The Amityville Horror (1979) has had a long lasting cultural impact, spawning a remake in 2005 and numerous sequels, prequels, sidequels, TV references, and more. Based on a true story, and another example of a supernatural occurrence investigated by the Warrens (of The Conjuring fame), the original film focuses on a family where a father becomes increasingly unstable and a threat to his family, seemingly due to the past events that occurred within the house they recently purchased. While the father’s fall from grace may be due to possession, and the Catholic officials who visit the house experience some immensely negative reactions to it, there is no exorcism in the film.
The sequel to this film, which serves as a prequel to it, does.
It also features incest, rape, and pedophilia.
According to the marketing of the film, Amityville II: The Possession shows what led to the murder that is shown in the introduction to The Amityville Horror. Unlike the first movie, which utilizes superimposed text to present the facts of the case, the sequel/prequel has no textual features that suggest the story has any basis in reality. But, that may be for a reason.
The Amityville stories come from Austrian-American parapsychologist and self-proclaimed ghost hunter Hans Holzer. Credited with being the first to investigate the gruesome murder in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville from a supernatural angle, he went on to publish the book on which the sequel/prequel was based, Murder in Amityville, where he speculated on what led Ronald Defeo Jr. to kill his family. And speculation is the operative word here. Because while the book may be based on what actually happened, it discusses things Holzer could not know for certain since neither he nor anyone else witnessed the events as Holzer described them. Holzer made the argument for Defeo being possessed, and that is what stuck. But it is all theory, conjecture, perhaps lacking in verification, and thus more fiction than nonfiction.
Amityville II may not be taking on the realistic angle simply because it may not be all that based in reality. Indeed, the characters were changed from the Defeos to the Montellis, and while it claims to be a prequel, it is unclear in the movie whether it is meant to take place before The Amityville Horror or after. Indeed, in watching it, I had a hard time knowing exactly what the time setting of the story, because it could have been the 60s, 70s, or early 80s. Since the film was released in 1982, it could be that this ambiguous time aspect is due to the producers thinking there was not enough of a difference between the time frame of production and story.
Realism also took a back seat in the selection of the director. Italian director Damiano Damiani brought to the film a particular approach to horror that incorporated odd sounds, askew camera angles, over-the-top physical deformity, and camera work that was more Evil Dead than The Exorcist. In comparison to the first movie, this sequel/prequel was more camp and B-movie art than serious horror. This is not a film that wants to be taken seriously by portraying itself as realistic. It is, instead, schlocky pulp storytelling.
And yet, it does feature a demonic possession, a lot of consideration of sexuality (none of it positive), and an exorcism. Because of these features, unlike the first film, this movie fits with the exorcism cinema project. And we watched it so that you don’t have to.
What follows are my notes and reflections from watching Amityville II: The Possession.
Is this one based on a true story? Not necessarily, but it does say it is based on a book, though.
It is directed by an Italian. It is an early 80s horror movie. Thus, this will be insane.
The movie starts off with a focus on young children, even in how the opening music seems to have a girl singing a lullaby, making the music creepy. Daddy Montelli (Burt Young) is such a creep, says the teen girl. That is a bit of foreshadowing I bet. So far the Dad comes off as overbearing, militaristic, oppressive. Not exactly a warm figure.
We have the same house from the first movie, as the focus on the demonic eye windows in the side view reveals. So as long as you have seen the first movie, you have that experience brought to the forefront as this iconic image returns. Not much set up is needed for the supernatural nature of the house, then. For example, Mother Montelli (Rutanya Alda) turns on the kitchen faucet, and there appears to be thick blood coming out, but it quickly turns into water. Again, foreshadowing, especially since we know what happens thanks to the first movie.
Moving guy gets creeped out by the windows. See, remember, bad house from the first movie?
I have heard about what happens with these two, and yeah, the teen boy Sonny and the teen girl Patricia are already kinda creepy together when we first see them interact. Since when do siblings talk about love and sex the way they do?
And the flies return, when one of the moving guys finds the hidden room from the first movie and investigates the leaking. The door to the hidden room opens itself — in POV camera work something appears to come out to the mother. But when she turns, nothing is there. Looks like the demon is coming out to play as it blows heavily on her. Says she felt like someone touched her, fingers on her arm. Mother is the religious one, makes them remember to do prayer before eating. As she says the prayer, a mirror falls down, and Father freaks out, blames Sonny. Sonny sees a crack in fallen mirror that gets bigger as he looks. So, yeah, he is set up to be the bad one in all of this. He knows, the look says.
Again with the floating POV camera, going through the house, demonic noises as it sees the crucifix on the wall. They are really not too subtle in this movie, are they? The demon makes a cloth fly to cover the crucifix. The POV stops on Sonny, as demon takes interest in him.
Oh yeah, the Dad has a rack of guns in the basement near the hidden room. He seems kinda nuts.
Yeah, the movie is not at all subtle. Knocks on the door, the hanging cloth, the painting on the wall, the rattling, the windows going crazy. “Dishonor thy father, pigs.” We all see it, so there is no question for us that something supernatural is going on. But of course Father doesn’t believe.
Apparently they have all started fighting as soon as they got in the house, according to Mother, but it really seems like they had been like this for awhile. Just that things have gotten more crazy, perhaps, as Father whips young kids with belt, Mother says she wants to kill him, and Sonny grabs one of those guns and puts it to Father’s head to make him stop.
Sonny hears a voice over his headphones, asking why didn’t he use the gun to kill the father. While it could be questioned as due to some type of mental illness, the movie never addresses a realistic cause for everything — just puts all of its bets on the supernatural craziness.
Mother asks the priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson) to visit the house to bless it, but he forgets his prayer book in the car.
Here’s a thought: could it be that Vatican II, with the change of conducting Mass in common languages and not Latin, helped to make the Church more interesting to the public, because it was now more open, and thereby people wanted to know the mysteries, of what had been said before. So exorcism became more interesting because now it was a belief and mysterious ritual that was more accessible to the lay people.
So the young girl “plays” with the young boy (these kids are real-life brother and sister) by putting a plastic bag over the boy’s head, saying you are dead…
When Sonny and Adamsky shake hands, things go crazy in the kitchen where the young kids are, and of course Father blames the kids, slaps them. Angry at the father, instead of blessing the house, the priest leaves. And finds the prayer book in his car torn to ribbons.
So is Sonny already possessed, given how moody he is? Again, a more realistic explanation could be given and explored, but, nope, let’s go demon.
Okay, guess Sonny wasn’t, because now he is home alone, hearing lots of strange noises. Which leads him into the basement, and he hears many whispers coming from the hidden room. Including what kinda sounds like women climaxing in pleasure. There is an arm coming out of the wall, an arch in the middle of darkness, in this room…and the POV camera goes to him as he walks away. Just, bonkers (but far less bonkers than that bonkers Exorcist sequel).
Camera shows Sonny’s world going topsy-turvy as the noises continue. He seems to see whatever is causing the POV camera shot, although nothing is there. Even shoots at it until it takes the gun away. Possession occurs on his bed, ripping his shirt opening, compressing his stomach, as he shouts “No!”. So a bit rape like.
The throbbing parts of his body are a nice touch. Really drives home the idea that something is inside of him, which furthers the metaphor that Sonny is being raped by this demonic entity. No idea if this kid is a virgin or not, but getting possessed appears to cause the house to go batshit as he screams out in pain and fear.
Patricia thinks Father tries to marital rape Mother. Lovely. This movie, definitely bringing in some interesting ideas and representations of sexual relationships and power imbalance.
Sonny just called Patricia beautiful, wants her to pose for him as a beautiful model. So the possession really ratchets things up in the creepy factor, and yet Patricia does it, not thinking anything is wrong…until he asks her to take off her nightgown. She hesitates, but still she goes for it! “Just for a second.” What the hell kind of sister is this?
What is so wrong is how much she goes along with it. She is just sitting there naked…and doesn’t fight back when her brother kisses her, and lays her down and has sex with her. Just…weird…
So Patricia confesses to the priest, says they do not love each other, and says he does it just to hurt God.
Adamsky again visits and blesses the house, which upsets Sonny. Adamsky sees Sonny’s door seemingly shut itself when he first spies the teen boy. Adamsky seems to sense something is wrong with the boy. Sonny has a rash on his neck from where it was throbbing.
Okay, so blood comes out of the sprinkler the priest was using to bless the house, and he throws up. But then it is not blood. And Sonny laughs. Adamsky goes immediately to the chancellor to approve an exorcism, but the chancellor refuses, and wants Adamsky to make certain it is not something else. Which is an interesting deviation from other early exorcism cinema, where usually you have a skeptical priest who has to be convinced that something is happening. It does seem that overall you have two types of priests in these movies: the skeptics who find new faith in dealing with the possession, and those true-believers who had no doubt that it was a demon they were dealing with.
At times Sonny looks and acts okay, other times not. Which could just indicate a moody teen. He hears the voice, saying his family is nothing but pathetic animals. Interesting: the demon voice sounds like Clancy Brown, but IMDb lists three people for the voice, and they are all women. Taking a cue from Exorcist, and distorting a woman’s voice-over work to make her sound like a man.
Patricia senses something is wrong with Sonny, asks if he is feeling guilty, about the sex I would imagine — and she says she does not feel guilty. That is so wrong…
Demonic distortion of teen boy’s face makes him look like Two-Face from the Batman comics — which means, he is untrustworthy. But, really, what teenage boy is truly trustworthy?
Okay, Mother seems to sense something happening between the teens, and she slaps Patricia when she demands to know what Patricia did with her brother.
And now, the killing. Patricia sees Sonny with the demonic visage and his gun. Sonny kills Father, then Mother. Then young girl. Patricia tries to escape, but the doors and windows have been nailed shut with like railroad or crucifix spikes. Phones have been smashed. Sonny then kills young boy. But not killing these people the way we were shown in the first movie, which just makes things confusing again. Sonny then kills Patricia, and the priest wakes up while on camping trip. He felt a great disturbance in the Force.
What is interesting is how this movie reminds me of other exorcism cinema where the possessed person is not always possessed. In Exorcist, she was basically seen as possessed all the time, whereas in most of the other versions it comes and goes. Like the demon inside is able to present a facade of normality to move about in humanity, thereby being able to corrupt it. If we take this to be a metaphor describing the sexually active and empowered individual, then the ability to obfuscate one’s sexual desires makes it easier to engage in civil society, but the sexual monster always lurks just underneath.
Adamsky makes the sign of the cross over Sonny, who reacts violently and shows demonic eyes. So the priest appears to know now, for certain, about the possession, as he asks who is inside the boy. Priest then goes to teen boy in jail cell, starts praying but Sonny attacks him. An aborted exorcism…
Perhaps we can also see these films as a way to explain why young people have started to go against their elders, against tradition, starting in the late 1960s. It wasn’t because the old ways were bad and should be stopped — it was because the kids were possessed!
Sonny reacts to crucifix, and Adamsky feels a cold chill, but then he talks to the demon in boy when left alone with him. But the boy shows remorse over the death of his family…so confused.
Adamsky goes to look at the house — totally replicating Exorcist in shot and even music.
Adamsky finds out about house — double whammy of both witchcraft and desecration of Indian burial ground! And then we get a trial for Sonny where they try the innocent by reason of demonic possession plea — which of course doesn’t fly. So why not just plead insanity?
The demon appears to be killing Sonny, but he and the jail warden see the words “save me” appear and disappear on the boy’s arm. So the jail warden helps the priest sneak the boy out of jail to bring him to the church for an exorcism. But Sonny attacks, holds off Adamsky with wall of fire until he can disappear.
Man this movie just keeps going and going. By having just the priest and the teen boy left, we again have the narrative of the priest as protagonist who must defeat the evil of the possessed one. But this is not a man who has lost faith — indeed, he seems to have more than the other priests, who are skeptical about it being a demonic possession. But Sonny is clearly meant to convey an unnatural sexuality, given the incestuous relationship with his sister.
Adamsky walking about the house, performing the exorcism, as it is beset with a massive storm. Demonic Sonny attacks him. Full on demonic visage now. Then Sonny turns into Patricia, with lots of make-up on, claiming Adamsky had thoughts of having sex with her. So the teen girl is used as an object of both incestuous lust and pedophile desire.
Demon knows the priest is doing this exorcism without support of Church, that Adamsky is alone in this. It offers the priest power. Demon as temptation, liar.
Okay, so Sonny’s demonic face is cracking apart…
And the house blows up…catches on fire…
Sonny, reborn, raised up in steam as if on a crucifix, his face completely healed. So basically the boy has a successful exorcism and gets treated to a Christ comparison.
A different priest shows up, takes Sonny away to the cops, promising to make them understand it was not his fault — the killings or the break from jail?
One last POV camera shot going back into the house, flying back to the priest. We see his hand and neck throbbing, so he is possessed now. He realizes this, calls on God to not forsake him. And that is how it ends. No killing of the priest to stop the demon, as was done in Exorcist. The priest lives, possessed, with an uncertain future, just as Sonny lives, with an uncertain future.
I guess we are meant to believe the demon remains in the house, so as to explain what happens in The Amityville Horror, but it doesn’t align with the events of that movie, on almost any level. Indeed, this movie, positioned as a prequel, could just as well take place after the first movie, just to a completely different family who move into the house after the Lutz abandon it. The only strong connections between these two movies is the haunting side view of the house, and the hidden room full of foamy blood.
However, taken by itself, this movie presents some very troubling sexual dynamics between individuals who use their dominance to overpower others, while these more submissive others are not seen as resisting or hating the oppression. The fact that one of the first things possessed Sonny does is seduce his sister indicates that possession is being linked with sexuality. Only whereas in other exorcism cinema, when the possessed is female who continuously requests sex, here we have a boy who actually initiates and fulfills a sexual desire. In a sense, then, the possession has empowered the boy to get what he wants, while a possessed girl is seen as a sexual threat to those around her.
So, yeah…this movie.