The second phase moved briefly to television, with 1989's Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, six years after the first phase ended, and while it lacks any legitimate connection to the first three productions, it does have a connection to the actual events in Amityville, New York, thanks the to presence of producer John G. Jones, George Lutz's chosen standard-bearer for the furtherance of the "official" Amityville books. Jones later joined up with Republic Pictures, which provides another line of continuity, leading to four films in the "Jones and/or Republic" phase, which was only briefly interrupted by 1990's The Amityville Curse. This film has no connection to any of the other seven films made between 1979 and 1996, though it was based on a book by Hans Holzer, who had also written the book that was the basis for Amityville II: The Possession, and I am content to say that this is enough of an authority to make The Amityville Curse fit within that second phase, more as a parenthetical than an actual entry, but we can at least split the difference between theatrical films set in The House At 112 Ocean Avenue, and non-theatrical films set elsewhere
The third phase, nine years after the second, consists of but a single film: 2005's remake of The Amityville Horror, released by the bedraggled husk of the once-venerable Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had acquired Orion Pictures eight years earlier. And most of us would, I think, have assumed that was the end of it: certainly after The Amityville Horror '05, the line of production continuity ceases (though if Amityville: The Awakening is able to swing a release prior to the heat death of the universe, it will sort of count: it was produced by Dimension Films, one of the co-producers of The Amityville Horror '05).
But this is merely, as of the summer of 2017, the halfway point. Here we enter the bizarre and wretched fourth phase of Amityville films, and the point at which calling it a "series" really does stop working on any level. There are no connectives between the films of this era, and indeed the lack of connectives is precisely the most germane throughline.
This fourth phase began in 2011, with The Amityville Haunting, our actual subject for the time being. But I promise, reading me blathering about the periodisation of a horror film brand that has produced, if we're being splendidly generous, three good films in nearly 40 years is a much more entertaining use of your time than reading my review of The Amityville Haunting, or God forbid, actually going out and watching The Amityville Haunting.
This newest epoch of Amityvillania could only have been a product of the late 2000s or early 2010s, for the very simple reason that it was kicked off by The Asylum, the iconically terrible production company and distributor whose entire identity and strategy circles around making the trashiest cheapo cash-ins that would dare to go straight-to-video or, if they're being all classy-like, straight to Syfy. It makes sense that such accomplished artisans of the legally non-actionable rip-off would be the ones to rediscover the loophole that De Laurentiis exploited 29 years earlier: namely, you can't trademark a real-world place name. So there was nothing that Amityville, NY could do but stand by and weep as a veritable tidal wave of microbudget filmmakers figured out that you could title a movie "The Amityville _____", where the blank is filled by literally any word in any language that isn't "Horror", and guarantee at least some eyes on your shitty little nothing of a production that would surely never manage to attract attention in the incredibly crowded field of DTV no-name indie horror. The eyes of online film critics with a self-destructive addiction to completionism at all costs, for example.
We'll have time to examine all of the different ways that this vicious little trick manifests itself - oh, how we'll have the time! - but for right now let's keep our sights strapped down to the bone. It's 2011, six years after the Amityville brand name meant anything to anybody, and The Asylum has just dropped the steaming load of The Amityville Haunting on the world. And now I'll tell you about the other reason that this revivification of the name is so necessarily mired in its historical moment: the early 2010s were a great time for unbelievably cheap horror films, because this was right at the moment that the found footage horror boom was in full swing, kicked into high speed by the 2009 wide release of Paranormal Activity. Just like that, any yahoo with a smart phone could whip up a story about people who uncovered some ancient evil that killed them all, and for some reason they filmed all of this, and their recording equipment managed to fall into the hands of a film distribution company rather than e.g. the police. Not every film necessarily leans that heavily into the "found footage" aspect (i'faith, I hate the term for that reason, and have long instead preferred to call the style "first-person camera". But "found footage" it was in the first flush of the things, and "found footage" it will always remain), but The Amityville Haunting certainly does: the solitary credit card in the movie suggests that director Geoff Meed and editor Cody Peck were merely the two workaday schmoes tasked with lightly streamlining the footage and adding date stamps. Shit, even the Amazon video listing insists with a straight face that this is actual documentary footage.
The appeal of this form, I have long been certain, is that it allows for almost completely untalented filmmakers to produce a film with heinously ugly handheld cinematography, all the action shunted off-screen, and hapless non-actors poking around in a suburban house the producer was able to get on weekends, and claim with no visibly shame that this is their "aesthetic". At the very least, that's everything that The Amityville Haunting has to offer: even by the exceedingly relaxed standards of found footage horror, this movie has some profoundly off-putting camera work, exacerbated by an annoying habit of letting demonic interference kill the video feed for several seconds so that we can hear the characters, but not see them.
On the other hand, if we are to be generous to the film - and I can think of no real reason to be, but I guess I'm just a swell fella like that - there's certainly room for the subgenre to be much, much worse than this. Less than a month after The Amityville Haunting had its video premiere, The Devil Inside was released to actual movie theaters, and compared to that ontologically malformed shit show, The Amityville Haunting looks like a consummate piece of art. At the very least, it never drops the conceit of what the footage is and where it came from. And I'll also cop to a certain admiration that this was the film that figured out that sneaky little way to get free admission to a name-brand horror franchise.
Alright, so now that I've justified giving the film a full star instead of just half of one, let me make it clear that this is an absolute piece of crap. There's at least a certain novelty in seeing a found footage spin on the regular Amityville formula of an emotionally damaged family being thrown into further disarray thanks to The House (and it certainly does sound like this film takes place in The House, though you'd never know it from the visuals), with all Hell breaking out about a month after they move in. Or, the minute they decide to buy the place, and their realtor drops stone-cold dead in the front lawn. It could be that all Hell broke out at that point.
Anyway, the Benson family: father Douglas (Jason Williams), who'll have the expected descent in quasi-abusive madness; mother Virginia (Amy Van Horne), who has absolutely no discernible personality traits; 16-year-old Lori (Nadine Crocker), who is sullen and combative; 14-year-old Tyler (Devin Clark), who obsessively documents everything he encounters with a camera; and wee little Melanie (Gracie Largent), the conduit to the hell dimensions, who keeps obsessively chatting with her invisible friend John Matthew DeFeo. And you know what, I know that the DeFeos, who are all either dead or imprisoned on six counts of second-degree murder, have none of the legal protection that the Lutzes do, but it is next-level offensive to dredge up the name of the youngest victim of the 1974 mass shootings that led to the whole Amityville affair, to play this movie's version of the glowing-eyed pig. Not literally, but I think you probably know what I mean.
I can think of literally not one way in which the film doesn't mostly humiliate itself: the story is a broken-down heap, with an opening prologue that serves no purpose other than to make sure we get some bloody deaths early on, and to facilitate a bit of sex and nudity. Thereafter, it floors the gas to showcase the malevolence in The House without any pause for atmosphere or character beats: two people have died before the Bensons even turn in for the first night's sleep in their new digs. Which means that there's no realistic way to present the notion that The House unravels the families slowly at first, and so everything has to be at top speed throughout, despite the absence of any plot material until the last day when everything turns totally awful. So we're left with a busy, manic film that doesn't do anything, and we're further left with the question, if this much shit happened in the first 24 hours, and continues to happen in the days to follow, who in their right mind would make it so many weeks without bailing out?
The script and cinematography may both be godawful, and the attempts to save the found footage conceit forced and arbitrary, but for my money, the real weak link here is the acting. I feel like a shithead in calling out a teenager as being notably the worst member of an ensemble, but I'm going to do it anyway, because Devin Clark is really just sublimely terrible, over-emoting even when there's no clear reason for any particular emotional register at all, and reciting lines rather than delivering. And he's our gateway into the movie! Nobody else is any good, mind you, and Williams in particular makes his character's slide into cruelty more hokey and hammy than anything; it's a simply dreadful to watch these characters stumble their way through the drama, in no way resembling actual human behavior. At least the rest of the film is simply a very bad movie; the inhumanity of it is what pushes The Amityville Haunting off the cliff into a disaster zone. It's everything objectionable about DTV horror with none of the charms that rough-hewn DIY filmmaking can involve, and it's a wretched augury for the wave of DTV Amityvilles that followed its path.
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)