I was aware of this film but didn’t bother to track it down till I had a reason to – prepping a commentary track for The Amityville Horror (1979). The weird thing is that it’s the nearest thing to an ‘official’ Amityville movie in a long while but is buried among a melange of off-brand cash-ins of varying quality (bad to very very bad) along the lines of Amityville Cop, Amityville Murders and Amityville Poltergeist – research turns up Amityville Vibrator and Amityville Emmanuelle which, on experience, will turn out to be less fun than they sound. There are legal reasons for all this – the Amityville Horror, based on the book credited to Jay Anson about the supposed pestering of the Lutz Family at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, is its own legally protected entity (with sequels and a remake) while a quartet of Amityville Yard sale movies derive from another book tangentally connected to the first. After that, everyone realised that you couldn’t ring-fence a town’s name as a copyrightable trade mark the way you could, say, titles like The Howling or Friday the 13th and the gates opened.
This came about after a complex development process which might even be seen as a changing of the guard in franchise horror – the Weinsteins’ Dimension were supplanted by Blumhouse – with a found footage concept junked along the way, and mid-level auteur Franck Khalfon (P2, the Maniac remake) brought in, along with a solid cast, to shuffle through a standard haunted house tale which builds up to an interesting notion but ends before it can make much of it. It sat on a shelf for over three years and got dumped to freeview. The latest residents are the Walker family – widow Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), goth redhead teen Belle (Bella Thorne), her comatose twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan – the Joker from Gotham), moppet Juliet (Mckenna Grace – who became a genre name with a Bad Seed remake and sequel, The Haunting of Hill House, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Captain Marvel, Annabelle Comes Home, Scoob, Malignant, Ghostbusters Afterlife, etc – often playing young versions of icon characters in flashback). Yes, they get a deal on the place (with its familiar evil eyes windows) for undisclosed reasons – and Joan needs to be near a neurologist (Kurtwood Smith) since she’s obsessed with getting her non-responsive son cured, to the extent of neglecting her other kids. Belle blames herself for what happened to her brother, so she goes along with it – and this is probably enough of a conflict for the film, even without the ghost stuff.
The new wrinkle is that this fictional family live in the real world, where there was once an Amityville Horror – murderer DeFeo is mentioned, but the touchily litigious Lutzes aren’t – and there have been Amityville films, cuing an amusing diss of the remake and Belle and her two school misfit pals watching the 1979 movie at 3.15AM (a significant time in the saga) to catch up on the spookiness so far. Familiar stuff happens – flies, that red-brick basement chamber, ooze, apparitions, a mean imaginary friend – but the film then gets into Patrick/Aenigma territory as the comatose bro becomes locus of the horror, with a Monkey’s Paw/Pet Sematary aspect as James shows improvement and even starts getting up, walking about and talking, albeit in such a fashion as to suggest he’s been possessed by something wicked (the implication is that it’s the same thing which made Ronald DeFeo kill his family – which rather lets off the hook a guilty guy who almost certainly murdered his parents and siblings in a sham mafia hit the hope of getting an insurance payout).
The twist (SPOILER WARNING), which comes along late and ought to give the always-welcome Leigh more to play with …
is that Joan has deliberately bought a haunted house – praying to God for the life of her husband and the health of her son has got her zip, so she’s turned to the opposition and is willing to take whatever results evil can give her … Then, however, the whole thing fizzles.