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Amityville II: The Possession

(Directed by Damiano Damiani)

This particular film was a direct cash-in on the popularity (and some would say notoriety) of “The Amityville Horror”, the “real-life” ghost story that was a box-office smash in 1979. Whilst there are a bewildering number of films with “Amityville” in the title (23 and counting!!), this was an attempt to (sort of) cover the genuine murders that took place at 112 Ocean Avenue before the Lutz family moved in. It’s actually based on the book “Murder in Amityville”, whereby a theory of possession is supplied by the author Hans Holzer to explain the reasoning for Ronald Defeo Jr. to kill his entire family. So the whole thing is actually a prequel to the events of the original film, but the screenplay (written by Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace) substitutes the fictional Montelli family for the DeFeo one. It’s a slightly odd decision as it distances any of the genuine events from those shown in the film, but given that the plot includes incest and demonic entities erupting from bodies… it’s probably a wise one. Damiani was the prolific and multi-talented Italian filmmaker brought in by the Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, and the project was actually a Mexican/American production. The cast included “Rocky” regular Burt Young, James Olson (“The Andromeda Strain”), and iconic US starlet Diane Franklin. The narrative depicts the influence that the “Devilish” house of Amityville has on young Sonny Montelli (Jack Magner), and the efforts of Father Adamsky (Olson) to perform an exorcism on him.

The Amityville franchise immediately went whack-a-doo-numb-nuts after this film, with later movies featuring a cursed clock (“Amityville: It’s About Time”) and suchlike. But whilst this movie still strays a fair way from the truth (Defeo Jr. was an unstable drug addict for a start), there’s enough realism and nastiness mixed together here to create a genuinely unsettling “possession” movie, which has more in common with “The Exorcist” than the first tale. The film itself was generally reviled by critics, although some noticeably preferred it to the original. But it is far superior and noticeably darker than pretty much every other entry in the franchise. For a start there is some surprisingly accomplished cinematography which actually manages to disturb on a gut level; the movie takes on the POV of the demonic presence several times as it travels from the fly-pit in the cellar, moaning as it passes a crucifix and flying around poor Sonny as it takes over his personality. It makes for some oddly scary “Evil Dead”-like zooms and pans, particularly as characters look directly into the camera. Although we’re inundated with possession-movies these days, the way in which Sonny is corrupted by a hellish presence is done pretty well with some decent make-up effects (one standout moment has his face literally change on one side only) and body transformations, which Magner sells really well. It does copy “The Exorcist” a little too closely at times, but there’s an unusually frank desire (allegedly driven by Damiani) to make this a more genuinely shocking affair for its time. So the uncomfortable incest element is added, and the murder of young innocents isn’t sugar-coated in any way. There’s a tremendously dark ending (“Do not forsake me!”), a glimpse of a white-skinned demon that would feature in further sequels, and the last appearance of Lalo Schifrin’s shivery “La-La-La” music theme. All in all, it’s very underrated and head-and-shoulders above the very silly sequels that would follow it.

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

(Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace)

If you subscribe to the Multiverse Theory, then in an alternate universe Michael Myers died permanently at the end of “Halloween II” (1981), and cinematic audiences are still being given a new “Halloween” film every year with a different standalone story…. At least that was the idea that lay behind this belated cult classic and one which creator John Carpenter stood behind. However “Halloween 3” underperformed, “The Shape” returned and the rest is history. Originally to have been directed by Joe Dante, and based on an original screenplay by the writer