Amityville II: The Possession is coated in sleaze, filled with hokey bargain basement haunting effects, and it telegraphs its lack of inspiration on any level other than cashing in on a fad or two for a quick buck so intently, it feels almost like it must be proud of itself. It therefore should come as absolutely no surprise when the 1982 film kicks off with that rosiest of all title cards, "Dino De Laurentiis Presents".

And what is our good friend Dino presenting this time around? It's a bit unclear, actually. Look at the ad campaign, and you'd confidently assert that Amityville II is a perfectly straightforward prequel to 1979's The Amityville Horror, telling a story based on the real world events that happened in November 1974 when 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings in the DeFeo family home at 112 Ocean Ave, Amityville, NY. You could even hang onto that belief through the film's opening credits, assuming you're familiar with the 1979 book Murder in Amityville, by Hans Holzer, which is a true story of the DeFeo murders to the same extent that Jay Anson's 1977 The Amityville Horror is the true story of what happened to George and Kathy Lutz when they moved into the Ocean Ave. house 13 months after the killings.* The book serves as the credited basis for Tommy Lee Wallace's screenplay (his very first, though within the same year he'd write and direct Halloween III: Season of the Witch, with the encouragement of his friend John Carpenter), though not a very close one.

And that's where we get to the part that I have no idea what Amityville II is. It's certainly not the story of the DeFeos, possibly for legal reasons; the details are different enough that this can't even cling to the feeble "based on a true story" fig leaf that The Amityville Horror did. Legal reasons actually explains a lot: George Lutz, the subject and profiteer of the initial wave of Amityvillania, had very different plans for a cinematic Amityville sequel, involving his and his family's madcap adventures being plagued by demons after they left the Ocean Ave. house, as recounted in the book The Amityville Horror, Part II. He sued De Laurentiis, on the grounds that despite spending every minute of his life between 1977 and 1982 whoring out himself and his family, he was still a private citizen. He lost, but the net result was the rather conspicuous removal of the word "horror" from nearly every subsequent haunted house movie set in Amityville, NY, and a general wink-wink-nudge-nudge approach regarding how any given film relates to the events of December 1975.

So is this a prequel to The Amityville Horror? I've got absolutely no damn idea. It's definitely not set in 1974: you could squint and ignore everything else, but the front-and-center presence of a Sony Walkman (a 1979 invention, and audiences in 1982 surely would have recognised that fact) forbids such a date. Possibly it's best just to ignore The Amityville Horror altogether, and take Amityville II as being no more and no less than what it is: a craven rip-off of The Amityville Horror with an even more craven rip-off of The Exorcist glued onto its ass, and owing to Dino De Laurentiis's bottomless lack of shame, it got to market itself as "official".

So with all that, how about we actually take a look at the movie, eh? The film copies as much from its predecessor as it can possibly get away with: so instead of the DeFeos, who lived at 112 Ocean Ave. for a full decade, we get to meet the Montellis, on the day they move in. It's clear by the end of the day that something is enormously fucked up in the house: if it's not the faucets spitting thick red blood, it's the haunted paintbrushes scrawling crude invective on the bedroom wall of the two youngest Montellis, Jan and Mark (Erika and Brent Katz). This incident introduces us to the family dynamic, and it is horrid: Anthony Montelli (Burt Young) is verbally and physically abusive, whose three youngest children (including teenager Patricia, played by Diane Franklin) fear him, whose wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda) covers for him, and whose eldest son, Sonny (Jack Magner) seethes with unexpressed hatred for him.

The first hour and change of Amityville II plays as a carbon copy of the first movie, except instead of the dad having a slow-burning relationship with his axe, this time it seems like only pure laziness keeps him from having already chopped his family into small pieces. Surprisingly, this almost works. The "almost" comes from the unfortunate fact that nobody involved in making the film seems to have actually cared about doing anything with this; it exists solely to make Sonny Montelli strike us as more of a sympathetic, tragic figure after he's possessed by the evil entity living in the basement of the house, and driven by it to kill all of his family. Spoiler alert, but not really.

In fact, while Anthony is an obvious bastard (and Young gives easily the best performance in the film), the makers of Amityville II don't seem to care if we walk away with a pretty low opinion of everybody in the cast. It's a tawdry affair altogether, the kind of film where Patricia can casually refer to her father raping her mother with a lighthearted, idle, "I think Mommy doesn't want to make love to Daddy anymore. I think he tries to force her", and this is absolutely by no means the sleaziest thing involving her character.

The thing is, despite being a USA-Mexico co-production, Amityville II ends up feeling awfully Italian: besides the producer, production designer Pier Luigi Basile and cinematographer Franco Di Giacomo came from that industry, as did director Damiano Damiani. And as my long-time readers know, Italian genre films are a remarkable thing unto themselves. They're concerned with affect and style far more than with character interiority and plot; they take untold buckets of sleaze as their natural birthright. And these things are all true of Amityville II, a film that legitimately doesn't seem to notice how off-putting and weird it is to have Sonny, by this point suffering mightily from the effects of the house, demand that Patricia strip for him, and to have her acquiesce as though this isn't particularly out of the ordinary. Instead, the focus is on creating an intense sense of loopy weirdness; there are those who consider The Amityville Horror to be unreasonably slow in building up to the haunting, and for those people, Amityville II must seem a godsend. It starts fast, and it never lets up, using acrobatic camera moves and non-stop special effects to impress upon us the horror of the house, and damned by any sense to any of it.

In truth, I rather admire the film's breakneck attitude, if never its effectiveness. The haunting effects are cheap as hell, all but daring us to notice the fishing line holding up floating paintbrushes and all the rest, and any possibility that anything might be scary is generally undone by the cast's enthusiastic overplaying. Particularly Alda, who responds to even the slightest hint of the uncanny with a big goofy screaming fit, like she'd just been hit with a cattle prod. It's frankly very trashy, with even its most elegant touches (there are some excellent camera moves and a few instances of bold colored lighting) getting swamped by the chintziness of the production. But it's trashy in a way that's kind of magnetic in its tasteless awfulness - the true mark of a De Laurentiis presentation - and if it weren't for the constant awareness that this is all senselessly exploiting the actual massacre of an actual family, I think I'd slightly love it. It's an attempt to do a stately haunted house movie for a slasher film audience, and it goes wrong in the most colorful way.

Along the way, the protagonist steadily emerges as one Father Adamsky (James Olson), the worst priest on Long Island, who deliberately ignores an endless litany of giant warning signs, and is thus filled with a sense of guilt when Sonny kills everybody. And this sets us up for the abrupt and complete shift whereby Amityville II just flat-out becomes The Exorcist. Seriously, if it's possible to copyright make-up design, I have no idea why the producers of that film didn't sue this one into oblivion; there's not a single meaningful difference between the look of the possessed Sonny and the possessed Regan back in 1973.

Any lingering power the film was able to cling to goes away at this point - and there was some. The last day of the Montellis is actually handled quite delicately, with Damiani letting a slow head of gloom build up, and with Franklin pulling out a surprisingly potent aura of impotent desperation to showcase her character's growing sense of despair in the face of an obviously erratic brother and a dipshit priest who won't help. Once it becomes a pure exorcism movie, though, Amityville II turns into a complete cartoon, undone by Olson's banal, baby-faced performance, and helped along by a heaping serving of messy gore effects. It's quite terrible and quite stupid, with such things as a house exploding in a giant Michael Bay fireball - but remaining intact and unsinged! - and certainly none of this belies the impression that Amityville II is, first and foremost, an act of artistically vacant commercial exploitation, a grab bag of whatever the filmmakers thought they could sell.

As it turned out, they couldn't. Amityville II made a profit, but not a very big one, and it has an entirely toxic reputation. It earns that reputation - this is a genuinely bad movie, or at least an extremely dumb one - but it has such a dazzling flair for low-talent, no-taste showmanship that I can't help but find it charming. This is pure kitsch, a gaudy bauble that forces a harsh depiction of domestic abuse into a haunted house movie that secretly wants to be a low-rent Exorcist clone, and how the hell anybody thought they could get away with it is beyond me; but Jesus Christ, it's impossible to turn away from something this untrammeled and excessive, and it's not like The Amityville Horror had any dignity to insult in the first place.

Reviews in this series
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg, 1979)
Amityville II: The Possession (Damiani, 1982)
Amityville 3-D (Fleischer, 1983)
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (Stern, 1989)
The Amityville Curse (Berry, 1990)
Amityville 1992: It's About Time (Randel, 1992)
Amityville: A New Generation (Murlowski, 1993)
Amityville Dollhouse (White, 1996)
The Amityville Horror (Douglas, 2005)
The Amityville Haunting (Meed, 2011)
My Amityville Horror (Walter, 2012)
The Amityville Asylum (Jones, 2013)
The Amityville Playhouse (Walker, 2015)
Amityville: Vanishing Point (Greenberg, 2016)
The Amityville Terror (Angelo, 2016)
Amityville: No Escape (Couto, 2016)
Amityville Exorcism (Polonia, 2017)
Amityville: The Awakening (Khalfoun, 2017)

Not reviewed at this time
Amityville Death House (Polonia, 2015)
The Amityville Legacy (Ferguson and Johnson, 2016)
Amityville: Evil Never Dies (Ferguson, 2017)

*Which is to say, of course, that it's a repulsive fucking lie.