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7. Amityville 3D (1983)
Horror franchises typically endure a steady set of diminishing returns before finally descending into pure trash, but, as has been well-documented, this is no ordinary franchise. It’s hardly surprising, then, that it practically fell off a fucking cliff three movies in. Coming down from the delirious, scuzzy heights of Amityville II, this sequel seemingly arrived with a mandate to clean up the franchise’s act (“no more weird incest shit” was likely at the top of the list). With this scrubbing comes a feeling complete anonymity: it’s not that Amityville 3 is abjectly terrible so much as it’s a complete non-entity. Having seen it several times, I still find myself often struggle to remember anything about it outside of its noteworthy cast. Where you can at least peg some of the 90s sequels as “the one with the lamp” or what have you, this one’s “the one with Meg Ryan and Aunt Becky from Full House.” Not the worst thing to be remembered by (I mean, have you seen some of the other movies on this list?), but it’s a total snooze all the same.
After the Amityville property lay fallow for nearly a decade, Platinum Dunes looked to revive it as their second remake project. Believe it or not, it was a pretty solid proposition at the time: coming off of the terrific Texas Chainsaw remake, Platinum Dunes hadn’t yet become synonymous with so much disappointment. Their Amityville take was the first step in that direction, however; while it’s not as offensively terrible as their worst offering, it can’t shake the stench of rushed mediocrity that plagues so many of their productions. It seems like nearly all of their films (read: the ones besides TCM and Friday the 13th) are engineered to be watched once and then completely forgotten—hence why I never even bothered to revisit The Amityville Horror for ten years.
Where some remakes from this era have improved with my willingness to give them more of a chance than my twentysomething counterpart ever would, this one is more or less what I remembered: slick, breezy, and mostly forgettable. It’s arguably the best made Amityville film and it appreciably deviates from the original with its own tangents regarding the house’s sordid history, but it hardly amounts to anything. There’s no sense of actual dread or escalation—hell, the house is showing signs of being haunted while the realtor is showing it off to the Lutzes (here played by the astoundingly attractive couple that is Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George).
Like so many remakes, The Amityville Horror is content to mostly go through the motions; despite its deviations and (few) embellishments, you can practically hear the filmmakers muttering under their breath—“you already know how this story goes, so let’s get this shit over already, shall we?” Such an approach wouldn’t be altogether worthless if the film at least provided some gonzo flourishes; instead, it’s a relatively tame, safe take, which is why I’ll side with many of the infamous 90s efforts. At least it felt like just about anything could happen in those.
To that end, it’s hard not to chuckle at Amityville Dollhouse, which finds long-time producer Steve White finally assuming the director’s chair himself. And wouldn’t you know it—after the relatively tame and dull New Generation, this sequel resorts to the kind of batshit stuff this series obviously needs. Tick off the boxes: a ludicrous premise (what, did someone own a dollhouse replica of the Amityville House while, uh, living in the Amityville House?), half-baked domestic drama (this one pits blended family against each other, so it’s like The Brady Bunch Goes to Hell), incestual innuendo (this time with a step-mother and her son), and a zombie dad lurking in a frightened kid’s closet. Wait, what?
Needless to say, when it comes to delivering insanity, Amityville Dollhouse fucking brings it. Despite a low-body count, there’s a sense that just about anything can happen. I mean, when you have a dollhouse that’s capable of transforming pet rats into giant, mutated versions of themselves, all bets are off. With the exception of a badass, motorcycle-riding, occult-studying husband-aunt duo, everyone here absolutely sucks—each kid either whiny or a complete douchebag with awful hair and even worse fashion sense (the middle child—the nerdy son with a pet rat—is guilty of all three). The parents are ineffectual, milquetoast suburbanites who are so awfully boring that you start to root for the zombie dad—who winds up being a half-assed Freddy Krueger wannabe—to talk the younger son into slaughtering them after all.
In all seriousness (well, in as much seriousness as I can spare for Amityville 8), Dollhouse boasts some pretty terrific effects, including a gnarly burn make-up. Other highlights include the zombie’s rotting corpse and a legion of demons that inexplicably appears when the film suddenly turns into a Poltergeist movie. Considering these movies barely have any real connection to Amityville, that’s just as well.
Guilty pleasures are bullshit, but the sixth Amityville film comes close enough to qualifying as one. Sure, there are “better” films in the series, but It’s About Time is wonderful, trashy crap. Like The Evil Escapes and The Possession, it recognizes the lurid, junky potential of the Amityville mythos and jumps headlong right into it. This time, a clock from the old Amityville house—and whose roots stretch back centuries, having apparently even passed through the hands of Nazis at some point—torments yet another family.
This isn’t your usual family unit, though; in what may be the most awkward situation imaginable, a widower (Stephen Macht) is still chummy with an ex-girlfriend (Andrea Livingston), so much so that she still watches his kids when he’s out of town. When he’s attacked by a vicious neighborhood dog (presumably possessed by the evil clock), the ex practically moves in to care for him—which doesn’t stop her from inviting her new douchebag college professor boyfriend (Jonathan Penner) over and causing a ton of awkward exchanges. Honestly, I could probably just watch Macht and Penner go at it without any supernatural flourishes, but the gonzo accents certainly enliven the proceedings.
But more than that, It’s About Time really knows that the best Amityville efforts are as perverse as possible, so this entry obliges with a reprisal of The Possession’s incestual overtures between a brother and sister. It also cooks up a convoluted mythology that mines everything from Marquis de Sade to Nazis, right down to exploiting SS insignia. What does it say about this series that it has to resort to this kind of shit to be anything approaching watchable? I don’t know, but I am pretty sure I wish more of them were willing to be this nuts.
The other 1989 offering from this ridiculously resilient series alongside Curse (and easily the superior of the two), Amityville 4 has the distinction of charting the franchise’s course into the 90s. With the DeFeo/Lutz residence having been blown up in each of the previous entries (let that continuity paradox sink in for a minute), the only recourse was to start scavenging 112 Ocean Avenue for various trinkets, and, apparently, the first thing that came to mind was a lamp. Yes, this is “the one with the lamp,” but despite all the infamy that entails, The Evil Escapes yields its fair share of surprises: for one, this made-for-television offering coaxed Sandor Stern back to direct about a decade after he scripted the original film (and only a year removed from his helming of the incredible Pin).
But the bigger surprise? The Evil Escapes actually lands in the upper echelon of the franchise, if only due to its willingness to be relentlessly entertaining. Transplanted from the dreary confines of Long Island to a quiet, seaside California hamlet, the franchise plunges headlong into ludicrous schlock. Familial drama still provides a rumbling tension (even if Jane Wyatt and on-screen mother Patty Duke claw at each other with soap opera-level hysterics), but it’s the assortment of unhinged supernatural shenanigans that truly delight. Haywire chainsaws, toasters, pipes, and garbage disposals claim a variety of expendable visitors and guests alike; everyone from a pet bird to a plumber are on the chopping block as Amityville goes full splatter movie—on prime time TV, no less. A riotously amusing entry—and technically the last “official” one until the remake—The Evil Escapes does not lack for insanity, what with its smelted corpses and lamplight séances.
Looking back on The Amityville Horror, it’s a wonder the actual film caught on as well as it did. Sure, it’s a sturdily helmed production with two steady performances from James Brolin and Margot Kidder, a few creepy moments (one of them—the bit with the priest and the flies—is basically iconic), and a killer Lalo Schifrin score, but I often wish the final product lived up to the legacy. As a film, it truly feels like an adaptation of a non-fiction book, one that has very little of a through-line: this scene happens, and then another one happens, until the film just kind of peters out during the climax.
And yet, the film endures as a popular and instantly recognizable effort from this era. While it actually arrived at the tail-end of America’s haunted house movie craze in the 70s, it codified so much of that genre’s formula, particularly when it comes to possession-style hauntings. You can’t watch a haunted house movie where a protagonist is slowly consumed by madness without thinking about Amityville, if only because this film represented a perfect storm: not only did it exploit the decade’s fascination with haunted houses, but it also exploited the most infamous case imaginable. It’s no wonder that it inspired a legacy that persists to this day: just the mere whisper of the word “Amityville” is enough to intrigue folks. Hell, look no further than most of the movies on this list for evidence.
Conventional wisdom holds that most franchises follow a standard, recognizable path that begins with a generally accepted truth: the first entry is almost always the best. Obviously, there are exceptions, and, holy shit, the entire Amityville franchise is one big exception, so it follows that it wouldn’t fall in line. This is a series that peaked with its second entry, after which it swiftly descended into chaotic junk. It’s no wonder, either, since The Possession immediately put it on the path of becoming a total trash odyssey. In true Amityville fashion, producer Dino de Laurentiis couldn’t be bothered with doing the most logical thing and adapting The Amityville Horror Part II (the second entry in the Lutz family saga); instead, he turned to another book altogether in Murder in Amityville, an account focusing on the DeFeo murders. (It also introduced the local lore of John Ketchum into the mythology, a thread later films would take up.)
The Possession, then, is something of a prequel, though it abandons all pretense of accuracy: not only are the names changed, but the events have been rewired for maximum scum and sleaze. Most infamously, it sees Ronald DeFeo stand-in Sonny Montelli (Jack Manger) start a relationship with his sister (Diane Franklin), much to the horror their parents. Somehow, it was decided that this angle would make this film feel truly fucked-up—never mind the fact that Sonny eventually winds up shooting his entire family to death. It’s a lurid, trashy attempt, and it’s oh so Italian horror, but I love every grimy minute of it. Buoyed by a virtuoso asshole performance from Burt Young, Amityville II is a mean, ugly follow-up that sees an American horror staple dragged through the Euro-horror exploitation mud. It was a sign of things to come—when just about everyone would get their hands on Amityville—and yet it’s also never been bested despite so many (read: too many) tries. You’re up, Amityville: Awakening. I'd wish you luck, but it shouldn't take too much effort to land among the better films in this series. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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