Following the Lutz’s nightmare from The Amityville Horror, the Montelli family move into the infamous, haunted house only to find themselves terrorised senseless by malevolent forces, hell-bent on driving them away, out of their minds and into an early grave. The malicious ghosts possess the son to seduce the daughter while sending the father into a unfathomable rage that threatens his entire family. In a final attempt to save their lives, a priest is called to help eliminate the dark, unruly forces.
This first sequel to the relentlessly regurgitating franchise is a creepy but rustic follow-up that betters the original in terms of drama and innovation yet fails to deliver as effective scares. Burt Young plays the aggressive father Anthony, who moves to the house with his four children and doting wife Dolores (Rutanya Aida). Teen son Sonny (Jack Magner) is diffident, reserved, buried in his headphones and cowers at his father’s daunting, animal rage while eldest daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin) and her mother remain distant, connecting only during moments of family hardship.
The two teens are the main focus of the story while the younger children remain underused and are notable only for the scenes in which they become targeted by the spiteful spectres. Meanwhile subtle, discomforting undercurrents between the mother and father are hinted at but never directly addressed. The multifarious relationships inject a rich complexity to the drama which is rare for a sub-genre usually fraught with stereotypes and clichés. Sonny and Patricia are deep, difficult and well developed for genre characters of this age and era, especially during scenes in which they quarrel with their parents. Great discomfort is induced by Sonny and Patricia’s growing relationship, as sibling intimacy threatens to evolve into something dark and beyond platonic.
Written by Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, Fright Night Part 2) and directed by the late Damiano Damiani, Amityville 2: The Possession is adapted from a novel by real-life parapsychologist Hans Holzer but not based on “genuine events”, like its predecessor. Serving as both a haunted house yarn and a tightly woven story of family conflicts this sequel works as both a horror film and a drama about complicated kinship. Featuring evil forces and the house itself as prominent characters that manipulate the family in attempt to tear them apart.
One creepy sequence features the spirits using the children’s paints to decorate the walls of the bedroom. Their presence only made know through the use of distorted breathing or a prowling POV. As the tension mounts, metaphorical and literal cracks start emerging while blood seeps from the taps, a swarm of evil flies erupt from a hidden room in the basement and horsey, demonic voices sieve from Sonny’s headphones, instructing him to kill. But this sequel is less about the scares, more the eerie atmosphere and involving dread evoked by decent performances, the disconcerting relationship between Sonny and Patricia and a haunting score (children singing is always a clincher).
The horror in Amityville 2: The Possession resonates at a deeper level because of the twisted family rapport but despite its well conjured air of discomfort and unnerving drama, there are still plenty of blemishes. Tired religious horror traits of the era, which emerged from The Omen, The Exorcist and their paler imitations, are unimaginatively deployed with rifts from the haunted house subgenre and irrefutably shoddy special effects.
The film culminates with an exorcism and even though this is as a result of a welcome plot twist, taking us out of the confines of the house, it still feels rather botched and half-trite. Dim lighting and an impending dread evoked through lurking POVs and lingering shots in basements combine for a creepy ambiance and effectively rendered paranormal activities that occur within the walls. Despite all of its flaws, this first sequel is still, probably, the best of the series, or just about on par with its predecessor.
Words: Daniel Goodwin (@privateutopias)