I have to open this review by saying that I consider The Amityville Horror (1979) to be a truly abysmal movie. It is a stultifying traipse through the conventions of the haunted house film; a lousy melodrama, one that is anchored in a swamp of po-faced seriousness due to a faux ‘based on true events’ gimmick that hamstrings any attempt for inventiveness or imagination. Nevertheless this feeble garbage became something of a sensation thanks in large part to a clever marketing campaign, and in even larger part to the gullibility of the American movie-going public. The most successful aspect of the film is Lalo Schifrin’s spine chilling music, its scariest moment a brief scene in which Rod Steiger (fly covered and gasping for air) is yelled at to “GET OUT!!” by a disembodied voice. Three years later Italian super producer Dino De Laurentis felt enough time had passed for a sequel, and to the enormous credit of all involved it totally dispenses with the restrictive ‘true story’ trick and fully commits to the supernatural. This is indeed ironic, considering that a major plot event of Amityville II is based on actual recorded events! In fact there is more true-to-life basis in the second film than the first! Amityville II is also technically a prequel, in the days before that term wasn’t synonymous with crap Star Wars movies. But it’s clear from the outset that the filmmakers couldn’t care less about evoking a specific period in time. This is not slipshod on their part; it’s illustrative of creative minds unshackling themselves from the supposed ‘reality’ of the Amityville story, and choosing to follow a trail blazed by The Exorcist (1973) and the more concurrent Poltergeist (1982). It comes to something when the major influence on a sequel isn’t the film that spawned it.
One of the major set piece sequences of the film is Sonny’s possession. This is an extended sequence which begins with an exploration of the basement, and for me the scariest moment in the film; Sonny discovers an arm coming out of wall! Italian filmmaker Damiano Damiani is so totally unused to the horror genre that he throws almost everything at this sequence; 180 degree pans, zooms (especially when Sonny is lying on his bed and the possession becomes an implied rape), elaborate tracking shots of a fleeing Sonny, and perhaps most impressively the point-of-view of the camera itself representing the unseen evil. Damiani is a director known for style and restraint, of subtlety and intelligence; his first major departure into the horror genre sees him dispense with this in favour of outright exaggeration and stylistic absurdity, but the results are very exciting. I’m not sure whether Damiani’s decision to direct the film in this style shows contempt for the material. On occasion some of his filmmaking decisions come perilously close to lampooning the genre, though it must be noted that scene after scene retains the power to impress. The most distasteful manifestation of Sonny’s newly possessed psyche (prior to the massacre of his family) is the development of an incestuous relationship with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin). This should be shocking, but the Montelli’s are such a repulsive family that even this is not wholly unexpected. When the mother’s suspicion is aroused is it jealousy that flits across her face? The importance of this subplot is that it enables local priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) to suffer a burden of guilt that leads into the films weaker final third.
© Shaun Anderson 2012