NOVEMBER 12, 2010
For a late 80s TV movie, Amityville: The Evil Escapes (aka Amityville 4) really ain't THAT bad. The heyday of TV horror had long since passed, and while it bears a lot of the marks of a commercial-friendly production (NOT, however, the tell-tale fades to black for commercial breaks, however), there's some effort put into it, and would hardly be mistaken for the Syfy productions we get today.
I guess that's what happens when a filmmaker who actually has something going on upstairs helms your inessential TV sequel to a series that's not very good to begin with. Amityville 4 is written and directed by Pin's Sandor Stern, who wrote the screenplay for the original film, interestingly enough. It's interesting because Amityville is pretty much the loosest franchise of them all; in fact this may be the strongest (only?) personnel connection any of the sequels have to the original or one another. This would possibly also explain why the film ignores 3D, since the house was destroyed at the end of that one but is the first thing we see here.
But, you know, it's about a fucking killer lamp. A wonderfully ugly lamp (I really want one), sure, but a lamp all the same. I seem to recall some of the other sequels also focused on haunted objects from the Amityville house, which isn't the worst idea, but a goofy lamp probably shouldn't have been the one they kicked off this Friday the 13th: The Series-esque plot thread. Maybe a mirror or a painting, something along those lines. Go to the lamp when you've hit part 9 and don't care anymore.
Luckily, the lamp just brings the "power" and spreads it throughout the house, sparing us too many scare scenes in which someone has to actually interact with the thing, though its first victim cuts her finger on it and dies of tetanus. Scary, demonic tetanus (also, the shot of her running her finger, which resembles a raw sausage at this point, under cold water is breathtaking)! So we get a lot of haunted house standards, like green water and malfunctioning objects (love the crazed chainsaw scene, featuring a stunt double that has different color hair than the real actor), plus a few new ones - this might be the only haunted house movie that featured a bird being toaster-ovened.
And it delivers on a garbage disposal scare! I've lost count of how many horror movies have someone digging around in a garbage disposal only for nothing to happen, but this one brings it, with the dude spraying blood all over himself AND his would-be girlfriend. Points for the execution.
But it's got a lot of missed opportunities as well. The house is on a cliff, but they never use it for any scares - it just makes the climax look a little more dynamic, when they toss the lamp out the window and it goes down the cliff (which is impressive considering the house is like 100 yards away from the edge). Also, Fredric Lehne (yay!) plays a priest who is hellbent on stopping the evil, but he's incredibly lax about it; he flies to California and then just sort of hangs around his hotel waiting for the mother (Patty Duke) to come over so he can explain what's going on. This scene also takes place about 10 minutes before the movie ends (seriously), so it means our heroine never really does anything; she's still in "Things are sure strange around here lately.... weird. Oh well!" mode until this point, which does not make for particularly compelling (or, any) heroics. Instead, she spends most of the movie bickering with her mom (Jane Wyatt, in her final film), which is about as riveting as it sounds.
Also, why bother relocating to California and then setting the whole thing in yet another old and isolated almost-mansion by the water? Why not in a downtown high-rise, or at least a modern house in the hills, or something? I'm also baffled why they had to make the address so similar - this place is on OceanVIEW Ave. The laziness also applies to their phone number: 555-2341. Way to move the '1' over a bit to make it look like you were trying.
But it's not too boring, which I had feared, since the Amityville films aren't known for their body counts (and, as I mentioned, the villain is a friggin lamp). Stern (or novelist John G. Jones) at least had the good sense to add a whole bunch of peripheral characters to the movie, since Duke and her 3 adolescent children certainly wouldn't be killed (Wyatt was fair game though). So there's a plumber, the handyman, a maid, plus Lehne, who I'm so used to seeing as a villain I kept expecting him to turn evil and get killed by Duke, who I was still convinced would actually do something before the end of the film (she does cut the lamp cord, which is tied around Lehne, and thus save his life, for the record).
So the action isn't too infrequent, and there are some howlers every now and then, like when the eldest daughter sticks her head out of a window, which promptly slams down on her noggin (she's OK though, and later claims "it was an accident!" as if she was going to get in trouble for it). I also loved Duke's reply to Wyatt's insinuation that the youngest daughter might be responsible for the bad goings-on: "Mother, if you say that Jessica did this, I will hit you!" Not like, "so help me God..." or some other vague "threat", she flat out tells her elderly mother that she will lay hands on her. Awesome. But, again, Duke doesn't do anything.
The disc comes with some extras, including a surprisingly truthful one about the real house, which points out that the Lutzes were lying about most/all of their claims and that the family that lives there now has never had any problems. I would expect they'd try to ignore that little bit considering that the "true story" aspect is about the only appeal this franchise ever had. There's also some trivia and biographical information about Duke that they probably just swiped from her IMDb page. It would be more interesting to hear more about Zoe Trilling or Brandy Gold, the actresses who played the daughters. Gold had several credits prior but never made another appearance in anything, and Trilling seemingly vanished off the face of the earth in the 90s (her IMDb bio ends with "her fans want to know what happened to her", which is pretty odd - most end on a more positive note).
While on topic of supplements - you know what would be a cool extra on TV movie DVDs? Some of the commercials that aired during its premiere broadcast. Probably be a fun little addition. Something to think about if Don't Go To Sleep (another movie about a financially strapped family going to live with their bitchy grandmother, albeit a much better one) ever hits the format.
What say you?