“You two knew the history of this house, right? Can I ask you an honest question?—why’d you move here…?”
Director: Geoff Meed
Starring: Jason Williams, Devin Clark, Amy Van Horne, Gracie Largent, Nadine Crocker, Casey Campbell, Alex Rzechowicz, Luke Barnett
Synopsis: Four teenagers break into the notorious Amityville house, intending to explore and then have sex; they never make it out again… A realtor shows the Benson family around a property in Amityville. Virginia (Amy Van Horne) is resistant to the idea of buying the house because of its history, but Douglas (Jason Williams) talks her into it, pointing out that its history is why they can afford it. The two go outside to tell the realtor their decision—and find her lying dead in the front yard… As movers carry the Bensons’ possessions into the house, Tyler (Devin Clark) annoys both them and his family by filming their every move; his older sister, Lori (Nadine Crocker), is particularly aggravated by him. Tyler tries to interview the movers about their knowledge of this supposedly haunted house, but they only laugh at him. No-one is laughing, however, when one of the movers is killed in an accidental fall… An hysterical Virginia pleads with Douglas to pack the family back up and move out, but he is adamant about staying, reminding her of Lori’s long history of troubled behaviour—and that they cannot in fact afford to move again. As the family does its best to settle in, Tyler finds his young sister, Melanie (Gracie Largent), having an animated conversation—with no-one. That night, Tyler himself has a strange experience, when his closet door open and slams by itself. The next morning, Douglas tells Virginia that he found their back door wide open during the night, even though it was locked before the family went to bed. Questioned, each of the children denies having opened it; however, Douglas is privately certain that Lori has begun to act up again. As Douglas and Virginia argue, Melanie pours herself a bowl of cereal—and a second one for her friend. Later, Douglas sends Virginia, Lori and Melanie off to see a movie, while he and Tyler work on installing a security system, including a camera pointed at the back door. While hunting for a screwdriver, Tyler finds a phone that does not belong to a member of the family. He discovers that there is footage on it of some teenagers breaking into the house, but the battery dies before he can watch the whole thing. On Douglas’s orders, Tyler puts his camera down so that he can help. He leaves it running, however, so that it catches a glimpse of a shadowy figure outside the window… That night, at 3.15am, the back door of the house swings open, setting off the newly installed alarm—but as the security camera shows, there is no-one there… Tyler succeeds in recharging the found phone, and discovers that its captured footage seems to show something unspeakable…
Comments: “Found footage” films tend to support the old adage about the good ones being very good, and the bad ones being horrid. Done well, they can be amazingly effective; done poorly, they’re an exercise in headache-inducing tedium.
Guess which category The Amityville Haunting falls into?
Nine seconds in, and this film has already broken my heart.
For a while there it looked like the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror had killed off the franchise rather than revitalised it, but you can’t keep a good [Sic.] premise down. In 2011, at the Cannes Film Festival, Bob Weinstein and Mike Lang co-announced their intended production of The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes, a found-footage film built around a paranormal investigation of the notorious Amityville house in the immediate wake of the departure of the Lutzes.
And in the nature of things, The Asylum immediately announced their intention of producing a found-footage Amityville film…
However, the Miramax / Weinstein Company production was later canned—probably because of the belated realisation that in the mid-70s there really was no such thing as “tape”. But while that seems to me the most logical explanation, there’s a part of me that likes to think the whole thing was a set-up, intended to bait The Asylum into rushing into production and then finding themselves without a film to copy. (Cue mental image of Mike Lang and the Weinsteins snickering behind their hands.)
Which, whatever the explanation, is pretty much what happened. Without an Amityville film to, ahem, be inspired by, The Asylum had to look around for something else to leech off. The obvious choice was Paranormal Activity, which the company had already ripped off once as – sigh – Paranormal Entity; while their subsequent found-footage production, 8213: Gacy House, was later retitled Paranormal Entity 2. (And Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes eventually became Paranormal Entity 3.)
“So, there’s still beds in there?”…says the girl about to have sex in a bathroom.
Also in the nature of things, The Amityville Haunting was sold by The Asylum as a documentary (as was Paranormal Entity). In pursuit of this aim, the film has no credits beyond an ambiguous end-card allowing that the footage had been pieced together by Geoff Meed and Cody Peck, in actuality the film’s director and editor, respectively. Since its release, the identities of most of the cast have leaked out; conspicuous by his or her or their absence, however, is anyone willing to take credit for the screenplay. But perhaps this is the one point where the truth was told. Having sat through this thing, I’m prepared to believe that the dialogue was largely ad-libbed: it has all the awkwardness and numbingly dull repetitiveness that comes with inexperienced actors left to their own devices.
The upshot of this is that the viewer is left to cling desperately to the tacit promise of the film’s tagline:
The family did not survive. But the recordings did.
Evidently the producers were well aware that, spoilers notwithstanding, only the promise of the bloody slaughter of the entire cast would be sufficient to induce anyone to sit through this mess to the end.
Truthfully, though, there’s little reason why anyone other than the obsessive completists amongst us would. The Amityville Haunting is terrible—yet another object lesson in the law of diminishing returns in franchise film-making, i.e. it’s a film to make your complaints about earlier franchise entries seem exaggerated and unjust. Beyond a couple of mild jump moments (and as I’ve said before, everything makes me jump, so that shouldn’t be construed as praise) and a bit of grue at the climax, this film has painfully little to offer. On a first viewing it does build a certain tension, because of its tactic of repeatedly having the picture drop out, or the screen go black: there is always the possibility that, when the picture is restored, something will be there…but it usually isn’t.
The first but by no means the last time we say, “Poor Lori!”
So yeah, there’s a jump or two; but overall, far more laughs than jumps; and more exasperated sighs than either. Ultimately The Amityville Haunting works best as a drinking-game film: try knocking one back every time (i) Tyler says “weird”, or (ii) someone yells at Tyler to turn his camera off. Not both, though. You don’t want to risk your health.
The opening title cards of The Amityville Haunting remind us (just in case we’d forgotten) that in 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr shot and killed his entire family in their Amityville residence, and that a year later, the Lutz family (or as they prefer to put it – perhaps in reference to The Asylum – The Lutz family) moved in. We are then somewhat surprised to learn that:
Over the next two years, a terrifying paranormal presence drove them from the home.
I don’t think you can call it “driving them away” if it takes two years. More like “gently nudging them”.
32 years later, the presence has returned.
Actually, as we’ll later find out, it’s been there for at least the last 12 years, while eight other families have come and gone.
The “come and gone” aspect is interesting, though: why would all those families be given the chance to pack up and leave—or to leave without packing—while the Bensons end up bloodily slaughtered after mere days of occupancy?
(Actually, once we’ve met the Bensons, we’ll have an answer to that question…)
And, oh yeah:
What you are about to see is real.
It’s certainly boring enough to be real, I’ll give you that.
Any found-footage film has to justify its own existence, and The Amityville Haunting opens with four teenagers breaking into the notorious haunted house—and filming themselves doing it. Stupid as this is, it’s a stupidity too often found in real life for us legitimately to complain about it here. One of the boys tells the story of the DeFeos and the Lutzes, much to his friends’ horror; while the viewer ponders whether anyone, even these kids today, could live in Amityville and not know the story.
Then, in the shadows at the top of the staircase, something moves… One of the boys sees it and cries out, only to be mocked by his friends, the other boy intoning, “Get out!”—
—and then the incident is dismissed since, of course, what these kids are really here for is S-E-X. Oddly, no-one takes advantage of the numerous empty bedrooms. One couple ends up in the kitchen, where the girl obligingly offers a quick boob-flash (the only nudity in the film, so, enjoy!); the other couple occupies a bathroom. We don’t see what happens to the first pair: only the girl’s face changing as, presumably, something looms up behind her boyfriend. The second pair film themselves Doing It, and a more tastefully discreet sex scene you’ll never see—not to mention, given the angles we’re shown, that the camera-operator must have arms like a gibbon, and be double-jointed to boot. It all comes to an abrupt end when the boy is jerked away by an unseen force. Both he and his girlfriend scream, while the camera-phone – which somehow doesn’t leave the room with its operator – manages to capture images of blood splattering all over the floor.
And that’s the last we’ll hear of those four, whose deaths / disappearances are never mentioned again. Not even by whoever cleaned up the blood.
The realtor ponders the inexplicable horror that is…the Benson family.
(There are, as you would have gathered, two phone-cameras in operation during this sequence, though only one is later found—raising the question of how we later manage to see both lots of footage. We also get the first deployment here of the break-up / blackout of the image indicating a supernatural presence, a tactic that won’t get the least bit tiresome over the next eighty minutes, nosirree!)
Enter the Bensons.
Subsequently, most of what we see is supposed to be footage shot by middle-child Tyler, who justifies his obsessive intrusion upon every aspect of his family’s life by repeatedly whining, “It’s for my documentary!” Frankly, we do not believe for one second that any real family would put up with his behaviour—and the less so in this case, the more we see of control-freak dad, Douglas. But heigh-ho, Tyler will proceed to shove his camera into everything from private conversations between his parents to his older sister’s bedroom (with which he is unhealthily fixated), with occasional detours to film the dead bodies that keep piling up around the house. The rest of the footage comes via security cameras, of which, more anon.
The Bensons are a typical horror-movie family, meaning we can hardly wait for their bloody demises. Not altogether surprisingly, the characters are sympathetic in inverse proportion to how much they talk—the most tolerable one therefore being sullen eldest child, Lori, who divides her time between texting and glowering and has the least to say for herself (and most of that is complaining about Tyler and her father, sentiments with which we heartily concur). This is somewhat ironic, as we are supposed to believe that it is Lori’s bad behaviour that has “forced” the family to move repeatedly, and finally “forced” them into The Murder House, since that’s all they can afford. Mind you, nothing in-film really supports this version of events—while you have to wonder at parents whose answer to every difficulty is to pack up and move house. Instead, we tend to get the impression that Douglas is rather creepily fixated upon his daughter, and that the family’s peripatetic behaviour is due to his determination to keep her away from boys.
Sure, everyone who has lived in this house has met a horrifying, gruesome fate…but, hey! – tyre-swing!
Douglas is the verbal opposite of Lori, and thus the one we most want to see die horribly—although to be fair, he is also the leading source of the film’s yocks. Douglas is ex-military, and the film trots out one tiresome cliché after another, from his poor man’s Great Santini parenting style, to his having a ’Nam flashback (’Raq flashback?) when overwhelmed by events.
The Bensons are shown around by a young female realtor, whose evident discomfort I’m sure we’re supposed to interpret as her eagerness to get The Murder House off her books, and herself out of it, but comes across more like the actress in question pondering her career choices. (She needn’t have worried: she’s one of those whose name hasn’t shown up on a cast list.) As introductions are made, the overall tone is set by Douglas scolding Tyler, him taking no notice besides muttering something in a put-upon voice, Lori warning Tyler to get the camera out of her face, and Virginia making excuses for her son:
Virginia: “He thinks he’s the next Steven Spielberg. He films everything.”
Realtor: “Don’t we all?”
Meanwhile – and you can almost hear the film-makers patting themselves on the back for their grasp of irony – Douglas reels off a string of black-fly-in-his-chardonnay-isms:
Douglas: “I have a good feeling about this one… It’s perfect!… I love it, it feels like home to me!”
…although my favourite inane moment— Well, actually, I’m torn on that point, between the mind-boggling, “Does the tyre-swing come with the house?” inquiry, and Virginia’s, “Is that another bedroom?” Gee, Virginia, what tipped you off? Could it have been THE BED??
Virginia in the middle of a private conversation.
We also get the very subtle introduction here of the heavy electrical wires that cross the backyard, which Tyler’s camera will repeatedly dwell upon for no particular reason…
Oh, yeah—the backyard. Granted, I complained during the earlier Amityville films about the conversion of the real setting into a huge, isolated property, when it was really just one more house on a suburban street—albeit a large, spacious one backing onto the river. The Amityville Haunting, alas, goes to the other extreme, placing the house on a thoroughly ordinary residential block, with other properties abutting, and giving it little in the way of a front lawn, and a walled-in backyard. (But with a tyre-swing!) The film also denies us any proper look at the house in toto, offering only what we can make out by peering through the murk of the opening footage—which is enough to let us know we’ve been stiffed. Enjoy the poster image, folks! – that’s all this film has to offer by way of “the” Amityville house.
(We don’t get so much as a glimpse of anything we might be desperate enough to interpret as “the eye-windows”, though Lori occupies the room where they would logically be situated.)
The realtor steps outside to allow Douglas and Virginia to debate the situation. They hold a whispered conversation, lowering their voices carefully so that the children don’t learn of the house’s history—and let Tyler film / record the whole thing. Sigh. Anyway, a reluctant Virginia allows herself to be argued into the purchase. Douglas proclaims triumphantly, “We’re home!”, and everyone heads outside to tell the realtor—
—who is sprawled in the driveway, dead. And we have to admire Tyler’s dedication to his craft here, as he instinctively swings his camera from the dead body to his family, to capture their reactions.
Amityville Garbage Bins—a terrifying new film from The Asylum!
Nevertheless, we next find the family moving in. (You know how TV shows use patently empty coffee cups as props? This film overflows with the moving-box equivalent.) Tyler films his sisters discussing the younger one’s “new friend”, who Melanie reveals is called “John Matthew”—
—meaning that no-one learned anything from 2005’s The Amityville Horror, and we are again being offered a real murdered child as a horror-movie spook: John Matthew DeFeo was the youngest of the family, nine years old at the time of his murder. Like his predecessor, “Jodie DeFeo”, John Matthew will eventually be revealed as a malevolent spirit with plans of his own for the family’s youngest child; though at least this time he doesn’t wander about with a bloody gunshot wound in his head.
Adding insult to injury, Gracie Largent is the only one who gets the kid’s name right. The others tend to refer to her “imaginary friend” as John Matthews…from which we infer that no-one bothered to explain to the cast the significance of the name!
One of the very few realistic touches in the entire film follows, as two teenagers, brother and sister, come walking by—and as Lori talks to the humans, Tyler’s camera is only interested in their dogs. And very nice dogs they are, too.
What follows is somewhat less realistic, as Tyler tries to “interview” the movers:
Tyler: “You guys know what house this is? The Amityville house.”
Mover #1: “Amityville house? What’s that?”
Tyler: “You don’t know what the Amityville house is?”
Mover #1: “You know what the Amityville house is?”
Mover #2: “Yeah, yeah, the Amityville house. That’s where they make those cookies.”
Possibly this explains why, after 32 years of simply driving its occupants away, the Presence decided to start killing them instead. How else can a haunted house earn a little respect?
“I’m worth watching this film for!”
An irritated Tyler explains the situation, prompting Mover #2, who’s black, to comment that they’d better get out of there, because everyone knows the black guy dies first in haunted houses. “You’d better get out of here, then,” responds Mover #3.
After much guffawing, Mover #2 adds derisively, “Amityville? For real? What is that?”
Anyway, it’s Mover #1 who takes an unprompted header down the stairs, where he is found lying in a remarkably neat pool of blood…which from the look of things emanates from his shoulder blade. And once again Tyler is there to capture the moment. Naturally, his first impulse in the aftermath of tragedy is to interview his family:
Virginia: “Tyler, I’m really not in the mood…”
Tyler: “But, mo-oo-oo-mmmmm…”
Virginia; “‘But, mom’ what?”
Tyler: “It’s for my documentary!”
Virginia: “Honey, this really isn’t a good time…”
Tyler: “But, mom, pleeeeeease…”
Okay, I take it back about Douglas being the one we most want to see die horribly.
Wait a minute… HE’S not black! I demand a refund!
($9.99, if you’re interested.)
As far as we can tell, neither of these deaths attracts any official attention, though both, you would imagine, would demand an inquest. (The realtor died of “an an-ar-ism”, according to Tyler, so she at least had an autopsy.) This lack of overt response is particularly eyebrow-raising in light of the Amityville PD’s later demonstrated interest in this house and “weird stuff”.
The death of the mover, on the back of a moaning noise from a vent, some chandelier glasses moving for no reason, a second random noise, the lights flickering, Lori’s bedroom door swinging open on its own and the first appearance of the Random Black Smudge (our main supernatural manifestation for most of the film), convinces Tyler that the house is indeed haunted. He can’t get anyone to listen, however, prompting him to develop the unlovely habit of filming himself talking about what we’ve just seen, as if we hadn’t seen it.
(And I hope you all enjoy the sight of the inside of Devin Clark’s nostrils, because that’s his favoured camera angle while he’s doing it.)
On the back of Virginia throwing an understandable, “I didn’t want to live here in the first place!” hissy-fit—provoked chiefly by Douglas’s mindless reiteration that, “Accidents happen, accidents happen”, and highlighted by her oddly-delivered declaration, “I’m sorry it’s crap!”; yeah, I’m sorry it’s crap, too—tensions ratchet up amongst the family, exacerbated by a back door that likes to unlock itself in the middle of the night—at 3.15am exactly. Douglas’s first assumption is that “Lori snuck out”—
Douglas: “Go pack your bags, little girl! Pack your bags! Military school! Say goodbye to your hair!”
Virginia: “Douglas, that’s a little much. Good lord with the hair…”
—though on the back of Virginia pointing out that after only one day in the house, there’s really nowhere for her to sneak out to, he’s willing to accept it was one of the others. (Note, however, that he immediately suspects, “That kid with the dog.” I’m telling you, the man has issues.) We get a fine display of Douglas’s parenting skills in action here, as he bellows, “Don’t lie to me!” at each child in turn.
Face it, kid: you’re no Heather Donahue.
(That’s not his main move, however, which is repeating everything he says two or three times. Hey, pads out the running-time…)
Douglas packs the distaff side of the family off to the movies, while he installs a security system in the house, with a camera pointing at the back door. While Tyler is hunting for a screwdriver, he discovers someone’s phone; it has a movie on it, but the battery dies before he can see more than that some kids were filming themselves in the house. After much bellowing by Douglas, Tyler puts his camera down, just – as it turns out – at exactly the right angle to capture (i) the second appearance of Random Black Smudge, and (ii) the toolbox falling off a table. Spooky!
So from now on, Tyler’s (colour) footage is intercut with the (black-and-white) images captured by Douglas’s security camera. (Both cameras, I should mention, have immaculate sound recording, great for everything from whispered conversations in the next room to random moaning and bumping noises…except when the film chooses that they shouldn’t.) Thus we get to see it when the back door flies open again – at 3.15am – setting off a loud and annoying alarm; which, by the way, Douglas takes for-freaking-ever to turn off, as dogs start barking all over the neighbourhood. Say hello to the Bensons, Amityville!
We then get an amusing interlude, as Tyler films Douglas inspecting the security footage, and making desperate attempts to convince himself that someone managed to open the door without getting caught on camera…
…which does rather beg the question of why a homicidal paranormal entity would bother with pissy little stuff like this, and knocking toolboxes over, and such like? But perhaps it isn’t intentional, just the result of random emanations; or perhaps the entity has figured out that it’s a good way to drive Douglas into a psychotic break. I guess even a homicidal paranormal entity likes a few giggles from time to time—and trust me, there are few sights funnier than Douglas losing his shit.
It’s the legendary Black Smudge Of Amityville!
The found phone finishes recharging, and Tyler watches the kitchen scene—which cuts out just at the critical moment. The next morning he persuades Douglas, Virginia and Lori to take a look: typically, Lori gets bored and wanders off, Virginia fixates on the fact that, yes, that is their kitchen, and Douglas immediately starts demanding to know whether Lori knows the boy in the footage. The boobs finish it for all three of them, despite Tyler’s plaintive insistence that, “Something happened to them!” (Uh, the kids, not just the boobs.)
Douglas hauls Tyler off to “check the perimeter”; though he totally ignores their only real finding, a window covered with – gasp! – flies. “Wanna chop wood ’til December? You wanna chop wood until December?” is Douglas’s rather mystifying response, when Tyler tries to point them out. Douglas then discovers Melanie deep in conversation with John Matthew, which prompts yet another outbreak of his peculiarly reductive parenting:
Douglas: “Who told you about John Matthew?”
Melanie: “Nobody did.”
Douglas: “Did Tyler tell you?”
Tyler: “She’s been—”
Tyler: “—talking to John Matthews—“
Tyler: “—for the past few days, and—“
Tyler: “—I haven’t told her anything, that’s her little friend—“
Douglas: “TYLER!! Did you tell her about John Matthews?”
Tyler: “No, that’s her little—“
Douglas: “Don’t lie to me!”
Melanie’s insistence that no-one told her, plus the accuracy of her knowledge, briefly baulks Douglas, but only briefly: we next find him catechising Lori on the same subject, cunningly suggesting that perhaps she didn’t tell Melanie anything, just said something in front of her—“Maybe you were chatting with that kid you met the other day?”
Can your heart stand the pulsating terror of—THE TOOLBOX SCENE!?
Virginia: “Honey, don’t get defensive. We’re not accusing you.”
Lori: “You ARE accusing me. You’re ALWAYS accusing me.”
Like I said, Lori is easily the most sympathetic character.
What follows is a rare subtle touch – and of course it has nothing to do with the supernatural – as “that kid” does try to sneak into the house to meet Lori. We can only suppose that, sick of her parents getting worked up over nothing, Lori decided she might as well give them something to get worked up about. Bit rough on “that kid”, though (okay, Greg), since by this time Douglas has taken to sitting up all night with his gun. With the barrel about six inches from Greg’s face, Douglas snarls, “Stay away from my daughter! You hear me!?”
Greg beats a hasty retreat, which Tyler films. He also films Greg’s sudden, jerky exit from his “documentary”—and, we gather, life…
We next find Tyler filming his father’s conversation with the police, as Douglas and the uniformed officer summoned to the scene debate who’s worse, Lori or Greg. (“This kid, Greg, he’s trouble!” “Well, Lori… We’ve moved five times!”) Instead of going to Greg’s house, as you might expect, Uniform “searches the perimeter”, finding nothing, then promises to come back and do a more thorough job in the morning. He does—and finds a pool of blood…
(Most of Tyler’s self-filmed whining is on the topic of, “No-one ever believes me!”, which I suppose is meant to excuse his failure even to try and show anyone his footage of Greg’s abrupt disappearance, but surely he’s old enough to understand the implications of the situation for his father?)
Greg speaks for all of us.
This sets up the comedy highlight of the film, as the detective placed in charge of the investigation, when confronted with a pool of blood, a missing boy, and a man who, by his own admission, chased the kid out of his house at gunpoint—ignores all that, in favour of questioning the Bensons about any “weird stuff” they might have noticed, and then lectures them on The House’s history—before scolding them for being stupid enough to buy it!
(In answer to the “weird stuff” question, Douglas and Virginia tell the detective about the self-opening door…but conspicuously fail to mention the two people who DIED IN THE HOUSE during the past few days. Granted, you would expect the police to know about that…)
A few interesting things here:
First, our detective friend refers to, “The movies, the books”—I wonder which version of events we’re supposed to be living in? Only the DeFeos and the Lutzes are mentioned, and the detective insists, “All that really happened”, yet intriguingly, more than one film has been made.
The detective then offers an alternative theory in which Ronnie DeFeo was not responsible for the murders at all, but that his sister and some unknown accomplices were. This would seem to be a garbled reference to the last version of events supposedly offered up by Ronnie (he later retracted the story, as per standard procedure), wherein he claimed that his sister, Dawn, and two other friends were involved in the killings—but did not, repeat not, try to say that he wasn’t. As Tyler would say—weird.
As the detective tells it, the overt haunting of the house coincided with the emergence of this theory, some twelve years earlier—since which time, eight families have moved in only to be driven out again within “a month or two”. The suggestion here seems to be that the angry spirit of Ron DeFeo Jr was objecting to having his murders “credited” to someone else…
“My ears were burning.”
…although there is one rather significant stumbling-block to that theory – despite the IMDb’s credit listing for “The Ghost / Ron DeFeo Jr” – namely, that at the time of filming, Ron DeFeo Jr was still alive. (He still is.) On the other hand, you can readily believe that no-one connected with this production bothered to Google and check. (“Aw, that was ages ago – he must be dead by now!”)
Be all that as it may—while this conversation is going on, a ghost shows up, fading in as the detective describes the original murders…
Not much of a ghost, but it’s there; though why an ordinary security camera should be able to see it remains a mystery.
Douglas’s response to the escalating situation is to call in an old army friend, giving him a rather self-interested version of events. (The two of them have a good laugh over Douglas pulling his gun on Greg—who is currently missing, presumed dead, I might remind you.) The friend gets busy installing a set of cameras all over the house—including one in Lori’s bedroom.
Again…I really don’t think it’s Lori who has a problem.
(To be fair we eventually discover there’s one in the master-bedroom too, but the way they focus on Lori here is pretty icky.)
Tyler is following all this as usual, and we are again reminded of the existence of those outside electrical wires (“The wires? Again?”), although it isn’t clear what’s supposed to be going on with them, at least not yet. Tyler then bothers Douglas’s friend with questions about ghost-hunting until Douglas chases him away. He then runs around outside the house and to film Dad’s Friend from the other side of The Door That Won’t Stay Shut…with the result that he completely misses the next ghostly manifestation, which occurs just to the side of the doorway and out of his / his camera’s range of vision.
Lori Benson first thing in the morning: much scarier than your average ghost.
We get another welcome subtle touch here as Friend sees the ghost on his camera-feed and swings around in sudden fear—
—but there’s no-one there; no-one except Tyler, who sticks his head back in to ask if he’s okay? Friend, still breathing heavily, sends him to get Douglas. It doesn’t seem as if he mentions his experience, though, as he is last seen simply describing all his camera placements.
Well—not quite last seen. Remember those wires? Friend’s inspection of the backyard leads him to stand directly underneath them…and luckily, he installed a camera out there, too, so we don’t miss a thing when the inevitable happens…
(NB: third dead body, no police presence…)
…and that night, at 3.15am, the back door swings open, setting off the alarm. This time Virginia shuts it off, before going into the lounge-room to comfort Douglas, who has had an emotional breakdown over his friend’s death and sobs helplessly in her arms. (Exercising heroic restraint, Virginia keeps herself from telling him that, “Accidents happen.“) And naturally, Tyler is there to capture every moment…
…but he immediately out-creeps himself, with a cut to him filming his mother while she sleeps…
He tries to wake her up but can’t – or maybe she’s just ignoring him – so he wanders off to film his father, who is frantically flipping through books – and who also ignores him – before he catches an hilarious glimpse of Lori looking like the long-haired ghost-girl of any given J-horror of the last twenty years. She confines herself, however, to glaring at her brother through the hair-curtain. Tyler wanders off again, and finds Melanie deep in yet another conversation…
All together now—“HOW VERY SHOCKING!”
“Da-aa-d,” he calls, “she’s talking to John Matthews again!”
And although Douglas took no notice whatsoever when Tyler spoke to him on his own behalf, this brings him double-time, as he would say himself. When Melanie points at what looks like thin air, Douglas has a brain-wave and grabs the hooked-up laptop to look at the security-camera footage, which shows him what Tyler’s camera cannot see: the small boy sitting opposite Melanie.
Douglas has to put the laptop down, though – meaning that he doesn’t see John Matthew beat a hasty retreat out the door – leaving him to launch a vicious, bellowing, two-fisted, two-footed attack upon—well, nothing.
Melanie [unimpressed]: “He’s outside, Daddy.”
(We note that Douglas produces exactly the same turn of phrase here as he did when threatening Greg with his gun, viz., “Stay away from my daughter!”)
After this little incident, Douglas reassures his family that he has, “Identified the enemy”, and that he has a plan—to which the House responds by turning the lights out. When they come back on, Ronnie is standing in a corner…
Turns out that Virginia has a plan, too: to leave ASAP. She breaks off her instructions to the kids regarding packing when Douglas walks past…allowing us to put our own interpretation upon her hurried reassurance to Melanie that of course Daddy’s coming with them…
“Your dad’s a fruitcake—I’m outta here!”
Douglas, meanwhile, is putting his plan into effect—smothering The House in crucifixes and rosaries and other artefacts. He completely ignores his family’s frantic pleas for an explanation in the process, which finally pushes Lori over the edge:
Lori: “You are such a fucking loser! I hate you! I hate you! Do you hear me? I hate you SO MUCH!!”
Virginia: “That is so not helping!”
(I gotta say— I don’t know whether there was a screenwriter, or whether Amy Van Horne ad-libbed her dialogue, but either way the main thing I have taken away from my viewing of The Amityville Haunting is the line, “That is so not helping!” Also “Good lord with the hair!”, but I get fewer opportunities to say that.)
Anyway, with his last crucifix, Douglas does a “cleansing” circuit of The House. Weirdly, however, he seems to miss the reappearance of John Matthew, who we see via the security camera, but Douglas does not see even though he’s checking the feed. Hmm.
John Matthew next pops up sitting at the table, having milk and cookies with Melanie. (At least, there’s a bite out of one of the cookies on his plate.) Tyler asks Melanie to ask him what he wants:
Melanie: “He wants you, Mommy and Daddy to leave…and he wants me to stay here forever.”
Ouch. Poor Lori.
By this time, Douglas is in full military-flashback mode, strutting around with his hands clasped behind his back as he barks orders and uses military time. He does not take Virginia’s suggestion that they pack up and leave for Aunt Linda’s well:
Hey, more subtle foreshadowing!
Douglas: “NOW LISTEN UP!! WE ARE BENSONS!! WE WILL NOT ABANDON THIS CAMP!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?? WE ARE AT WAR!!”
I’m not sure what’s funnier here: Douglas’s frantic karate-chopping of the air or Virginia and Lori’s complete lack of response to it.
But this is only the tip of the ice-berg. Next thing we know, he’s threatening an invisible enemy with his gun and doing a belly-crawl through the lounge-room, before dashing off at top speed.
There is a momentary pause—
Lori: “What the fuck – !?”
—before Virginia rounds up the kids for a retreat upstairs.
Alas for all concerned, Aunt Linda is currently on vacation, and not due back for another two days. So the plan is just to ride it out until then…
The Amityville Haunting saved up most of its effects budget, such as it was, for these final few minutes, during which one Benson family member after another meets a gruesome fate.
Lori and Virginia get the physical worst of it; while Tyler dies as he lived, clutching his camera; though perhaps we should be most shocked by the implications of Douglas’s death as, while John Matthew looks on, Melanie literally twists the knife:
(Jason Williams saves his worst acting for his death scene, which is saying something.)
And at the last, The Ghost, whether he be Ron DeFeo Jr or not, puts in a clear appearance for the cameras, doing that rapid-head-movement thing that all the cool modern ghosts are into.
That’s not quite the last last though; and if this film does finally manage to generate a few uncomfortable moments, in the end it leaves us laughing with some of the greatest coroner’s reports ever written. They even draw attention to it!
And for one last time—“Poor Lori!”
This review was part of the B-Masters’ THE BAD PLACE Roundtable.