JANUARY 5, 2012
Every now and then I am reminded of how much better some of my peers are when it comes to writing insightful stuff about horror movies. The other day, Devin wrote up an amazing analysis of Poltergeist, which not only brought up some amazing points/theories about the deeper meanings behind many of the film’s scenes and characters, but even basic stuff I never really picked up on (like that the fade to an empty kitchen was supposed to trick us into thinking that the Freeling family had moved out). However, I can take some comfort in knowing that most of the stuff I watch, such as The Amityville Haunting, doesn’t require any further analysis than what is directly on-screen and/or conveyed through direct dialogue.
Here’s what I don’t get about the Asylum’s “found footage” movies – there’s no excuse for being so lousy. I can forgive their I Am Omegas and Transmorphers for biting off a little more than they can chew and just kind of looking pathetic in general, because their inspiration comes from movies with blank check budgets. These, on the other hand, are ripped off from movies that were ALSO shot on small budgets and over a period of a few days. The two granddaddies of the genre (Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity) were shot in about a week each, for somewhere around 50k each. The thrills and scares were based on almost nothing – doors opening and footsteps in Paranormal, piles of rocks and a guy standing in the corner in Blair. So again, making a movie this terrible can’t simply be chalked up to “We didn’t have the money/time to do anything better”.
And like Gacy House, this one drags a real story through the mud, in this case obviously the Amityville story. Now, the Lutz family probably made up most of their claims, but no one can deny the true story of the DeFeo family, where Ronald killed his parents and siblings (6 victims in all) one night in the 1970s at their home on Ocean Avenue. Most of the sequels ignored all of this, focusing on unrelated haunted house nonsense (sometimes chalking it up to evil lamps from the house!), but this one directly name-checks the DeFeo family and, according to the IMDb credits (the movie itself doesn’t have any), the ghost is none other than Ronald himself. There’s also a ghostly kid named John Matthews (or Matthew, it depends on the scene I guess); I have no idea who the hell he is supposed to be. But hey, they’re all dead except for the guy who killed them, so who cares about turning their tragedy into a piece of crap DTV movie, right? Stay classy, Asylum.
By not crediting the actors (only a few of them have been entered on IMDb), they can spare themselves the ridicule, since they’re all pretty much terrible, particularly the two males. Unfortunately, they’re the ones with the most presence; the father is often the focus of his son’s camera, and the lad turns it on himself once a night for a sort of “wrap up” of the day’s events, though sometimes what he says doesn’t match up to what we just saw, so I guess there’s some value to them (making the movie seem clumsier than it already is?). He’s also atrocious, possibly the worst child acting performance I’ve seen since Jake Lloyd’s turn in Phantom Menace. But the dad “owns” the movie’s most jaw-droppingly terrible acting moment, which is also his final one in the movie – maybe they shot in sequence and by then he just didn’t have the energy or care to even TRY to give a realistic performance in the scene? Either way, it’s the sort of bit that can actually kill a movie, so it’s a good thing the whole thing sucked up until that point anyway.
Also, for a movie that tries REALLY REALLY hard to sell itself as a totally real “found footage” movie (again, no credits, and the packaging says over and over that it’s 100% real and such), they sure as hell didn’t put much effort into fooling anyone with what is on-screen. Even excusing the obvious – bad “ghost” FX, for example – even someone with the most basic knowledge of the story knows that the house was on a river, which doesn’t appear here. They do a pretty good job hiding the palm trees in the exterior shots (as with all Asylum movies, this was shot in Los Angeles), but the architecture of the house is completely wrong as well. Hilariously they tell us that the house has enough bedrooms for everyone, which would mean four, but we only ever see two of them (and two doors in the hallway). Ironically, the only thing they get “right” is probably an accident – the famous windows are nowhere to be seen (they’re on the poster of course), but that would actually be true if this was indeed the real house, since they have been removed/remodeled so they wouldn’t attract sightseers. I should also note that anyone who has followed the case knows that the owner who bought the house in 1997 just sold it last year, contradicting this movie’s claims that six families have lived in it in the past 10 years and none of them lasted more than a few weeks before moving back out. They also botch the Lutz story, claiming that they were there for 2 years when in reality they left after 28 days.
And that's even more interesting when you consider that the movie is basically a remake of the original (or the remake), albeit with the 1st person perspective and set in modern day. There's the family of five (with two kids much younger than their sibling), they buy the house because money is tight and they don't want to pass up the opportunity for a full sized house that they can actually afford, the dad kind of goes nuts, the little girl does spooky things... you get the idea. It's probably no surprise that the best part of the movie is the largely unrelated opening, where four kids break into the house to party and get killed roughly three minutes later. In fact, if they stuck with these kids for the whole movie (maybe some sort of real-time approach), it might have been OK - at least we haven't seen that Amityville movie two or three times already.
There’s also the sound mix, which is too “good” for what a kid is shooting with his camcorder. Everyone sounds perfectly clear, even when they’re whispering in the next room (his zoom function apparently improves their sound too). At one point the dad sets up a cheap little security camera in the corner of the living room and even that produces crystal clear sound, when in reality those things don’t record sound at all. You gotta love that they seemingly put effort into making this thing sound “wrong” – if they just used actual camcorder sound it would improve the movie’s attempts at authenticity.
Speaking of authenticity, you gotta love the idiotic notion that at least THREE people would die in the house over the course of a week and yet the only police presence is a uniformed officer who stops by to fill out a report. Even with the alleged notoriety of the property, I highly doubt that the police wouldn’t be hauling the adults off to jail after a delivery man, a neighbor, and a family friend all died in about as many days. Hell the delivery man doesn’t even seem to inspire any sort of investigation at all; the kid films everything nonstop yet after the dude takes a tumble (leaving a giant pool of blood at the foot of the stairs) we just cut to the mom being kind of upset about it. SO REAL.
Only at the very end does it finally start getting a bit entertaining, but that’s a given on pretty much any haunted house movie – the subtle stuff is gone and now the ghost is on a rampage. The little girl – the best performer in the movie, incidentally – finally gets a little more to do than talk to “John”, and a character is given full body burn makeup that’s actually kind of freaky. Needless to say, it’s too little too late, but at least there’s SOME sort of “reward” for slogging through this inane shit.
The only extra is a brief featurette that continues to try to sell the movie’s realism, focusing on the guys who have been tasked with going over the footage and assembling it into a narrative, as well as a few experts and a psychic that is obscured/given a distorted voice, so the ghosts that watch this thing don’t know what she looks like, I guess. I’ll give them this much, when they commit to a plan they stick to it. They BOTCH it, and miserably, but they never use their failure as an excuse to drop the act and out the “creators” of these things so we know who to blame.
What say you?
P.S. I didn’t know this was Asylum until after I rented it; had I known I probably would have waited a few weeks as two Asylums in one week is just too much to ask of a man. I’m still kind of surprised that they have permission to use the name – I would think MGM and/or Dimension would have that locked up pretty tight by now.