A Bloody Good Time 04.05.12: Ranking The Amityville Horror Films
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
Last week I defended the horror genre from some common criticisms. Let’s see what you had to say in response.
Drew replied: I’ll defend horror the same way I defend Heavy Metal, in particuler the extreme kind: Art is a medium to express yourselves and others to share, that doesn’t mean it has to be positive. Books, Pictures, Video Games, Music, TV series and Films all are mean to let the dark side of people safely and let others share there feelings with it. That’s my defense at least, might be too artsie for some people.
Well said. Although there are some people who would say it’s not, in fact, art. But horror can be a macabre art of its own, at least if it’s well-made.
Ant-LOX said: Horror is a great genre. Todays horror films show too much gore, it’s very easy to imply violence and get the point across. The fact that a film can get people to toss and turn is a great indication of how effective the genre is.
You’ll get no argument from me. I wouldn’t be writing a horror column for five years (in October-ish) if I didn’t love it.
DW added: Kudos for the “I saw the devil” mention. Great flick. Also the one picture you have of the teens is from “Tucker and Dale vs Evil” which is a horror spoof.
Yeah, I know it’s a spoof. You don’t have to tell me what Tucker and Dale is, I championed it on this column long enough! But I thought it was a good representation of the common stereotypes, since it was spoofing those same conventions.
APrince66 said: When some people find out my passion for horror, more than a few have given me a look suggestions, “this guy aint quit right”. I have no intention of mimicking anything i see, nor do I get “aroused” by the violent images. Seeing real live violence, gore, blood, broken limbs, corpses, crime scene photo’s etc, sickens and disturbs me to the point I avoid it like the plague. When it comes to my horror, I like the mild, to the more gratuitous the better. Its all in good fun, as long as it pretend. It doesn’t make me a sicko IMO. I can separate the fake from the reality.
I’m paraphrasing here, but I was watching a documentary and someone on there (I don’t remember who, but I want to say Joe Dante or John Landis) said that horror allows people to get whatever dark thoughts they have out in a safe and reliable medium, and as a result, most horror fans are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. It’s the people that repress the dark side that you want to watch out for.
Speaking of dark sides, there is a house in Amityville, New York that may have a dark side. Depending on who you talk to, it was never haunted but we’re not getting into that. In fact, I’ve already talked about it when I covered the film series for the first time in 2009 (you can find that one here.)
This week is all about ranking all ten films in the series, just like I did for Friday the 13th and Puppet Master. The problem this time is that unlike those films, I don’t really have a soft spot for the Amityville horror films. I can admit that while a movie about killer puppets or the latest Jason entry is bad from a conventional standpoint, I get a lot of enjoyment out of them. Amityville films are a different kind of bad. Most of the series is quite painful to sit through and at the worst of times, they’re very boring. But unlike say, Children of the Corn, there are some that I do like. Not many, but there are a few.
So let’s rank some haunted house (and haunted objects from that house) movies.
#10: The Amityville Haunting (2011)
One of these days I need to do a full retrospective of The Asylum, because they deserve a good beatdown. Then again, it’s almost too easy to bash a company that puts out films just to make a quick buck off of big blockbusters that were just released. Which makes it confusing that they would release an Amityville movie six years after the last one, but I digress. In case you’re wondering why MGM had nothing to do with this, it’s because the actual Amityville house and town are public domain. It’s a real house and a real town. The copyright is attached to the Amityville Horror name, which is why we have Haunting in the title here.
What can I say? It’s a found footage Amityville film that, by the way, doesn’t actually show the outside of the house in any shot and doesn’t really mention the original case (by which I mean the Lutzes) at all. There are a few backhanded mentions but nothing substantial. It’s supposed to be a family that moves in during 2008 and deals with some malevolent spirit. The movie is boring, which is its biggest problem. The second is that not a single person can act very well, and all of them are annoying. There’s also zero scares and while most Asylum films feel cheap, this one feels like I could have shot it in a week with a camcorder. That may be slightly insulting, but I felt insulted when I was finished with this one. Tit for tat.
#9: Amityville Dollhouse (1996)
How do you keep the Amityville franchise going without involving the actual house? Well you could have the items of the house get sold off and have spirits connected to them. Or even worse, you could have a dollhouse modeled after 112 Ocean Avenue that somehow create evil forces out of nothing. Okay not nothing, as the fireplace seems to be a gateway to Hell, but what exactly does that have to do with the dollhouse? Nothing. Somewhere along the way I think this wasn’t original an Amityville film, but became one because it could make a few extra bucks.
So it’s Amityville in name only, which already kicks it off to a bad start. Another problem I have is why in the hell would demons use a dollhouse to channel their energy? For that matter, what makes this dollhouse so special that they can? Is it because it resembles a house where bad stuff happened once? Is that really it? While this movie is entertaining in it’s own way (that being it’s so bad it’s laughable), it’s the second worst in the franchise. You know a film is bad when the only way to dethrone it is for The Asylum to make a sequel.
#8: Amityville 3D (1983)
This would be the first actual sequel in the Amityville series, as Amityville II: The Possession was a prequel. A writer dedicated to exposing hoaxes moves into the titular house, and as you can imagine, Strange Things Happen (TM).
These things are really tame compared to what we know the house is capable of. Wind blows a lot, flies, pictures taken of the house catch on fire far away, random apparitions are seen. The movie is mostly boring and by the time it reaches it’s explosive finale. What I find funny is that even though the house blows up (I’m not spoiling anything, because this movie sucks and you shouldn’t watch it), it’s standing again in Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes. Don’t you just love continuity? This film’s also an oddity for having an early appearance from Meg Ryan and Lori Laughlin…so enjoy that. Oh and Tess Harper is the most annoying actress in the history of acting. Ever.
#7: The Amitytville Curse (1990)
This film isn’t the worst of the series from a technical standpoint, but it is the most boring. I’ve tried to watch this film three different times and only on the third was I able to finish it. Not because I had to turn it off, but because I fell asleep. That rarely happens with me. Some might say that’s enough to send it all the way to the bottom, but you’d have to consider just how bad the previous films are before doing that.
Here’s another problem I have. Is this spacious mansion that looks nothing like the Ocean Ave. house supposed to be the same one? I find that hard to believe. And if its not, why would they even add the Amityville name? Is the town haunted now? Maybe I’m putting too much thought into a generic haunted house movie, but if you can’t get your story straight sequel to sequel why even bother? This is the last of the really bad films in the series, but it’s not much better after.
#6: Amityville: A New Generation (1993)
This is the point in the rankings where the films aren’t so much bad as they are completely forgettable. With the fourth entry in the series, the films became about haunted objects taken from the property that hold some of the evil and cause problems for a brand new family. This was a way to keep the series going without having family after family stupid enough to move into the infamous house. It makes sense to continue the series that way if you absolutely have to, but there probably wasn’t a need for ten Amityville films, ever.
In this one, it’s a haunted mirror that comes from the house. The mirror contains the spirit of a man who lived in the original house and murdered his entire family…but that man is not Ronald DeFeo. It’s not even Sonny Montelli from Amityville 2. It’s just some guy who apparently lived there at some point. You could tell they were really reaching for plots to keep this series going at this point, and considering Amityville Dollhouse was next, they were definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel. But still, compared to the rest, it’s not too bad. Plus this one benefits from Terry O’Quinn, as most movies often do.
#5: Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
This one opens with priests trying to exorcise the evil, and then a real estate agency has a yard sale when they think the spirits are gone. A woman ends up with a demonic lamp and we’ve begun the next stage of Amityville films. I think the idea of a possessed lamp is laughable, but at least the film attempts to do something with it. The animals go nuts, and the lamp itself can hurt people who just knick their finger on it.
But at the end of the day, it’s a killer lamp. Horror’s had quite a few evil household items that always make for a good laugh, and this is one of them. The movie ends a lot later than it should have when the lamp is thrown out of a window. Why no one thought to do this when the trouble started, I have no idea.
#4: Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992)
This one I have a soft spot for. Not because it’s actually very good, but because I like the concept and it features one of the dumbest, most hilarious horror movie deaths of all time. Plus it had some good makeup effects and it was directed by the same guy who made Hellraiser II, Tony Randel (there’s another series I will rank soon). While the idea of a haunted clock may seem silly, the idea of a haunted clock that can mess with time is an idea for a cool horror movie. The only problem is that the film doesn’t really use the plot to its full potential.
The movie follows the typical Amityville trend of bizarre and dangerous things happening because of an evil object. It could have done more with the fact the clock can seemingly manipulate time and age people, but it relaly doesn’t. That makes this a disappointing waste of an interesting premise, one that isn’t explored often. There really aren’t enough horror films about time, which is a shame.
#3: The Amityville Horror (1979)
Yes, the original not only doesn’t rank #1, it doesn’t even rank #2. I can’t help it. While the film does have some good moments and is certainly in the top tier of this series, I don’t consider it to be very good. It’s merely average at best, and mediocre at worst. James Brolin in particular hams it up quite a bit (“Oh God it’s tearing me apart!”) and the film moves at a lethargic pace that really doesn’t accomplish anything when it should be building the story or characters.
But there are some creepy moments. The infamous “Get out” scene is very well done and one of my favorites in the franchise. I really enjoy Rod Stieger’s role as the priest. I love the score for the film and think it fits the story. But in a series full of missed opportunities, you have to point to the original film as one of those. I think another remake should happen soon just to see if someone can get a film that can truly capitalize on the story’s full potential.
#2: Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
I really don’t want to repeat myself when I just mentioned this a month ago, so I’m going to avoid that by…repeating myself.
I’ve talked about this before, because it’s one of the only films in the Amityville series that’s worth watching. Well, this and the remake. Anyway, this film is a combination of The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist, taking the best parts of each. It’s a prequel, set before the DeFeo murders (only here the family has a different name). The movie starts out with the family living a fairly normal life while one of them goes insane, and then becomes more about the exorcisms at the end.
What happens to the guy that becomes possessed? He gets really ugly and he has sex with his sister. He tries to seduce her and succeeds (that’s the amazing part…she’s not under the influence of ANYTHING). The seduction scene in general is very creepy. You know what else is creepy? Watching this guy kill his entire family with a shotgun, including the kids, and seeing their little bodies twitch after they’ve been shot. This movie easily gets under your skin and makes you feel dirty.
#1: The Amityville Horror (2005)
The remake is the best film in the series. There are those who hate it, there are those who hate everything Platinum Dunes does, but I really enjoyed this film. I think it’s the closest this series has come to making the original story translate to film. There are a few problems I do have. I hate the two male children, as neither one does a very good job (the little girl is fine, probably because she’s played by Chloe Moretz). I also didn’t care for changing the DeFeo story to suit the need to have a ghost girl. Jodie was not a member of the DeFeo family, in fact in the original story “Jodie” was a pig-like monster that they saw with red eyes.
But there’s a lot to like here. I think Ryan Reynolds does a great job as George Lutz. Does he have his moments of hamming it up, similar to James Brolin? You bet. It’s hard not to chew the scenery a little bit in a role like this. But I think he still holds his own with the material and this was the first film that proved he can handle more dramatic roles in my eyes. I also think there are some scary moments here and there, even if it does rely on jump scares way too often.
That’s it for me. What’s your favorite Amityville film? Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, with The Raven coming out this month, I’m going to look at the works of Edgar Allan Poe that have been adapted for film.
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