The prequel (or is it a sequel?) to the original Amityville Horror.
For the first half of its running time, Amityville II: The Possession provides an unexpectedly amusing viewing experience. I don't think that was the intention, but director Damiano Damiani's execution of the material, and his cast's performance of it, makes it borderline hilarious to me. That's not very appropriate for something inspired by a real life tragedy, but that's how the movie turned out.
Written by Tommy Lee Wallace, who wrote and directed Halloween III: Season of the Witch this same year (1982), The Possession is loosely based on the novel Murder in Amityville by Hans Holzer and the events that preceded George and Kathy Lutz's The Amityville Horror haunted house claims - the murder of the DeFeo family in that Amityville house by the eldest DeFeo son. Although marketed as a prequel to The Amityville Horror, I can't really detect anything in the film that indicates these things are happening before the Lutzes moved in to the house. Maybe I'm overlooking something, but when the family in this film, the Montellis, move in to the house, they find that the windows have been nailed shut. That's something the George Lutz character did in the previous movie. If this is a prequel, are you telling me that a resident two owners prior to the Lutzes did the same thing George did? Not to mention that the kid who killed his family there was supposed to look just like George Lutz, and Jack Magner's Sonny Montelli sure doesn't resemble James Brolin. He doesn't even grow a beard.
At any rate, given the source material we know exactly where this story is heading from the moment it starts. Supernatural forces within the Amityville house are going to drive Sonny Montelli to pick up a gun and massacre his family. Damiani must have counted on the audience having that knowledge, because he doesn't even show the slightest bit of interest in doing any kind of a slow build, which is where the humor starts to come in. The ghostly activity in this film is completely over-the-top, made even more so by the movements of the camera. By the end of the Montellis' first night in the house, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that this place is haunted, the spirits are so obvious about their presence.
Family patriarch Anthony Montelli is not convinced, however. He blames the strangeness on his family, giving him a reason to dole out beatings with his hands and belt. Here we have Burt Young being a total douchebag, and the guy is just a hoot to watch, much like he was as the questionable Paulie in the Rocky movies. The dysfunctional family scenes are just as over-the-top as the paranormal moments, with the actors going far into melodrama. Never before have scenes of abuse and a son pulling a gun on his father - as Sonny does to Anthony just 21 minutes into the movie - come off as being so funny. This should be disturbing, but instead it's a campfest.
The oddball quality of The Possession continues when Sonny seduces his teenage sister Patricia (Diane Franklin) simply by complimenting her beauty and playing "photographer" with her. He says "Take off your nightgown" and she does so without hesitation, posing for him in the full nude. Patricia gives in and goes all the way with her brother, even though she knows he's doing it just "to hurt God." This is one weird movie.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere of absurdity dissipates in the second half of the film. Things become substantially more subdued and it becomes clear that Damiani really did intend for this to be a serious, scary horror film.
Priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) takes it upon himself to make things right and rid the house of evil, setting the film on track for a climactic exorcism, one of the most overdone scenarios in the horror genre. After Adamsky takes over as the lead character, The Possession becomes, for long stretches, an exercise in tedium.
Amityville II is a mixed bag that I'm left feeling somewhat ambivalent about. I find the first half to be quite entertaining, even if that entertainment comes from what might be a certain degree of ineptitude. The second half, though, is a real snooze to sit through. If I had turned the movie off after what happens around the 66 minute mark rather than enduring its entire 104 minute run, I would probably have a more positive view of it than I ultimately do. That would give it a bummer ending, but when you start watching this movie a bummer ending is what you're expecting to get anyway. Those last 38 minutes just don't do anything for me.