The Amityville Curse wasn't the worst Amityville film at the time it came out (no haunted lamp, no sale). But it was undoubtedly the most boring, and isn't that really just as bad? At least Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes lets you gape at it with unreasoning bafflement that numerous intelligent people decided to make it. The Amityville Curse also lets you do that, but not in amazement at how stupid it all is, but how intensely uninspired.

The Amityville Curse is also the movie where we hit the point that we were always going to, though I didn't realise it came this early: it's the movie in the thing that, for want of better terminology, I'll still stubbornly call "the Amityville franchise" that emphatically feels like it doesn't want to be. It's definitely not the case, as is sometimes proposed, that we have here a film script that had nothing to do with the four preceding movies, but was drafted into their company as a result of that lovely "you can't trademark a place name" loophole. I think it's actually the other way around: the producers (Canadian producers, I am sad to say, for The Amityville Curse puts a pretty ugly dent in my whole theory that Canadians always make better horror movies than their southern neighbors) were able to get the rights to Hans Holzer's 1981 novel The Amityville Curse for cheap This was was Holzer's second book of Amityvillania; his 1979 Murder in Amityville - at least notionally a work of nonfiction - had served as the foundation forΒ  the film Amityville II: The Possession. And so the material had at least the patina of being quasi-semi-official. My suspicion is that, as writers Michael Krueger (also a producer), Doug Olson, & Norvell Rose wrestled with adapting the story (Krueger & Rose went on to write the actual screenplay), they naturally drifted away from Holzer's model, to the point that only a few tacked-on references necessarily justify the bought-and-paid-for Amityville connection at all. But since it was bought and paid for, they weren't about to let go of it.

And so we arrive at a haunted house in Amityville, New York - but not that haunted house. Instead, this house used to be the rectory of a church where a priest (Jan RubeΕ‘) was murdered twelve years ago, during the opening scene. Attentive readers and/or viewers will at this point be raising their hands to ask "then why is it not the church that's haunted?", and I am happy to provide the answer: because when the tragedy shut the church down, all of its furniture was moved into the rectory basement. The same readers and/or listeners are no doubt raising their hands again at this point with another question or several, but the movie has stopped paying attention.

But anyway, it's round about 1989, and the spooky old rectory has finally been sold, to a married couple named Marvin (David Stein) and Debbie (Dawna Wightman). They were in Amityville to look at a different house altogether, when Debbie had a strong premonition that they needed to take this side road, and by the time Marvin has finished running the numbers on refurbishing and selling the house, he's completely lost interest in pursuing his favorite hobby, berating Debbie for claiming to have flashes of psychic insight. He even talks the couple's dear friends, newlyweds Abigail (Cassandra Gava) & Frank (Kim Coates) and single Bill (Anthony Dean RubeΕ‘), to go in with him on a deal that will be to the benefit of all.

All, that is, except for the viewer, who has just unwittingly strapped in for an hour of watching five excruciatingly unlikable people remodel an insufficiently haunted house. The leading cast of The Amityville Curse is made of ghastly Noo Yawk yuppies: if the film had been made five years later, you'd assume without a second thought that they were somebody's terribly misguided attempt to do a horror film starring the cast of one of those post-Seinfeld NBC comedies about sarcastic Manhattanites. By all means, Marvin is our designated jerk, and easy to pick out of a line-up as such; a smarmy, smug, patronising psychologist who talks to his wife like an increasingly impatient teacher deals with the stupidest kid in school. But it is in only in his company that the other four figures seem to be anything other than soul-sucking boors; Abigail maybe has a touch more knowing spark than the rest, but the men are a pair of standard white collar twerps, distinguishable only because Kim Coates is by a staggering margin the most recognisable person in the film. Debbie is an impossible role, the character most affected by "you'll do this now because it's in the script" beats, and I guess Wightman could have been worse, given the limitations of the part...

But anyway, there's nothing pleasant about being stuck with this people, and while the film has more of a budget - or, at least, does better things with it - than Amityville 4, it doesn't bother to speed us up to any kind of paranormal encounter for eons and eons of screentime. Instead, we get to watch remodeling - no. "Watching remodeling" implies something more dynamic and interesting. Multiple television stations in the 2010s have turned "watching remodeling" into a self-sustaining business niche. This is watching remodellers, and there's not much of interest to it: Debbie says something psychic, Marvin says something nasty, Abigail, Frank, and Bill look around nervously. Twice, this staid existence is interrupted by Mrs. Moriarty (Helen Hughes), the housekeeper from the days when this was still a rectory; she is such a squawking phantasm of out-of-control weird and wacky comic relief that she herself talks about it, noting that she's not much liked in town. And she is, objectively an unholy terror, but at least she brings a waft of liveliness into the absolute dead-end nothingness that is the first hour of The Amityville Curse.

Now, eventually that hour ends, and the last third of the movie is, if hardly good, at least a hell of a lot better. Stuff starts happening, and even though it's paint-by-numbers haunted house stuff, it's a relief to have something that actually resembles a story. At long last, we start to get a real explanation for anything, rather than the cowsplat of innuendo that the film has been trying to keep alive, from nothing other than that opening scene. We get some stakes - instead of just curious things happening, the house finally starts to establish itself as a real danger, and it seems like there's actually an extrinsic force that will cause the characters more strife than the scintillating question of how big of a dick Marvin can become without actually providing anybody with reason to poke back at him.

The final 10 minutes or so are even, dare I say it, pretty okay. It takes transforming the movie into a slasher film, more or less; possibly the most annoying thing about The Amityville Curse is how easily it could be refit to have no paranormal aspects at all, just a human psycho barely keeping it together in the face of unpleasant (and suspiciously convenient) memories of Amityville. But there's little doubt that when it most visibly has a living human antagonist is also when it functions the best as a horror movie and as a narrative, and while the preceding 10 years had exhausted everything that could reasonably be done with a Final Girl sequence, The Amityville Curse is at least a sufficiently energetic variation of the form.

Let us not loose sight of something, though. This is a film for which "it ultimately develops a discernible conflict" and "by the 80-minute mark, the protagonist has narrative agency", and "it's as good as the mid-range of the most played-out subgenre in horror history" are the things I'm saying in praise of the movie. And they're all that the movie deserves. I admire the film's commitment to adult issues; "paranormal metaphors for the crushing reality of property debt" is an unconventional hook to center a movie franchise on, and The Amityville Curse brings that idea back in a big way. But that doesn't make it a good film, because it's no. This is a boring grind for 60 of its 91 minutes, and it's only a vanilla horror film at best for the remaining half-hour. It's only the knowledge that this franchise has unplumbed depths that leaves me with the generosity to let it sit a whole one star.

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)
Amityville: The Awakening (Khalfoun, 2017)

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