Did you know there were 10 Amityville films? Unfortunately we do.
Amityville Dollhouse (Steve White, USA, 1996)
Those of you who have been mourning the loss of the infamous house from 112 Ocean Avenue in the last few films will now have reason to rejoice as the house is back! Well, sort of, if you can call a replica dolls’ house a proper return. Still unable to feature the house proper, at least the replica is pretty good and those wedge-shaped windows still look creepy. But is a miniature house as good as the real thing?
Of course it isn’t. This story takes place around a newly married couple called Bill and Claire (Robin Thomas and Starr Adreeff) who, with their children from separate marriages, move into a newly-built house that Bill designed. Bill discovers a doll’s house in the shed that is, unbeknown to him, a replica of the house in Amityville and cleans it up, giving to his young daughter Jessica on her birthday. The inevitable strange occurances begin, with Bill having nightmares, Claire lusting after Bill’s son Todd (Allen Cutler) and Claire’s son Jimmy being visited by the corpse of his dead father all for starters, but luckily Bill’s sister and her husband have a little bit of knowledge on the subject.
With echoes of An American Werewolf in London and the 1986 Steve Miner film House but without the comedy of either, Jimmy’s dad is probably the best thing about this film which, like the previous four films, is pretty much devoid of atmosphere and budget. To be fair, the film doesn’t quite have the made-for-TV feel of those films and doesn’t feel as cheap, even though it clearly is. The performances are pretty bland, the characters unlikeable (apart from Jimmy’s dad, even though you’re not supposed to like him) and the effects pretty poor so there’s not a lot going for it.
And if Bill built the house that they live in then how did the dolls’ house get there? This and other questions – like how did Bill manage to pull Claire in the first place? – crop up throughout the film and if the film was better then you might require an answer but as it’s so bland – well-intentioned but bland nevertheless – then you’ll probably not care and never watch the damn thing ever again.
The Amityville Horror (Andrew Douglas, USA, 2005)
With any interest in the Amityville franchise having whithered and died many films ago it took somebody with balls to put the name forward for a commercial venture during the early part of the 00′s. With remakes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead – two titles with more weight amongst genre fans and critics than Amityville – receiving fairly postitive reviews and both films being commercially successful, the next name to be plucked from the hat was The Amityville Horror. To be fair, there wasn’t that much of an outcry when the remake was announced; whereas …Chain Saw and Dawn… were seen as pretty untouchable in horror circles and turned out to be pretty decent films in their own right, there hadn’t been a definitive Amityville film made. Sure, between them the first two films covered the Lutz and DeFeo stories – the two stories that had a basis in real events – but they weren’t definitve; there was room to see the tale from another angle or tell it again but make use of modern film making techniques without diluting the story.
The story is exactly the same as the 1979 original – George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George) move into their dream house at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, and begin to experience strange goings on. What this film does is make the connection between the Lutz’s and the DeFeo’s stronger; in the original it was suggested that George Lutz looked like Ron DeFeo and he kept waking up at 3:15 every morning – the same time DeFeo committed the murders. In this film those connections are still played upon but also daughter Chelsea’s ‘invisible friend’ Jodie – a demonic pig-looking thing in the original – is the ghost of one of the murdered DeFeo children. Also expanded upon a bit more is the idea that the house was used by a preacher name John Katchem for the imprisonment and torture of Native American Indians.
But is it all any good? Is it enough to bring a bit of credibility back to a franchise that many people thought had died out in the early 80′s? Well yes it is. It isn’t without flaws but overall this is a decent supernatural thriller that luckily came out before audiences just rolled their eyes and tutted at the word ‘remake’. Melissa George puts in a solid performance as a slightly feistier Kathy Lutz and is more believable than Margot Kidder, and Ryan Reynolds actually gives a decent performance as the under-pressure George Lutz. Not as brooding or intense as James Brolin but he does enough to enable the audience to empathise with him.
Philip Baker Hall takes on the priest role as Father Callaway, who turns up to bless the house and promptly gets told to leave by the restless spirits, although his role isn’t as large as Rod Steiger’s in the original, and many of the key scenes are recreated faithfully with modern production values. But there are a few faults here, mainly in the use of the child ghost Jodie, which is an obvious attempt to emulate the J-horror imagery that was popular at the time and comes across as irritating and serves no purpose – especially the images of her being hanged when it was shown that she was shot in the head. There are a few jump scares scattered throughout the film that try to keep things edgy but most of these – bar one fantastic shock moment – are contrived and point towards a trend that many modern horrror films seem to love.
There are other nit-picky things but overall The Amityville Horror 2005 is an above average horror film that doesn’t take anything away from the original and in a way compliments it, offering up a fresh look at the Lutz’s story. The ties to the DeFeo case are overplayed – was the real George Lutz ever told he looked like Ron DeFeo? – but add a little creedance to the film; maybe a separate film detailing what happened to the DeFeo’s, without the sub-Exorcist rip-offs, would be an idea worth looking into. The performances are all fine and the house looks the same but with a few stylistic differences that don’t take away from the classic imagery, so overall this is a flawed but enjoyable film that offers up a bit more visual excitement than its source material.
The Amityville Haunting (Geoff Meed, USA, 2011)
So we’ve had the classic original, the solid follow-up, the difficult third film and several inept sequels leading up to the solid 2005 remake that was received fairly well; is that a green light to carry the franchise on or should it have stopped on the relative high note of the remake and left to die a dignified death? One watch of this film will give you a definitve answer to that question.
The film is based around the Benson family who move into their new home of 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville in June of 2008. Aware of the DeFeo murders that took place in the house in 1974, Douglas and Virginia Benson (Jason Williams and Amy Van Horne), plus their three children, begin to experience some odd goings on that result in the deaths of anybody who visits the house.
The main difference with this film is that it is all seen through the camcorder of Douglas and Virginia’s son Tyler, with added footage from an installed CCTV camera and mobile phone footage from a group of teenagers who break in to the house. What a great idea – watching the events unfold using night vision cameras. Why hasn’t anybody thought of… oh, wait… somebody did, didn’t they?
Joining the ranks of Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, Diary of the Dead, [REC] and, of course, Paranormal Activity, The Amityville Haunting has bad acting, too many quick edits, an atmosphere that would make Russ Abbott cry, lame script, unlikeable characters and an image of Ron DeFeo that looks nothing like the man, blowing apart any connections that the previous films established. Oh yes, Mr. DeFeo (the character, not the real man) appears as the main ghost, popping up and lunging for the camera a couple of times – scary, but not in the way the film makers wanted. But he isn’t the scariest thing in this film – that honour goes to Jason Williams as head of the family Douglas, who is, quite honestly, a bit of an arse. Totally loathesome and about as loving to his kids as the comedy granny in part 4 – but without the comedy bit – his descent into madness is about as believable as a haunted lamp being sold at a garage sale but not as funny. Like this film all over, he’s horrible and devoid of anything approaching humanity.
There’s lots more wrong this film but why would you want to know everything? Bad characters, stupid ‘ghosts’, a tagline that claims the ‘footage is real’ (no it isn’t) and that awful modern trend of ‘getting everything on camera’ are enough not to recommend this film. If Paranormal Activity is your thing then stick with that and don’t bother with this wretched mess, which is down the bottom end of the franchise with The Amityville Curse and Amityville: A New Generation.