Somebody else reviewed this recently here on WP. Their review prompted this one, but because WP doesn’t have great search tools, I can’t figure out which blogger it was. If it was you, let me know and I’ll link to your review.
I really liked the original Amityville Horror. The first act of Amityville II: The Possession carries on in the tradition of the first film. It’s a slow-paced gothic horror which emphasizes the crumbling dynamics of the DeFeo–I mean, the Montelli family. Names aside, for all intents and purposes this is a prequel to the original Amityville Horror. It’s evidently based on a novel by parapsychologist Hans Holzer, because even thirty years ago filmmakers saw the potential in basing movies on real-life ghost hunters.
You know the drill. Family moves in, scary stuff starts to happen. This time around the family–a mom and dad, and four children–is already kind of messed up, with an abusive father and a borderline incestuous relationship between the older brother and sister (which later crosses the border). Because this is basically the story of Ronny DeFeo, it’s a foregone conclusion that the oldest son–here, “Sonny”–is going to murder his family. What’s less predictable is the major split this event causes in the film, with the before and after almost seeming to be different movies altogether.
The first part is decent enough. Nothing new, but a solid haunted house movie with, if not great, then at least not bad acting by everybody involved. There are one or two kind of neat effects, like a tablecloth that flies off a table and drapes itself over a crucifix, and a pair of paintbrushes that magically paint the requisite diabolical stuff on the wall in the kids’ room while the terrified children watch.
Then it all changes, with everybody dead but Sonny, and the family’s priest trying to convince everyone that Sonny is possessed so he can perform an exorcism.
I actually kind of liked that the first person the priest told about Sonny’s possession, a cop, immediately believed him. I’m not saying this is a probable response; but the guy claimed he’d seen another case of possession, “in Puerto Rico,” and was totally credulous when the priest told him Sonny had a demon all up in him. It’s refreshing not to dance around that whole “no way this is happening” crap for a change.
Unfortunately that’s about the only part of the post-murders second act of the film that I like.
It is in the second act, for instance, that we get one of the worst archivist-to-the-rescue scenes ever, with an inexplicably British woman working in the town deeds office explaining that she’s known all along that the evil house was built on a burial ground, and that a witch lived there, etc. etc. etc. Thanks for, you know, sharing that information. And in the courtroom scene where Sonny’s attorney enters a plea of “not guilty by reason of demonic possession,” the last bit of previously-suspended disbelief comes rushing back again.
I should add that I have no idea of how the real DeFeo case went, or if there’s a precedent for a plea of demonic possession. Oh wait, there is (I forgot about Google for a second there). And if it isn’t our old friends, the Warrens, yet again. Anyway, I guess the precedent means I have to be a little bit more forgiving of the filmmakers. The “Demon Trial” ended in a conviction, but one can’t help but wonder if the makers of Amityville II: The Possessening weren’t influenced by that story at least a wee bit.
Sadly, the priest’s crusade to save Sonny is just silly. James Olson‘s performance as the good father is less than convincing, nowhere near the level of Rod Steiger in the original. But more importantly, the film just doesn’t know what it wants to be. The creepy, genuinely Amityville-ish first part and the campy procedural drama/Exorcist ripoff of the second don’t match up.
The worst part is the totally ridiculous exorcism sequence at the end, which contains some utterly unnecessary creature/gore effects and an Exorcist-style self-sacrifice that just sucks. Oh, and an explosion, because another turd ain’t gonna hurt a crap sandwich.