Twice a month Joe Lipsett will dissect a new Amityville Horror film to explore how the “franchise” has evolved in increasingly ludicrous directions. This is “The Amityville IP.”
My hunch about the higher production values for The Amityville Terror (2016) wound up being true, and whether it’s the slightly more polished look or a cast of professional actors, the sixteenth film in the “franchise” is easily the best in quite some time.
That’s grading on a scale since there are still some pretty glaring issues in the film, but, overall, director Michael Angelo has delivered a solidly entertaining DTV film with soft callbacks to other franchise entries.
After a cold open that’s revealed to be a bracketing storyline, Amanda Barton’s screenplay quickly establishes a familiar foundation: a troubled family moves into a suspiciously cheap house on Amity Lane and the bad energy eventually manifests in murderous behavior. Unlike the previous entry, The Amityville Terror doesn’t target the family patriarch; this time around it’s painter and recovering addict Shae Jacobson (Amanda Barton), the aunt of main character Hailey (Nicole Tompkins), who becomes possessed.
Hailey’s a pretty fun protagonist: she rides a motor bike, she casually shoots crossbows, and she refuses to take crap from the mean girls at school, headed by bitchy, possessive Theresa (Christy St. John). That includes putting the moves on Brett (Trevor Stines), the boy Theresa believes is her boyfriend, but who has the hots for Hailey.
Early in the film Hailey reveals that she and her parents, Todd (Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau) and Jessica (Kim Nielsen), moved from San Francisco to Amityville after the death of Todd and Shae’s mother. She bonds with Brett in part because they’ve both lost family: his mother died of cancer, while her younger brother died when she was young. These details help to flesh out the characters, though they also add to the film’s lack of focus.
Every character has at least one or two issues that tangentially connect to the main possession plot, but it’s all very shallow because there are so many characters and too many subplots. For example: Todd and Jessica are having intimacy issues in their relationship and he’s making eyes at fellow auto mechanic employee, Karen (Klaudia Kaye). Meanwhile, Todd’s boss Mike Arkos (Bobby Emprechtinger) reveals he used to date Shae, though the two characters never share any scenes or dialogue (so how important is that information?)
There’s also property manager Delilah McCallister (secret MVP Tonya Kay), who struts around the small town in leather outfits and a fashionable asymmetrical blonde ‘do. Kay makes no effort to disguise the character’s clear villainy, rendering her a campy delight, albeit with too little to do.
The most egregious example occurs nearly an hour into the film when Brett takes Hailey to meet a brand new character: teenage witch, Jenny Chan (Lai-Ling Bernstein). Jenny hesitantly agrees to perform a protective spell for Hailey, but she’s literally killed in her second scene a few minutes later, prompting the question: was this character really even necessary? The death is easily one of The Amityville Terror‘s best, but Barton’s screenplay has so little time for any of these characters that none of them have a chance to truly shine.
Therein lies the biggest issue with The Amityville Terror: it has a lot of intriguing ideas and characters, but no time to explore half of them. The reveal that most of the town are involved in a conspiracy to “feed” the haunted house a constant stream of tenant sacrifices is intriguing, but it’s too ill-defined and hastily executed to be a satisfying twist or even remotely threatening. In this way it’s similar to the reveal at the end of The Amityville Theater, which aimed for ominous threat and landed on confusing and poorly executed instead.
This is especially frustrating considering that The Amityville Terror is pretty watchable. Hailey is a fun, solid protagonist with weird quirks and the film has plenty of bizarre details and campy touches that make the viewing experience memorable. The set pieces, including Jess’ rose bush freak-out, the teen girl scuffle in the cemetery, and the Final Destination-style slow motion fire at Todd’s job, are all solid (albeit with some dodgy FX, but whatever).
Finally, the (rushed) climax features some surprisingly solid gore and cinematographer/editor Michael S. Ojeda does good work using shadow and color to establish the space and increase the tension. Throw in a some casual nudity and incest (a key Amityville ingredient!) and The Amityville Terror is easily the most watchable DTV entry since the “core franchise” run.
The Amityville IP Awards go to…
- Campiest Moment: When Mike confronts Delilah about the house, she’s having sex in the kitchen with a random dude. Delilah and Mike then proceed to have a FULL conversation while the sex continues and her breasts are exposed. It’s so casual, it’s kind of hilarious.
- Best Unintentionally Funny Visual: At one point, Hailey researches the house’s former inhabitants using the website www.nextofkin.com, which is captured in 48 size font on a lime green and orange landing page. It’s an egregiously ugly stand-in for a real search engine and it’s delightful.
- Best Dialogue: After dismissing her sex partner, Delilah ends her conversation with Mike by zipping up her dress and declaring: “It’s like Vegas, Mike: never bet against the house.” This character is amazing.
- Best Dialogue 2: After Mike is lit on fire in a workplace accident, a drunk Todd returns home to announce: “I killed Mike today” to which Jessica replies “Well, accidents happen.” This makes sense when it’s revealed that Shae is masquerading as Jess a few scenes later, but in the moment, it’s a hilarious exchange.
- Screenplay Gaffe: Perhaps it got lost in a rewrite, but Brett isn’t named until 48 minutes into the film, by which time he’s appeared on screen at least three times. Up until that point, Hailey is essentially forming a romantic bond with a boy who won’t introduce himself.
- Amityville Ties: An artist being perverted by the house harkens back to Suki in A New Generation, while the incest has the same inappropriate passion as Andrea’s lust for Rusty in Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (though in this case the aggressive kitchen sex is real and not a fantasy).
- Best Deaths: Most of the deaths occur offscreen, but two stand out. One is the reveal of what happened to Jess, whose body is found hollowed out in the bedroom after a weak The Shining homage. The other is cleverly staged: Hailey is thrown out of her bedroom and the door slams shut as Jenny’s scream and the sound of breaking glass is heard on the soundtrack. When Hailey rushes in, the camera pushes through the broken window and into thin air, then tilts down 90 degrees to show Jenny’s broken body on the fountain below. It’s smart, playful, and it looks great.
Next Time: We’re discussing the fifth and final Amityville film released in 2016: found footage film, Amityville: No Escape.