“They’d be better off if you killed them.”
It seems strange to admit that I am obsessed with a particular crime, especially one so senseless and brutal. I realize now that I am not alone in this. Since podcasts became a thing in the early 2000s it seems like the main thing anyone listens to is true crime related. (#AdnanDidIt) The stories are compelling with twists and turns and I’ve spent countless hours in the car listening to stories of murder and mayhem. Give S-Town a listen if you have time. It’s a real gem and I really did not see the turn coming.
I can’t recall when I first discovered there was a second Amityville movie. I recall I had read all the available books on the subject by that time and assumed, as most folks did, that this film was based on the John G. Jones novel The Amityville Horror Part II. I liked that book so much that I did a book report on it for one of my high school literature classes. My teacher was not amused.
The film has nothing to do with the Lutz family of course. George Lutz actually sued the director over the issue and lost, which led to a disclaimer being added to the poster to clarify the matter. Amityville 2 instead focuses on the murder of the DeFeo family that set this entire 45+ year saga in motion. This approach actually makes good sense. It gives them a chance to explain the origins of this evil and what it wants. It is based on the novel Murder in Amityville by Hanz Holzer (which I reviewed a while back). The book plays a bit loose with the facts but is overall a pretty good read. The film adaptations plays loose and then unravels the narrative completely, but is it any good? This gets spoilery and gross so consider yourself warned.
I mentioned in my review of the first film that the score by Lalo Schifrin is easily the best part, and I was thrilled to see his name on the credits for Amityville 2. The casting is great too. Jack Magner may not look anything like Ronnie but he does a great job with the sometimes clunky script. Burt Young played the abusive New York father convincingly and Rutanya Alda is always a joy to watch, although I did find her portrayal of Delores a bit hysterical. She seems on the verge of a complete breakdown from the moment she realizes all the windows are nailed shut.
If you know anything about the facts or the book then its not a big secret that Sonny is the one the demon lurking in the basement chooses to take control of. The script makes the eldest Montelli child out to be a generally good kid who likes his solitude (I feel you Sonny) and is sick of his abusive father. In reality Ronnie DeFeo was on drugs, known to be violent and obsessed with money. I suppose the narrative of “clean cut all-American boy murders family” is a more compelling story arc than “violent drug user murders family” but I’m a sucker for historical accuracy and would have preferred the latter.
The possession of Sonny is the strangest possession scene I’ve seen on film. Much like the first movie you don’t see much of anything. The scariest thing that happens in the first thirty minutes of the movie is the moving guy finding a very concerning water leak situation in a hidden part of the basement that I guess was supposed to represent the Red Room. This is where the demon lives and we know that because we get first-person camera views of it roaming the house redecorating in the middle of the night. I’d scream about some of that decor as well.
When the demon makes his move on Sonny the director Damiano Damiani (say that six times fast) chose to portray it from the demon’s point of view. While the family is out apologizing to Father Adamsky for a house blessing gone bad Sonny is molested by the thing in the basement. And the first thing the demon has Sonny do is rape his teenage sister.
Honestly I don’t remember how this scene made me feel when I was a teenager myself. I’m sure I thought it was gross but watching as a 51 year-old adult the whole thing just made me sick to my stomach. And I can’t even say that it helped sell Sonny as a man possessed trying to “hurt God” as Trish says when she tries to confess this sin to the priest. It was just creepy, and I really didn’t understand why Trish would have removed her nightgown to begin with. This entire subplot really hurt my enjoyment of this movie this time around, and it used to be high on my list.
After the gross sister stuff things go south pretty fast and one hour on the nose into the movie Sonny has picked up his Dad’s rifle and is systematically eliminating his family. He stalks each of them around the house, barely aware of what he’s doing. The reveal of Sonny looming behind little Mark as he hides in the dining room is one of my favorite shots in all of cinema. It still sends chills up my spine.
The second half of the movie is spent following Father Adamsky as he tries to prove Sonny is possessed. We see church elders in limousines scoffing at the idea of the Devil while at the same time telling everyone they should believe. Its a common theme in demonic possession movies that has always bothered me. Which is it Father Crankpants? In the end the good Father succeeds but not without an enormous personal cost.
According to the wonderful Wikipedia the director’s cut of this movie was far more violent and upsetting, and test audiences really did not like it. There were several deleted and shortened scenes by the time it reached theaters which probably explains the choppy editing. This is one case where I can honestly say I really have no interest in what got left on the cutting room floor. And the music, while great, was almost too similar to the score for the first film.
I can’t sign off without addressing the house. This one was shot using the same Tom’s River, New Jersey residence (18 Brooks Road if you are in the area and want to drive by) used in the first film and they changed very little. You can no longer see the original roofline through the eye windows and the dormers seem a bit off to me. The interiors were shot in Mexico this time instead of the MGM backlot and it looks like what it is…a house built in a warehouse. The rooms are too big and the hallways are so large that its laughable. There’s a shot of Father Adamsky in Sonny’s third floor bedroom where the ceiling is so far away it looks like he’s in a barn.
I didn’t enjoy this movie this time around nearly as much as I used to. I blame my age partly for that, but its just not a great film. The script explains very little, and what they do try to tell you about the history of the land amounted nothing more than “a witch built a house on sacred Indian land and the Indians are pissed.” So the demon that inhabits the cavernous and moist Red Room is really just a pissed off Indian? That’s certainly the conclusion Hanz Holzer comes to in his book, but when the demon sheds Sonny’s skin like a bad suit it doesn’t look like any Indian Chief I’ve ever seen. And who were the lost souls roaming around in the Red Room? More mad Indians? The ghosts of the Chief’s victims? All we really know is that the Devil likes to open and close windows a lot and when he gets really pissed he will throw a dresser at your and make the walls bleed. Seems like a fun guy.
In the end the house sits empty again waiting for its next victim. With 40+ films in this series why has no one made The Amityville Realtor? Someone at Amityville Realty is making a killing on commissions selling this one house over and over again. Perhaps a divorced tabloid writer will come along looking to make trouble. Perhaps….