Sunday, February 5, 2012

Amityville 2: the Possession (1982) review


James Olson (Father Adamsky), Jack Magner (Sonny Montelli), Rutanya Alda (Dolores Montelli), Burt Young (Anthony Montelli), Diane Franklin (Patricia Montelli), Andrew Prine (Father Tom), Moses Gunn (Det. Turner), Leonardo Cimino (Monsignor)

Directed by Damiano Damiani

The Short Version: Director Damiani, famous for directing mostly political thrillers and crime dramas branches out into the horror realm with this slick, but sleazy sequel to the blockbuster original. The script presents some interesting angles with which to play around with, but the finished product prefers to go out of its way to deliver what amounts to a polished exploitation film. The end result is ripe with domestic violence, incest, flying furniture and demonic possession culminating in an over the top, skin-shredding denouement.

The Montelli family move into their new home only to quickly discover something has moved in with them and it doesn't want them there. A demonic force living within the house possesses the eldest son forcing him to commit murder and only a priest can save the boy and his soul.

This rude, crude and wholesomely tasteless sequel to the 1979 smash hit SINsation THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is still the best sequel out of the entire series. This second chapter is actually a prequel detailing the actions that occurred in the house before the Lutz family moved in. While essentially the exact same thing happens, this Dino De Laurentiis production ramps up the violence and sleazy spectacle in true sequel fashion. It also wastes no time getting down to business. It's only twenty five minutes into the film and a priest is already on the grounds with the intent of blessing the house which is bringing out some alarmingly dangerous behavior from its occupants.

Almost from the beginning, we get the feeling that this family is bringing along some serious and emotionally dysfunctional baggage. While this is basically a high profile exploitation movie, it also deals with some very real familial problems and social issues including child abuse, domestic violence and taboo subjects such as incest. Piled high on top of that is every devilish trick in the book from flying furniture to blood coming from the most unlikely of places to demonic possession. The first half of the movie consists of the build up to the family massacre while the last half veers off into EXORCIST territory as Father Adamsky (James Olson) fights to save the soul of a boy possessed by a particularly nasty demonic entity.

The origin of the demon that takes over Sonny's (Jack Magner) body isn't actually revealed, but clues are laid down that hint towards a disturbed spirit from an ancient burial ground formerly of the location where the house currently sits. The evil spirit is first "seen" from the point of view of Franco Di Giacomo's delirious cinematography as a watchful, probing force that toys with the family at first. There are knocks at the door at all hours of the night, painting obscene pictures on the walls, furniture flying around and windows opening and closing on their own. The ensuing (and supposedly demon stirred) domestic violence is disturbing, but the Montelli's have already shown themselves to be built around a fractured foundation. This brittle family unit is violently turned against each other culminating in the eldest sons gradual possession leading to a grotesquely cruel sequence wherein the entire family is systematically executed via shotgun.

Prior to this, the film explores a forbidden subject that is ripe for this sort of picture when the demon forces Sonny to seduce his sister. The two already have an unusually close relationship as it is and this portion of the film is handled very well regardless of the unsettling subject matter. Diane Franklin really excels in these scenes in her attempt to come to grips with what has happened as well as struggling with confessing it to Father Adamsky. Franklin debuted the same year as the main female love interest in the superior (if flawed) sex comedy drama, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982). There are some good performances here even if the family as a whole isn't very likable from the start.

In between ROCKY roles, Burt Young took time out to play essentially the same part, only here he's a slovenly, ill-mannered family man. Since we're supposed to believe that the demon turns this family on each other, their changes in mood and personality are subtly realized considering they're already a dysfunctional bunch from the start. Horror fans can also see Burt Young playing the exact same role yet again in BLOOD BEACH from 1980, only there, he's a cop.

Andrew Prine (left) is no stranger to horror and exploitation movies. Here, he has a supporting role as Father Tom, Adamsky's friend.

There's also some personal demons being fought within Father Adamsky played by James Olson (COMMANDO), but the film never traverses this territory aside from some very vague bits of dialog (why exactly does the priesthood complain about him?). However, Adamsky does bear some responsibility in that he could have possibly prevented the Montelli massacre, but this too is never expounded upon; we only come to this conclusion through the onscreen visuals. Whether dropped from the film, or simply overlooked in Tommy Lee Wallace's script (he also wrote and directed HALLOWEEN 3 and FRIGHT NIGHT 2), the lack of some crucial exposition allows the grue factor to supersede the potential for numerous character and dramatic arcs. This accent towards sleazy spectacle will be less palatable for the EXORCIST crowd, but Damiani does capture several tense moments, but these are more sporadic than strung together. Furthermore, had Damiani wrote the script (as he so often did with films he directed), it's likely these areas would have been more fully explored.

The film also defies logic at times (why does nobody hear the guns going off by themselves? Where are the neighbors?), but truly embraces the absurd during the prosthetic heavy climax. It's so over the top, one can't help but assume the showstopping and award winning transformation effects in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) is to blame. Not only is Sonny exorcised, but his face literally falls apart in a sequence that resembles the body melting finale of THE EVIL DEAD (1981). In the next scene, he's magically put back together again and raised in a Christ-like stance while smoke blows around behind him!

The score by Lalo Schifrin is a major highlight. Schifrin is one of those great composers who seems to never get the level of mention as some of his contemporaries like John Williams or James Horner. Schifrin could always be counted on to deliver a bang up score that generally made even the lowliest of picture seem much bigger than it really was. His scores for DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) and THE MANITOU (1978) for instance, help make both of those predominantly derided movies a lot more interesting than they likely wouldn't be otherwise.

This shot recalls a similar, famous image from both the film and the poster artwork from the THE EXORCIST (1973).

It may possess (haha) several similarities with THE EXORCIST (1973), but ever since the release of THE OMEN (1976), the devil has maintained his cash cow status. AMITYVILLE 2 was a box office success that resulted in a gradual decline in "quality" for the series over the next ten years. POSSESSION fails at perfectly balancing its drama with its horror. In terms of expressing its disturbing elements and seedy atmosphere, this first sequel succeeds and revels in them.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD.

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