When one gets neck-deep in the muck of persistently godawful cinema - as one must certainly have done as a prerequisite for ever supposing that watching The Amityville Terror, from 2016, is a good idea - little things start to seem really important. Like you need to grab onto something, if this is going to be a tolerable thing to deal with at all. So here's one of the things that made me decide, largely in the absence of actual evidence, that The Amityville Terror is worth a fragment of a shit: it has remarkable bravery in waltzing so very, very close to the verboten word "Horror", up there in its title. And it's kind of impressive how closely it arrives to the exact same plot as The Amityville Horror, in whichever incarnation you prefer, without ever mentioning any of the real-world history of the DeFeo and Lutz families of 112 Ocean Ave, Amityville, New York. Instead, it presents a kind of, I don't know, a kind of alternate universe version of the material.

Maybe that's it, actually. Maybe, the solution is to assume that The Amityville Terror takes place in some other place and reality - that would, at any rate, explain the one random thing that I decided to get unreasonably peevish about this time around, which is that this film presents the village of Amityville as a sleepy small town without much culture or excitement and hardly any newcomers, as opposed to a suburb of New York City. Maybe that's because this isn't that Amityville at all. Maybe it's Amityville, Fucking Iowa. That would also explain why nobody in the movie seems to be aware of the dark history of the place - good Iowans like these wouldn't ever want their town to become a national news story

Anyway, the story in this go-round is, like the title, basically The Amityville Horror with all the details changed enough so that it's not actionable. Something very bad happened a while back in a house in Amityville. The corker of an opening scene, with a horrible undead little boy and a pretty swell gore effect for this kind of low-budget affair - the best scene to have shown up in any film with "Amityville" in the title since the 1980s - may be the endgame of that bad thing, or it may be another family plagued by that first evil. It might be that Amanda Barton's screenplay (her first) has shabby exposition. But it also might be that I wasn't paying super-close attention. Look, you try watching 14 Amityvilles in three months. Or one lifetime.

Anyway, it's a house with the stench of death on it, which makes it a good deal for the family in urgent need of a house right now. Todd (Kaiwi Lyman) and Jessica (Kim Nielsen), and their teen daughter Hailey (Nicole Tompkins), have just left San Francisco for Amityville to be with Todd's sister Shae (Barton, whose acting rΓ©sumΓ© is much fuller her writing rΓ©sumΓ©, though I would not have guessed this based on her performance) in her time of emotional need. This will eventually pay off when things start going crazy, all the manifestations of an evil that once turned a boy into a horrifying murderer, in a crime whose details are nothing like the 1973 murders committed by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. It's that kind of thing - that sort of "the son killed his family" nugget that turns into a very different thing in this film - that makes The Amityville Terror at least mildly interesting. It's like a cover band working in a different genre than the one the song was written in.

Regardless, the film very quickly takes a swerve onto a side road, as Hailey lives the life of a disaffected teen with no friends, and a passion for motorbikes. For real. And apparently it's like, the big thing in Amityville, because it's enough to plunk her into a social circle that has only two people we need to care about: Brett (Trevor Stines), who is handsome and approachable, and Delilah (Tonya Kay), who is erratic and nasty. And a bunch of other people who have neither definition nor impact on the plot, but tough shit, because we're going to spend a lot of time with them, as The Amityville Terror sets down the haunted house genre and turns into a teen melodrama.

There's no two ways about it: the teen plot murders the film, not least because it needs at least slightly charismatic leads (the horror material only needs good screamers). The opening scene is legit great, and the closing act is at least boisterous, as the Thing in the house - with the help of some humans in town who have no interest at all in these new Californy interlopers putting down roots - finally manifests itself, with some decent jump scares and creepy-enough "rotting zombie demon" make-up. Director Michael Angelo can at least wring out some scares from a raving hell-creature as it cackles with blood streaming down its face; it's not, like, a good horror movie, but it's a functional object, and I've learned not to take that for granted with super-cheap horror.

But Angelo is no good at all with his teen actors, and the result is a grotesque chore to get through, as the film abandons anything even slightly related to horror or terror to be a truly wretched soap opera for a little while. Even at it's best, The Amityville Terror is certainly nothing special; it needs all the help it can get to keep its thready depiction of small town demonic conspiracies and generically haunted houses with easily-guessed secret pasts on the straight and narrow. It gets the exact opposite. The middle of The Amityville Terror is so lifeless and boring that it robs all of the meager life of the bookends, and ruins what could otherwise have been a moderately interesting variation on the original storyline.

Reviews in this series
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg, 1979)
Amityville II: The Possession (Damiani, 1982)
Amityville 3-D (Fleischer, 1983)
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (Stern, 1989)
The Amityville Curse (Berry, 1990)
Amityville 1992: It's About Time (Randel, 1992)
Amityville: A New Generation (Murlowski, 1993)
Amityville Dollhouse (White, 1996)
The Amityville Horror (Douglas, 2005)
The Amityville Haunting (Meed, 2011)
My Amityville Horror (Walter, 2012)
The Amityville Asylum (Jones, 2013)
The Amityville Playhouse (Walker, 2015)
Amityville: Vanishing Point (Greenberg, 2016)
The Amityville Terror (Angelo, 2016)
Amityville: No Escape (Couto, 2016)
Amityville Exorcism (Polonia, 2017)

Not reviewed at this time
Amityville Death House (Polonia, 2015)
The Amityville Legacy (Ferguson and Johnson, 2016)
Amityville: The Awakening (Khalfoun, 2017)
Amityville: Evil Never Dies (Ferguson, 2017)