Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 31, 2005)
The Amityville Horror tells us a lot about the murders that preceded the events depicted in that flick. Rather than create a new tale, 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession goes back to the source for a prequel of sorts, as we take a look at the 1975 DeFeo murders.
However, this fictionalized effort doesn’t call them the DeFeos. An adaptation of Hans Holzer’s book Murder In Amityville, Possession refers to the folks as the Montelli family. We meet father Anthony (Burt Young), wife Delores (Rutanya Alda), teen son Sonny (Jack Magner), and other children Tricia (Diane Franklin), Mark (Brent Katz) and Jan (Erika Katz). We see them move into their soon-to-be-infamous home in Amityville, Long Island, and we quickly observe that Anthony is an abusive disciplinarian, and Sonny has something of a rebellious - and maybe nutso - side to him.
Oddness occurs virtually immediately. For an unknown reason, someone nailed shut all of the house’s windows, and it briefly appears that blood comes from a faucet. Matters don’t improve when a mover finds a gross and creepy little room off the basement that seems to emanate really bad vibes.
And so it goes, as all sorts of spooky weirdness continues. When spirits paint all over the youngest kids’ wall, Anthony blows a gasket. He starts to beat them and then his wife when she intervenes. This leads Sonny to threaten his dad with a rifle. Sonny then hears voices that ask him why he didn’t “shoot that pig”.
Delores asks Father Adamsky (James Olson) to bless the house. This doesn’t sit well with Anthony. He’s not a religious man and he reacts very negatively when he sees the priest come into their home. We also learn that Sonny’s not been feeling well, and when the kid shakes hands with Father Adamsky, more freakiness happens.
This creates the pattern observed through the rest of the movie. The Monetti family runs into more and more nastiness, as spirits become even more prominent in their lives. They mainly affect Sonny, who eventually turns to violence. In the meantime, Father Adamsky attempts to battle the demons.
I can’t say I know much about the events in Amityville related to the DeFeo murders. I’ve picked up a little here or there, but I can’t claim any expertise. I have learned enough to realize that Possession almost entirely seems to be a work of fiction.
I suppose that’s why they changed the names of the DeFeo family to the “Monetti” clan. Not that they couldn’t take liberties with the DeFeo story, but I guess fictionalized characters allow them to open up things more - and also probably leave them less susceptible to legal action.
As it stands, someone should have sued the filmmakers for the absolutely cheesiness of Possession. I didn’t think things could get much worse after the laughable Amityville Horror, but Possession proves me wrong.
At least Horror attempted some minor subtlety and tried to portray a family that disintegrates due to supernatural forces. It didn’t succeed; James Brolin’s terrible performance as George Lutz made him look sinister from day one. However, that wasn’t the fault of the script, which attempted a broader character arc.
No such development occurs or is attempted in the ham-fisted Possession. Sonny doesn’t slowly go bats as the house affects him. Instead, he seems pretty kooky right from the start. Yeah, he turns nuttier as things progress, but there’s not a lot of difference between early Sonny and final Sonny.
The movie allows absolutely no room for interpretation of events either. A better film would leave some doubt - are spooky forces at work, or is Sonny just crazy? We don’t get the chance to take an alternate view here, as the movie makes the house’s evil status abundantly clear from the very start.
This leads to many absurd scenes that attempt scares. The sequence in which the spirits formally possess Sonny is absolutely ludicrous, and most of the others don’t work any better. The film resorts to many cheap filmmaking tactics to communicate its attempted chills, but none of them work.
At no point does Possession really attempt a new story. Instead, it essentially devotes its first half to a remake of Horror, while the second half redoes The Exorcist. The latter situation seems especially misguided. When compared with Horror, the sequel could only look so bad since its predecessor stunk. However, Exorcist is a classic, and any movie that triggers memories of it will surely come up short.
The bizarre casting of Burt Young doesn’t help the situation. Does Young in any way, shape or form seem to be a part of the same family as the others? Anthony is simply a horrible human being. He doesn’t come across as part of the same movie, much less the same family.
Speaking of whom, Possession often feels like some sort of TV movie exposé of dysfunctional families. Not only does it involve a terribly abusive father, but it takes a nonsensical detour into incest as well. We don’t get a great feeling that the house affects the family, as they already seem pretty messed up from the movie’s outset.
Perhaps the main problem with Possession is that it takes a simple story and attempts to complicate it to an absurd level. It takes the events and piles on a variety of elements, none of which add depth or intrigue to the tale. Instead, it becomes nothing more than cheap melodrama and crummy horror.