AUGUST 25, 2011
Believe it or not, Amityville: Dollhouse is actually the EIGHTH film in the series, and actually the final in the original series before the Platinum Dunes reboot. There are currently a couple of films in development but I’m not sure what continuity they belong to, if any – but does it matter, at this point? This is possibly the most tangentially connected major franchise of all time. It’s basically a series of movies about a particular window pattern.
Anyway, this one continues the sort of anthological idea set up in the 4th movie – objects from the house carried its “legacy” around the country, so there was a lamp, a clock, a mirror, and now, obviously, a dollhouse. It’s a shame that they all went with big house movies though; the concept seemed to be design to free the filmmakers to do something different each time out, but this (and what I know about the others) is pretty much the same sort of shit – isolated house, slightly fractured family unit, etc. Why not do an inner city one, or Christ, even set one in a snowy climate?
So basically, as you may have guessed, this one doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. At times it almost feels like a straight up remake of the original, right down to the fact that the dad is newly married to the mom, except two of the kids are his (the mom left for reasons left maddeningly vague). His new wife has a son who doesn’t really like any of them, and he’s also a major geek, testing his pet rat in a maze and playing with microscopes and what not. I kept thinking that he’d be a major character, like maybe his bookish ways would lead him to be the one to discover the history of the place and the haunted dollhouse, but no. Instead he just sees a zombie apparition of his dead dad, another potentially interesting subplot that has no meaningful payoff. Before he even really DOES anything, the kid suddenly knows zombie dad is bad news and instantly switches allegiance to his stepdad. Way to flip-flop, ya little bastard.
In fact each family member has their own issue with the house, and like the kid’s, none of them really have a satisfying arc. The stepmom suddenly starts fantasizing about the teen stepson, but never does anything about it (if anything he seems to be hitting on HER at times despite not having any supernatural reasons for doing so). He has a girlfriend that seems to enrage the house, as every time she comes over something freaky happens, always with unintentionally hilarious results. I should note that the girlfriend is played by the girl who played Eric’s sister on That 70’s Show until she got canned for being too drunk all the time, and if anyone was inexplicably crushing on her over Mila or Laura, you should be happy with one particular scene.
But most obnoxiously underutilized is the fact that the dollhouse acts as a mirror for the much larger, real house. So when the kid’s pet rat runs into it, all of a sudden there’s a giant rat in the house (easily the film’s highlight, even if all you see is its ass sticking out from under the bed). Or when a window opens on the dollhouse, a real one opens in the house and a minor tornado blows in. If I was making this movie, I’d go nuts with the potential – have someone spill a drink in it and cause an interior flood, or maybe have an insect fly in and then suddenly the family would be terrorized by Mothra. But no! After the rat they barely ever do anything fun with the idea, opting for typical (read: boring) haunted house scenarios and a ridiculous demon that is somehow behind all of the supernatural goings-on.
Worse, I don’t know if it’s just the shit DVD or the original movie, but either way this has one of the worst sound mixes I’ve ever seen in a professional production. Everything sounds looped or dubbed, and random sound effects like people opening doors or brushing off a table have this strange electronic quality to them, like they were using old Nintendo games for their sound FX library. The dad in particular always sounded more like a narrator than an on-screen character, and things that SHOULD be kind of under the breath (like “I thought I closed that...”) or whatever are booming and distinct. Very weird.
In short, somehow manages to be the weakest entry in a very underwhelming series. Most telling is that most of the scares in the first act revolve around a light turning on by itself inside the dollhouse, and none are ever as creepy as the moment where the same thing happens at the end of Dream Warriors. As I’ve said in the past, haunted house movies aren’t exactly my favorite sub-genre, but I can recognize a good one when I see it. This ain’t it. No wonder it killed the franchise for 8 years or so.
What say you?