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Subj: Halloween 2019 Roundup #1: Murder in Amityville!
Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2019 at 11:16:14 am EDT (Viewed 583 times)
Although the first movie on my list falls outside of the board’s parameters I would ask for some leeway, since it came out fairly close in mid-1979 and spawned a series of sequels into the ‘80s and ‘90s which will be the main topic of discussion.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
This story first grabbed the nation’s attention in 1974 when Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family one night, claiming voices drove him to it. It made waves again when the 1977 novel "The Amityville Horror" hit bookshelves, detailing the weird month the Lutz family endured after buying and moving into the DeFeo murder house. They claimed a lot of supernatural mumbo-jumbo drove them from the house before George Lutz could be driven off the deep end like poor Ronald had been. Even this movie version claims to be based on a true story, an actual recorded haunting in modern-day America.
The movie begins with the dreaded Amityville house that has since become an unmistakable image in cinema, with its barn-like size and shape and weird eye-like windows. An unseen figure walks through the house at night with a rifle, killing family members, presumably Ronald DeFeo enacting his family's murder. We see the cops cleaning up the mess and before you know it, the house is back on the market. A realtor takes George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) on a tour of the massive plot of land and giant house. It even has a boat house and guest house, and is a steal at the price; no one seems to want it due the history. Kathy feels weird about moving into a murder house but George calms her by stating, "houses don’t have memories."
Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) comes by to bless the house but the family is playing outside and doesn’t see him. He gets swarmed by flies and feels an evil force, before a voice growls "Get out" and shows him the door. He will continue to try to help the family throughout the movie but it’s interesting that he never shares screen time with any of them. It feels like Delaney’s side quest.
Odd things happen at the Lutz house. George is constantly cold and becomes obsessed with chopping wood and making fires in the fireplace. The sinks spit out black tar instead of water. A nun comes over to visit and immediately runs outside to vomit. They probably think she has motion sickness or something. Every night at 3:15, which is the time Ronald DeFeo shot his family, either George or Kathy wakes up. Kathy has a dream about her kids being killed. George wakes up to check out a light on in the boathouse.
This movie is a laundry list of odd things which on their own are not that odd, but we are supposed to see the pattern. Kathy’s brother is getting married but misplaces the cash he needed to pay the caterer. George later finds a money band by the fireplace but no money. Their daughter sees a chair rocking by itself. She also meets an imaginary friend named Jodie who tells her to do naughty things. Father Delaney tries to visit again but his car skids out of control. No one is hurt, it’s just a delay. A babysitter gets stuck in a closet with no lock on it.
Delaney, in a scenery chewing scene, tells his fellow priests that he felt pure evil in the house and must exorcise it. They tell him to remember his place and stay quiet about it. He later turns a regular Sunday sermon into a rant about evil. A chunk of a statue in the church breaks off and hits him in the face. He is blind for the rest of the movie.
George starts acting more and more crazy. He is distant and unresponsive. A colleague from work comes to ask George to sign the checks to pay his employees, and George doesn’t know what day it is. He mostly sharpens his axe and looks like hell.
Things start to ramp up. Their front door is blown completely off its hinges by a sudden gust of wind, I guess? The police look at it and say it was done from the inside. They find the dog in the basement digging at one of the walls. George goes into town and finds a book about Amityville. At the bar with his work colleague Jeff, George is told by the barkeep that he looks just like the kid who murdered his family. Jeff’s wife claims to be a little psychic and helps George look through the book. It turns out a fellow named John Ketcham was drummed out of Salem, Massachusetts for being a witch years ago and built a house right were George’s now stands because the land was special.
They go back to the house because Jeff’s wife wants to see the basement. She says an Indian tribe used to bury its crazy people alive right here in this basement. Where the dog was digging, George busts a hole in the brick wall and finds a hidden red room. Jeff’s wife goes into a trance and screams "find the well!"
They stay another night and Kathy dreams of George killing the kids. She comes to find him awake in the living room and he screams "Mother of God, I’m coming apart!" Soon the walls are bleeding, the kids are hiding from Dad, Kathy ages into an old woman briefly, and George almost hacks everybody up before coming to his senses. They decide to get out of Dodge and pile in the family car. George has to go back inside to save the dog while the house is shaking. As he’s going down the basement stairs to find the dog, the stairs break away and George falls into the red room which is now filled with black tar. The dog starts to attack him until it realizes who he is and they escape the house together. The door, back on its hinges, can’t be opened so they jump out a window. A title card tells us that they never went back.
This movie is a bit longer than it needs to be at 2 hours. There is always something happening, a new iteration of something weird going on, but it gets a bit redundant. I guess George is being driven insane by voices like Ronald DeFeo was, but we never hear any of that. It’s all in George’s head so we can’t sympathize with him. The actors did okay, I can see how this would have been effective in 1979 but now so many movies have borrowed its familiar tropes I bet today’s audience would find it a little slow.
Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
You might think from the title that this is a sequel to The Amityville Horror or that it is based on the book "The Amityville Horror Part II" which detailed what happened to the Lutz family after the events of the first book/movie which includes turning their true story into a hit book/movie. It is actually based on the book "Murder in Amityville" about the DeFeo family murder of 1974.
The DeFeo family has been renamed Montelli in this movie, perhaps to protect the filmmakers from criticism about how many salacious details they added to the true story. Anthony (Burt Young) and Delores (Rutanya Alda) and their kids Sonny (Jack Magner), Patricia (Diane Franklin) and a couple of younger kids move into the famous Amityville house. What follows is fairly similar to the plot of the first movie: the faucets leak blood, swarms of flies gather, they find a hidden room walled up in the basement, family members start to hallucinate and everyone gets angry or starts acting weird. The pace is much quicker than the first film though, and it soon becomes clear why: the family murder, which you might have thought would be the climax, happens about halfway through the movie. The remainder deals with priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) trying to exorcise the unclean spirit from Sonny who has been arrested for the crime, which means he first has to break Sonny out of jail and then chase him back to the house where we are treated to a repeat of The Exorcist.
Burt Young plays Anthony as an abusive alcoholic who is so anti-religious that he throws a fit when his wife invites a priest over to bless the house. We are later told that he rapes his wife because she won't consent to sex any more, and apparently there was a rape scene filmed that was cut and has never been released. Sonny, after coming under the spell of the unclean spirit, does seduce and rape his sister Patricia and again, this is alluded to but not seen. I think more scenes were cut here.
Father Adamsky gets a bad vibe from the house and family early on and wants to help. As he tries to bless the house with holy water it turns to blood at which point he asks the church for the right to perform an exorcism, which is denied. After the family is killed he gets phone calls from dead Patricia asking for help. He speaks to Sonny in his jail cell and realizes he's talking to some possessing force and vows to exorcise the spirit to save Sonny who is innocent in his view.
The exorcism is nicely over the top. By the end, Sonny's face peels off revealing an alien-headed demon beneath. Sonny is cured and led back into the hands of the police who have gathered at the house, and told "we'll explain to them that you're innocent" which I take it is supposed to hint at a happy ending? I doubt the authorities will take his innocence on faith. If this is meant to mirror the life of Ronald DeFeo Jr who is still in prison for the crime, we should believe that Sonny will be in the pen for life too, which is sad, because we know the devil really did make him do it.
Jack Magner and James Olson hold the movie together fairly well for two actors I've never seen in anything else. There are a lot of secondary characters like Moses Gunn as a cop and Andrew Prine as a priest that I kept thinking would be important to the plot but don't end up doing much.
Amityville 3-D (1983)
It immediately becomes apparent that this movie would be more fun in 3D, since the opening titles are composed for 3D effect. Sadly my DVD has the 2D version. At times you can see some distortion in the picture. Characters poke a lot of things at the camera and the effect is lost.
We begin the first entirely fictional installment of the franchise with John Baxter (Tony Roberts) and Melanie (Candy Clark) visiting the Amityville house for a seance. A medium helps them contact their dead son. Soon the room is shaking and a ball of light is floating through the room, apparently their son's spirit. But then they flick on the lights and we see a stagehand dressed in black moving the ball of light on a fishing line. John and Melanie are not grieving parents but journalists from Reveal magazine sent to debunk fake psychics. When the psychics threaten to sue, Baxter reveals that the owner of the house and the D.A. are in on the debunking effort. Also there to help debunk is Elliot West (Robert Joy), a parapsychologist who uses scientific equipment to measure paranormal phenomena.
John talks to the owner Sanders (John Harkins) who says he bought the property after the previous hauntings at a steal, assuming the value would go back up after the hysteria had died down, but it never did. He was forced to rent the place to the fake psychics to cover his costs. Baxter offers to buy the place since he's recently divorced and currently renting. He can get the place at a steal and he doesn't believe in hauntings, despite the previous tenants' troubles. I suppose that was the only way to get a new character into this house. As Sanders gives Baxter and Melanie a tour, he almost falls into the boarded-up well in the basement.
Sanders comes back to the home to sign papers later and is suddenly swarmed by flies in the attic room where they have popped up in both prior movies. This time they are deadly though. Baxter comes home to find Sanders dead of an apparent heart attack. Not worrying about omens or luck, he moves his daughter Susan (a pre-scandal Lori Laughlin) into the house with him. Her friend Lisa (pre-fame Meg Ryan) joins her for a tour and she recounts the history of murders in the house, referring to the DeFeos instead of Montellis. Lisa yells into the well in the basement and it yells back. Later Melanie visits the house on her own and gets hit with a sudden wind gust so cold she is covered in ice. Baxter's ex-wife Nancy (Tess Harper) doesn't want her daughter around the murder house but John won't listen.
Just when the movie was getting a bit dull comes the most memorable scene for me. Baxter steps into an elevator in his office building and a haunted fly buzzes past him. Suddenly the elevator shoots upward so fast John is pinned to the floor. Then it reverses course and descends so fast he is pinned to the ceiling! I think there's a whole video on YouTube explaining how many laws of physics are being broken here. I think this is the first time the Amityville curse leaves the house to follow a person. John brushes it off as a mere elevator malfunction.
The curse also follows Melanie as her car skids out of control and causes her to crash into a truck hauling pipes, sending a pipe through her windshield and almost decapitating her in glorious 3D, or at least I can imagine the glory. It won't let her narrowly escape though, so her clothes and everything in the car suddenly burst into flames.
In another memorable sequence Nancy goes to the house to visit Susan and sees her daughter walking through the house dripping wet, not speaking. She loses track of Susan in the house. Outside, John has found that Susan was boating with friends on the lake and somehow drowned. Nancy won't believe that Susan is dead since she just saw her in the house.
John worries about Nancy not being able to come to terms with their daughter's death. Elliot West offers to bring his science team to the house to prove or disprove the existence of Susan's spirit in the house. John still doesn't believe but he okays it for his ex-wife's sake. Now we get a scene borrowed from Poltergeist where the team takes readings as John and Nancy follow a real ball of life energy around the house. What was fake in the first act is now real. The ball leads the parents down to the well in the basement, now full of bubbling water and light. They see a shape under the water that looks like Susan. It reaches out and reveals a horrible zombie Susan, which is then replaced by the alien-faced demon from Part II who drags Elliot down into the well. Suddenly the house is collapsing all around them. John, Nancy and most of the team escape as the house goes crazy. Our last image is a glowing cartoon fly coming toward the screen.
This movie might have been a total loss but the goofy parts are goofy enough to make it fun. Meg Ryan proves her worth and it's always nice to see Robert Joy who appears in a lot of cult movies.
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
This installment starts what I call the Amityville Yard Sale that will run through several movies. The famous house is now vacant and all of its previous owners' possessions are being liquidated on the driveway. A couple of old ladies nose through the items until they find the world's ugliest floor lamp that looks like a man-shaped tree with a globe bulb for a head. One of the ladies thinks it will be a great gag gift for her sister out in California. She cuts her finger on it though.
Let me step back. The movie began with a whole platoon of priests entering the house with exorcism gear in hand. It's about time. The junior priest Kibbler (Fredric Lehne) sees an evil bubble go from a power outlet through the lamp cord into the ugly lamp. The globe on top shows a demon face inside which knocks him out. When he wakes up a couple of days later the yard sale is over and he's anxious to track down the buyer of the lamp. Luckily instead of just a cash transaction, this yard sale took down names and numbers for every buyer.
The lamp arrives at the house of Alice Leacock (Jane Wyatt) whose adult daughter Nancy (Patty Duke) and three kids have moved in after Nancy's husband died. There is some family tension with grandma who is used to living alone. They all agree that the lamp is ugly but it gets plugged in anyhow. Before you know it, grandma's parrot winds up in the toaster oven "by accident." Son Brian (Aron Eisenberg) wrestles with a feisty chainsaw in the basement. Daughter Amanda (Geri Betzler) is flirting with a boy while he's cleaning out the garbage disposal. Even though he was careful, the house switches it on and in the single instance of blood, gets his hand chopped off. After the first responders haul him off, grandma stoically informs the kids "he'll live."
A plumber comes by to check on why the sinks are suddenly producing black goo instead of water. He ends up in the crawlspace under the house where a board collapses and pins him while a pipe shoots black goop on his face. It also spits out the severed hand from the disposal, I guess. The guy stops moving so I assume he's dead? The funniest thing is that this is never mentioned again, and no one finds out. The evil forces actually drive his plumbing van away so the family will think he left. I can only hope it's still out there driving around to this day.
No one really gets suspicious until the youngest daughter Jessica (Brandy Gold) starts to believe she is speaking to her dead father through the lamp. She turns away Father Kibbler when he finally arrives at the house. The housekeeper checks on the lamp, now in the attic, and it wraps a cord around her neck for a quick strangulation. Of course flies gather on the lamp, too.
The priest finally convinces the family that they have a faulty lamp after telling them that the sister who sent the gift died of tetanus. They all confront the lamp in the attic, along with little Jessica who is now floating. It's grandma to the rescue when she chucks the demonic bric-a-brac out the window to crash on the rocks beneath the cliff her house apparently overlooks.
This movie may have extra nerd cache since it features two Star Trek alumni. Aron Eisenberg (DS9's Nog) who sadly passed away recently, and Jane Wyatt (Spock's mom in TOS and Star Trek IV) as the heroic granny.
Whoever designed the lamp is hopefully recognized among the movie prop community for creating a memorable monster. It can't be easy to make an inanimate object scary.
This installment was a made-for-TV movie, based on the book of the same name, the first fictional sequel from John G. Jones who had collaborated with the Lutzes on a 3-book deal based on their experiences in and after living in the famous house.
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