A priest faced with a teenager who’s possessed by an evil spirit has only two options at his disposal. He can either a) walk away and let the kid die, or b) take the unclean spirit into his body, thus saving the life of the host and achieving martyrdom in the process. I have to say, quite honestly, if I were that priest the kid would die. I don’t mean to sound unkind. I just think, realistically, I couldn’t be sure that the kid would be unpossessed by my selflessness, so why should we both go down with the ship? After all, the world needs men of the cloth, but teenagers are a dime a dozen and, frankly, overrated.
I jest, of course, but this is what I was thinking toward the end of Damiano Damiani’s 1982 supernatural horror flick Amityville II: The Possession, one of those ultra-rare instances where — and I know I’ll get shit from the horror gods for this — the sequel is marginally better than its predecessor. I respond to this one more strongly, I suppose. Maybe it’s the unsettling centerpiece of the film, where Sonny Montelli wipes out his entire family — including his pre-adolescent brother and sister — with a shotgun. Or the fact that every time I watch the original, I want to punch the parental Lutzes in the face for not fleeing the house until it’s almost too late, and after being given plenty of reasons to do so.
Really, the Montellis should have left, too, but their predicament is so much more exciting. We’re several years before the strange occurrences at 112 Ocean Avenue sent the Lutzes sprinting into the night, because Amityville II is a prequel, so by my logic it can’t come after. Anthony Montelli is a piece of work, a brutish thug who moves his family into the house, abusing them physically and mentally before he can get the For Sale sign out of the dirt. His oldest son, Sonny, understands the psychological toll his father’s cruelty takes on the family — mom Dolores, teenage sister Patricia, and the youngest, Erika and Brent — and does his best to protect them. But no sooner is the family saying grace than a mirror crashes to the floor. A sheet floats across the room to drape itself over a crucifix. Dolores feels a chilling presence in the basement. Erika and Brent suffer a savage whipping by their father after an unseen force destroys their room. To any rational, thinking human being, these would be sure signs to get the fuck out. But, sadly, no. The Montelli’s stay, because otherwise we have no film.
Dolores eventually turns to the kindly Father Tom, whose attempts to bless the house are rebuffed with bloodshed. Convinced of possession, Tom wants to perform an exorcism, a request shot down quickly and efficiently by the Monsignor. Meanwhile, Sonny begins to hear voices in his old-school spongy headphones, and before you can say “the power of Christ compels you,” molests his sister in the only scene in the movie that approaches true exploitation, it’s that tasteless. After a terrific extended sequence where the presence pursues him through the house, Sonny pulls out the shotgun and swiss cheeses his kin.
This leads us to the point where I started to consider what I’d do with Sonny. Not because I was serious, but because I was mildly bored: the second half of Amityville II doesn’t quite live up to the first, as Father Tom does his damnedest to pull the demon out of the boy, reaching an anticlimactic transfer of power. But what a first half it is! The special effects are suitably cheesy, and nothing that happens is all that startling; but Damiani manages to capture a nice creepy atmosphere, helped tremendously by Lalo Shifrin’s Oscar-nominated score from the first film. Burt Young is effective as a man who, when he beats his wife and kids, puts meaning in every blow. And Jack Magner, as Sonny, manages to play a dude possessed by a demon straight without stepping over the line into overacting camp.
Amityville II: The Possession holds a special little place in my heart. I remember watching it when I was eleven or twelve, way back in the days of early cable television, along with USA Night Flight and Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing on an endless loop. The shotgunning scene gave me nightmares for weeks, and when I watch the film now, the little boy in me still curls up into a ball. It’s not great cinema, but it’s decent horror, and that’s what counts at Death at the Drive-in.
And I’d still let the kid die.
1982; starring Burt Young, Jack Magner; directed by Damiano Damiani; 100 min; rated R