A prob­lem that some hor­ror fans, par­tic­u­lar­ly the younger ones, often have with the orig­i­nal film ver­sion of The Amityville Horror is that they con­sid­er it too slow and restrained. Neither one of those adjec­tives can be applied to Amityville II: The Possession. This “pre­quel” bypass­es any con­cerns of sub­tle­ty or taste, instead going for the throat in a way that reflects the effects-dri­ven style of ear­ly ‘80s hor­ror and throws in a dash of sleaze for extra excite­ment. The result is the most enter­tain­ing film in the orig­i­nal Amityville tril­o­gy.

Amityville II: The Possession is loose­ly based on Murder In Amityville, Hans Holzer’s chron­i­cle of the mass-mur­der that occured in the infa­mous Amityville house a year before the Lutzes moved in and his sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tion of its poten­tial para­nor­mal roots (short ver­sion: he though mur­der­er Ronald DeFeo was pos­sessed). The DeFeos are replaced with the “Montellis”: Anthony (Burt Young) is the abu­sive patri­arch of the clan, Dolores (Rutanya Alda) is the long-suf­fer­ing mom and there are four kids that include teens Patricia (Diane Franklin) and Sonny (Jack Magner).

The family’s nat­u­ral lev­el of dys­func­tion ris­es to new heights when the house begins impos­ing its will on them, caus­ing dis­tur­bances like falling mir­rors and blood com­ing out of faucets. It soon set­tles on Sonny, who chafes under his father’s iron rule, as a tar­get and pos­sess­es him. His only hope is Father Adamsky (James Olson), a priest who rec­og­nizes the demon­ic influ­ence affect­ing Sonny and is deter­mined to fight it.

In short, Amityville II: The Possession has no aspi­ra­tions to being the respectable, main­stream-crossover hor­ror film its pre­de­ces­sor was. Tommy Lee Wallace’s script piles on the hokum and the sleaze with aban­don: the Montellis are being assault­ed with prac­ti­cal-effects hor­rors with­in min­utes of arriv­ing at the house and turn­ing on each oth­er a few min­utes after that. The sto­ry­line isn’t afraid to dive into deeply unsa­vory ter­ri­to­ry — rape, incest and child abuse are just a few of the dis­turbing ele­ments at play — and when it runs out of real-life events to exploit, the last third becomes a sort of “Reader’s Digest con­densed ver­sion” of The Exorcist!

However, that free­dom from being “respectable” leads to a lot of choice exploita­tion-hor­ror enter­tain­ment here. Indeed, Amityville II: The Possession shapes up as an enter­tain­ing shock-show because it has the courage of its sleazy con­vic­tions. It ben­e­fits from intense, visu­al­ly inven­tive direc­tion by Italian film­mak­er Damiano Damiani. Damiani was pre­vi­ous­ly known for thought­ful, polit­i­cal-themed films like A Bullet For The General and Confessions Of A Police Captain but he goes for an approach here that sug­gests the influ­ence of Fulci and Argento.

For exam­ple, Damiani uses a prowl­ing Steadicam to great effect, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing a scene where Anthony goes on a belt-whip­ping ram­page after being awak­ened by ghost­ly mis­chief and a lengthy sequence where the demon stalks and pos­sess­es Sonny in a P.O.V. style. He wise­ly rec­og­nized the only place he could go with a sto­ry like this is over the top, so he uses Franco Di Giacomo’s slick lens­ing and Lalo Schifrin’s blood-and-thun­der musi­cal score to cre­ate a styl­ized atmos­phere that suits the film’s over­heat­ed sto­ry­line. It’s also inter­est­ing to note that this film was edit­ed by Sam O’Steen, whose steady hand guid­ed Rosemary’s Baby — and his punchy cut­ting plays a big role in the set­pieces here. 

Amityville II: The Possession fur­ther ben­e­fits from an ace cast of char­ac­ter actors: Young and Alda give suit­ably oper­at­ic per­for­mances as the par­ents and Olson acts a straight man to the story’s may­hem, bring­ing a vet­er­an actor’s grav­i­tas to a role that requires him to remain sto­ic in the mid­st of a bar­rage of the­atri­cal spe­cial effects. Familiar faces like Moses Gunn, Leonardo Cimino and Andrew Prine also lend cred­i­ble sup­port in bit roles.

However, the big scene steal­ers are Franklin and Magner. Franklin brings a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and charm to her per­for­mance that makes it dif­fi­cult to watch when the sto­ry requires for her to suf­fer while Magner gives a phys­i­cal­ly intense portrait of pos­ses­sion that lives up to the film’s larg­er than life style. It’s sur­pris­ing that Magner didn’t go on to a big­ger career in hor­ror films as his go-for-the-gus­to per­for­mance here is one of the film’s biggest assets.

In short, Amityville II: The Possession is an unde­ni­able exam­ple of hor­ror as exploita­tion, tak­ing the ele­ments of a ghoul­ish real-life tale and shame­less­ly pump­ing it up with extra shock the­atrics to appeal to the hor­ror crowd. It’s also styl­ish­ly made, much bet­ter act­ed than you’d expect and packed with enough cheap thrills for two movies. It does what it does very well and if you go for its tabloid-ter­ror approach to the gen­re, you’ll find the results hard to resist.