone again, popping her eyes and kind of…well…grunting in horror.

Incidentally, I was watching the film in my Sherman Oaks apaertment on cable one afternoon and decided to walk across the street to the Safeway to buy some dinner. There — and I’m not kidding you — was Rutanya Alda in the flesh, asking the cashier about soup. No, I didn’t hiss “Somebody… touched… MEHHHH!!!” although I really, really wanted to.

Sonny gets creepier and creepier. He initiates a sexual relationship with his sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin). Then he’s more or less raped by the Malevolent Force™, which takes control of him from then on.

Feeling guilty but also kind of excitedly slutty, Patricia goes to Father Adamski to confess her sins, but it’s too late. In a surprisingly tense and upsetting sequence, Sonny roams the house with the shotgun. As he blasts away, family members cower in terror, knowing they’re next on the hitlist. And in a sick coda, after he shoots his kid sister, he runs the barrel of the gun over her foot and it twitches!

He’s hauled off to jail, and Father Adamski, who’s alarmed by a mysterious phone call from the already dead Patricia, decides that Sonny is possessed by the devil. He needs an exorcism, but it can’t be done in jail. He must be taken back to the Amityville house. Why? Because that’s the name of the movie!

To meet the requirements of the exploitation audience who came to see possession hijinks, the film becomes an Exorcist clone for its final act, including much pumping of inflatable bladders under the skin, but it doesn’t really ruin the mood. Catch it…but you may want to take a shower afterwards.

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