Amityville II: The Possession
directed by Damiano Damiani
(Orion, 1982)

I know that many horror fans hold this movie in low regard, but I found it gritty, disturbing and genuinely scary. It's not perfect, but I think it deserves another look.

For me, the whole fact or fiction debate is unimportant; I am judging this movie solely on its own merits. The makers of the film may have had a limited budget, but they doggedly pulled out all of the stops; maybe they went overboard once or twice, but that is quite OK with me, given what they did achieve. Naturally, the house itself with its baleful eye-like windows, does much to set the table for a feast of fright, but the makers were not content to depend on the house alone. The point-of-view shots from the viewpoint of the evil essence work wonderfully; the use of unusual, oddly angled perspectives was highly effective; and the supernatural manifestations were never allowed to overshadow the real story of the family's tragedy.

The acting was not particularly accomplished in general, with the mother in particular guilty of overacting, but Jack Magner as Sonny and Diane Franklin as Patricia give outstanding performances in very different roles. Sonny's evolution from wholesome yet troubled young man to demonic mass murderer is a little rushed and was necessarily trying both physically and mentally on the young actor, but Magner keeps this movie from becoming wholly unbelievable and laughable. Franklin also deserves much credit for her portrayal of the wholesome yet haunted younger sister of Sonny; she alone invites sympathy from the viewer and makes the events of the fateful night of horror truly disturbing.

Apparently, the makeup artists for this picture were told to just go crazy. For the most part, the special effects are very good, although the extent of physical transformations we witness in Sonny are probably somewhat excessive. This only becomes problematic toward the exorcism scenes at the end. The music is also an important and effective part of this movie experience, although at times it reminded me of Star Trek music.

Much has been made of the incest storyline, but I feel it is important to note that there is no graphic exploitation of this controversial theme. In fact, that aspect of the movie makes the tragedy all the more dramatic and compelling.

The key to this movie's winning me over was the concentration on family issues; to call this family dysfunctional is perhaps an understatement. The gore is there at times, but it is not the focus of the storyline -- if anything, it takes away from rather than adds to the impact of the film on the viewer. It is also unfortunate but perfectly understandable that this film is compared so closely to The Exorcist. Certainly, the latter parts of the movie are weaker than the first half, and it is pretty obvious that the whole exorcism storyline reflected an attempt by the filmmakers to somewhat selfishly usurp the notoriety of The Exorcist. There are, however, many differences between this film and The Exorcist, and taken on its own merits I found the relevant scenes powerful and effective.

I agree that the movie goes downhill somewhat after the pivotal murders actually take place, but I can honestly say that the first hour of this movie represents some of the most creepiest, spine-tingling moments in the annals of cinematic horror.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 16 July 2005

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