On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo brutally murdered his whole family with a shotgun. His parents, his two younger sisters, and two younger brothers. He pulled the “Something happened to my family!” card at a local bar, but the police found out he did it. There have been a lot of murders like these, and in most cases, they aren’t mentioned much outside of true crime podcasts; however, DeFeo lived in the town of Amityville in Long Island, New York, and the people that bought his home a year later, the Lutz family, couldn’t afford it. They met with Ronald’s lawyer at a pub. He had just procured a book deal, and he wanted the Lutz to give him something juicy that could also help in Ronald’s defense. The result was a story of a haunted house, The Amityville Horror.
The lawyer ended up never going the “the devil made me do it” route, they went with the insanity defense. Ronald was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. He went to jail in November 1974, and never left it. He died in prison on March 12, 2021. The story wasn’t successful for him, but the legend of his house that drove him to murder entered pop culture, first with a book and then the film version, The Amityville Horror (1979).
Amityville II: The Possession is also based on a book, Murder in Amityville. Both serve as prequels to the more famous book, and film. The producers of the film, however, elected to change the names of the characters (one has to be respectful to the victims of a brutal murder that happened less than a decade ago). So, in this film we have the Montelli family. Tony (portrayed by Burt Young from the Rocky films), his wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda) and their four kids: the children Mark and Janice, the teenage Patricia (Diane Franklin), and of course the ray of sunshine Sonny (Jack Magner).
The film begins, as films of haunted horror houses always do, when the Montelli family moves into the now famous house. They feel something is off. The mother notices that they are arguing more. Everybody is very tense, especially Sonny who has been feeling quite ill. Strange things start to occur, graffiti on the walls, the kitchen blows up. The father, Tony, doesn’t care none of what is causing these things, he blames the kid, and he has his belt to show them how it goes. Burt Young is really great in the part, and makes you count down the minutes to his death (based on what I read, Ronald DeFeo sr. wasn’t far off on how he is portrayed here, so no need to feel guilt).
The state of Sonny worsens. He begins to act in a creepier and creepier manner, which end into an incestuous relationship with his teenage sister. At time he looks deformed, possessed. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Catholic priest that his mother invited to bless the house—neither does Tony but for other reasons. That priest knows that there is something evil going on and goes to the church—the boy needs an exorcism, stat—but is denied. Sonny’s possession culminates, like everyone could guess, with the murder of his family, but that’s just in the end of act two.
Act three leaves any historical accuracy behind and goes full on The Exorcist (1973). Now it’s all about Father Frank Adamsky, who is riddled with guilt for not being able to save the family. He helps the lawyer in his possession defense and urges the prison warden to let him take Sonny to a church, where he can help him. Sonny’s appearance becomes more like Regan MacNeill’s and he even gets the “help me” on his body. The film makers weren’t afraid of copying things that had proven to work before. It does go farther with the gore and the effects are effective.
Amityville II: The Possession is obviously not based in reality, it’s a work of fiction thinly inspired by a tragedy, but I do quite enjoy it. The script by Tommy Lee Wallace is good, Italian director Damiano Damiani brings a bit of that 70s Italian horror vibe that works well here, and the actors are top notch. It’s a more schlocky version of the original film mixed with The Exorcist and I’m the type of guy that likes a film like that.