“Why didn’t you pull the trigger? Why didn’t you shoot that pig?”
“Amityville II: The Possession”, 1982 (Burt Young), Orion
This is about as real as a family gets. What would’ve ordinarily been a shocking expose’ about the tensions bubbling under the roof of a seemingly normal domestic unit instead masquerades as not only a horror movie, but an Amityville movie. It’s almost as if the supernatural fantasy is secondary to the suburban melodrama.
Burt Young is an old school Italian patriarch, the “family man” who rules his house with a belt and a shotgun. Right after the opening titles, when the family has purchased their dream house, a gorgeous Dutch Colonial on Ocean Avenue in the idyllic Amityville section of Long Island, Burt threatens to beat his oldest, Sonny (Jack Manger) for driving too fast. The youngest kids (portrayed by real-life siblings Erika and Brent Katz) play asphyxiation games with plastic bags. Perhaps that’s why this family stuff works. Because it’s real!
They have a boathouse and lake rights! Honestly, if it were me, and I knew about the history of the house, I wouldn’t care. Saving money on an enormous piece of property where some murders occurred? I couldn’t care less. Remember the old Eddie Murphy gag about what would happen if a black family moved into the house? “GET OUT!” “Too bad we can’t stay, Baby!”
Young plays a frustrated middle-class working man with violent impulses. The violence doesn’t stop at his first-born Sonny. It extends to his wife, Dolores (Rutanya Alda). Alda states in a 2013 interview with “Shattered Hopes” director Ryan Katzenbach that there was a rape scene between Young and Alda (omitted before release). The scene has been reduced to a couple of hushed lines between Sonny and his sister, Patricia (the beautiful Diane Franklin), in which she voices her suspicions about their relationship.
Sonny and Patricia are another matter. They’re … close. They’re very close. A lot of people may have forgotten chunks of the narrative of “Amityville II: The Possession”. They might have forgotten the dialogue and the set-up and the final act, but one item that always comes to mind when people remember this movie is the incest subplot. I have to wonder if Sonny’s ultimate demonic possession is the cause of the incest, because as I said earlier, Sonny and Patricia already have an unusual chemistry and attraction for one another.
The family (minus Sonny) go out one night, leaving him alone in the house, which makes for some surprisingly skillful camera acrobatics. Sonny is lifted, thrown, and suspended in mid-air by some unseen force, while undergoing some radical facial transformations. It could be that the ensuing demonic possession simply lifted some moral barriers in Sonny, causing him to behave closer to his Id. He presses a shotgun against his father’s head when he gets violent with Dolores. Later, a backwards message on his tape player admonishes him to “kill the pig”. That’s strange. Usually the backwards messages on my tape player rant about the evils of streaming audio content. But that’s fine.
Later, Sonny puts the moves on his sister, and Patricia is so shaken by it, she can’t bring herself to confess. Later that night, Sonny goes full-on Jack Torrance and kills everybody. After his arrest, the family’s priest (Andrew Prine) becomes convinced Sonny is possessed by the Devil, which leads to an abbreviated court case. Father Tom visits the house and attempts to exorcise the demon.
33 years on, “Amityville II: The Possession” still stands as the best Amityville title in the canon (13 titles including the 2005 reboot and counting). The movie is everything a horror movie should be. It’s engrossing; a meditating, brooding powder-keg – chilly, you get the shivers watching it, but there is a point to be made in the violence. We see the stories all the time in newspapers and on television about domestic violence and family massacres. It’s just an unfortunate part of reality in this world. Many of us give in to our violent impulses without the need for demonic intervention, and Tommy Lee Wallace’s (“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, “It”) script is low on the idea of hope that this family will pull together, because really, the demon would not have to possess anybody since they all seem destined for body bags anyway.
Up next, “Nightmares” from 1983.
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.
For an amusing review of this movie and the movies that preceded and followed it, I urge you to check out Phu Yuck: A Discussion of Film with Mark Jeacoma and Christopher Hasler at: Phu Yuck.