“A dozen years ago I would have thought that what you saw in that lamp was an hallucination brought on by fear. Now— Now I believe that the evil in that house could transmigrate into that lamp…”
[aka Amityville IV: The Evil Escapes aka Amityville: The Evil Escapes, Part 4 aka Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes]
Director: Sandor Stern
Starring: Patty Duke, Jane Wyatt, Fredric Lehne, Geri Betzler (Zoe Trilling), Aron Eisenberg, Brandy Gold, Lou Hancock, Norman Lloyd, Peggy McCay, Gloria Cromwell
Screenplay: Sandor Stern, based upon the novel by John G. Jones
Synopsis: A team of priests led by Father Manfred (Norman Lloyd) arrives at the notorious Amityville house to perform an exorcism. Father Dennis Kibbler (Fredric Lehne) enters a room containing a bizarre, man-sized lamp. As the young priest performs the ritual, the lamp glows, and a strange force enters it by travelling through its power cord. For a moment, a demonic face is visible within the lamp; then a force throws Father Kibbler violently across the room, and he is knocked unconscious… The next day, Father Manfred inspects the house, and feels that the evil has departed. A yard sale is held to dispose of the furniture. Helen Royce (Peggy McCay) decides to buy the lamp as a joke present for her sister in California. Inspecting it more closely, Helen cuts her finger on it. Her friend, Rhona (Gloria Cromwell), warns her to get a tetanus shot, but Helen laughs the incident off. The lamp arrives at the home of Alice Leacock (Jane Wyatt) at the same time as Alice’s newly-widowed daughter, Nancy Evans (Patty Duke), and her three children, Amanda (Zoe Trilling), Brian (Aron Eisenberg) and Jessica (Brandy Gold). After greeting her family, Alice opens the gift from her sister and assembles the lamp. Nancy is appalled by its ugliness. At that moment, Alice’s cat starts to howl, and scratches Amanda. Jessica stares fixedly at the lamp…. That night, Nancy apologises to her mother for “invading” her home, promising that they will leave as soon as she gets her qualifications and secures a teaching job. She then confesses to being very worried about Jessica, who has regressed emotionally since her father’s death, and keeps insisting that he is still alive. In the living-room, the lamp begins to glow. The mysterious force leaves it, entering a power point. All over the house, the lights flicker; in the kitchen, the electric kettle and the radio switch themselves on. Alice burns her hand on the kettle. Preparing for bed, Nancy is shocked to see her dead husband’s reflection in her mirror, She spins around but there is no-one there. Jessica asks her mother if she can sleep with her. Nancy says yes, but just this once. As she sleeps, Nancy feels an arm tighten around her: a man’s arm… Jerking awake, Nancy finds that Jessica has gone. Following her daughter’s voice, she finds her sitting before the lamp. Jessica accuses Nancy of “scaring him”, insisting that her father was there. The next morning, the family is horrified when Brian finds Alice’s pet parrot dead in the toaster oven. Meanwhile, in New York, Father Kibbler is released from hospital. Visiting the house, he is appalled to learn that the furniture has been sold, and gets Helen Royce’s name from the real estate agent. That night, Father Manfred warns Father Kibbler that evil can and will transmigrate into people or objects. Father Kibbler goes looking for Helen Royce and finds her in the hospital, dying…
Comments: When you watch a lot of movies, it is inevitable that some of them will vanish into the mists of your memory: they simply lack that “hook” that embeds a story in the consciousness. Conversely, other movies have the ability to stay with you permanently, even after a single viewing. Such a film is Amityville: The Evil Escapes, which wins this distinction on the strength of its evil, terrifying, demonic…lamp.
It’s a victory of sorts, I guess.
Amityville IV: Ikea’s Revenge.
The fourth entry in any film series is, more often than not, the point at which the well runs dry, and the original concept becomes no more than a hook on which to hang a collection of essentially unrelated events; and this is certainly the case with The Evil Escapes. We’re into true franchise territory now, people. Gone is the comparative respectability of the first three Amityville films, studio productions that won cinema releases. This is made-for TV in the worst sense: it’s cheap, it has a lot more talk than action, and every time something frightening or violent threatens to happen – which isn’t often – there’s a discreet fade-to-black.
The worst aspect of it, though, is that it doesn’t even have the redeeming presence of The House, which as we learnt during Amityville 3-D is capable of lending a modicum of credibility to even the most ridiculous of circumstances. The House does put in an appearance here, but so briefly you can hardly even call it a cameo. We get one glimpse of it at night under the opening credits (yet another “For Sale” sign planted optimistically in the yard), and one glimpse by daylight, and then—it’s gone…it’s gone…
Of course, there are probably a few pedantic souls out there prepared to argue that The House shouldn’t be in this film at all, considering that it blew itself up for no readily apparent reason at the end of the previous film. Now, ordinarily I’m as pedantic as the best of them, but such is my love for that old Dutch-Colonial, in this case I’m willing to overlook such minor details as continuity and common sense.
The Evil Escapes opens with an apparent attempt to make up for the distinct lack of religious content in the previous instalment, with a whole swarm of priests (what is the collective term for a group of priests? – a seminary? a confessional?) descending upon The House en masse. Naturally, it’s raining. A gentleman who will turn out to be the latest in our string of hopeful realtors hands over the keys of his property to the oldest priest, Father Manfred, commenting, “If you don’t mind, I’ll stay out here.”
“Don’t mind, don’t blame ya,” replies Father Manfred drily. The priests go inside and, oh dear, oh dear – The Franchiseville Horror: the interiors of this so-called “House” bear not the slightest resemblance to what we’ve seen in any of the previous films, not in dimension, not in arrangement, and particularly not in the ubiquitous flowery wallpaper (although, granted, it does look like the work of the devil).
The priests split up and start going whupass with the holy water, and the house responds with a series of supernatural manifestations that—well, honestly, I doubt that would lead you to lose an hour’s sleep, let alone go screaming into the night without any of your possessions. A chandelier shakes slightly; a gas stove turns itself on; doors and windows open and close; a priest gets attacked by a rocking-chair. Spooky! We do get some goop down the walls here, but it’s a most pathetic little trickle, as if the house itself were rather embarrassed by the half-heartedness of the proceedings. Or maybe it didn’t want to spoil the wallpaper.
Throughout, our focus has been upon the youngest and most nervous of the priests, Father Kibbler. (Tell me, why do some priests get a first name and some a surname?) Here he enters a room containing – dum, dum, dummm – a lamp, which he proceeds to exorcise. This, curiously, results in Evil entering the lamp….by emerging from a power point and running up the electrical cord. As a bump. And this, my friends, we are asked to take seriously.
“The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Terror”, it ain’t.
As Evil takes up its new residence, the lamp lights up, and a demonic face is briefly seen within it. The next instant, a blast of energy hurls Father Kibbler across the room. He hits his head and is knocked out, sliding down the wall in a manner that is also embarrassingly cartoon-like.
However, this rather lackadaisical exorcism must have done the trick, because the next day when Father Manfred re-visits the house, he declares that the Evil has gone – he can feel it. And he’s right. The Evil is no longer in the house – it’s out on the lawn. With a price-tag attached to it.
In one of the film’s more puzzling scenes, we see that all the furniture from the house is being disposed of in – a yard sale!? Now, doesn’t that furniture belong to someone? The Lutzes? The Montellis? The Baxters? The bank? In any case, the one person it does not belong to would be the real estate agent who’s evidently reaping the profits. The Amityville locals, who have been crossing the road to avoid the house for years, or speaking of it in hushed voices, are now pawing through the goods like raccoons through garbage; and amongst the pawers is Helen Royce, who takes one look at the lamp and declares it to be the most hideous thing she’s ever seen in her life. She then announces that she’s buying it as a present for her sister.
Well, what can I say? Sisters are like that. Trust me. I know.
Still chuckling over her “joke” (the expression “more money than sense” comes to mind), Helen manages to cut herself on the lamp. Her friend, Rhona, suggests that she get a tetanus shot, but Helen waves the advice away. Later on, she will of course be punished for her arrogance, being struck down in a manner so natural, it will completely fail to terrify the audience.
Three Centuries Of Evil. Brought to you by Acme.
And so The Lamp Of Supreme Evil is sent on its way to the west coast. Coincidentally, another source of horror is also wending its way towards Alice Leacocks’s house: Alice’s somewhat estranged daughter, Nancy, and her three children, who have been thrown upon the cold, cruel world by the sudden death of their husband and father. Alice is less than thrilled by this development; but, as the saying goes, home is the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in.
As it happens, the carload of Evanses arrives at Alice’s front door at the very same moment that Helen Royce’s “joke” is being unloaded from the back of the delivery van. And so, all unknowing, Alice Leacock allows The Source Of All Evil into her home.
Oh, yeah – and she has The Lamp carried in, too.
The Evil Escapes then flexes its TV movie muscles, spending at least as much time on its characters and their dysfunctional relationships as it does on its supernatural elements. Now, admittedly, none of this is terrible. The performances are all solid, and Sandor Stern is an old hand at this kind of stuff; but this, or is supposed to be, an Amityville film, and the fact that Alice and Nancy have been feuding for twenty years over Nancy’s decision to drop out of college and get married isn’t exactly what we’re here to see.
If they were trying to suggest that the supernatural presence was working to bring existing flashpoints to the surface, it isn’t any more convincing here than it was in Amityville II, although in a different way. There it was unconvincing because the Montellis really didn’t need any help destroying themselves; here, because the tension between mother and daughter hardly even deserves the word “problem”; more like “normal family life”. Truthfully, Alice’s unconcealed reluctance to have her daughter and grandkids under her roof is rather refreshing. It’s not that she doesn’t love them; she just doesn’t want to live with them.
“Our prices are so low, you’ll think we’re possessed! All items guaranteed freshly exorcised!”
(The supreme moment here is when Alice proves her grandma credentials by waving away Nancy’s fears for Jessica’s mental health to zero in on what really matters: Amanda’s wardrobe, and Brian’s painfully late-eighties ’do: “Now, what sort of haircut is that!?”)
(Mind you, she’s got a point.)
On the other side of the emotional fence, Amanda and Brian are depressed by both their father’s death and their grandmother’s evident reluctance to house them, but are otherwise completely functional. The only real issue anywhere here is with Jessica, the youngest child, who refuses to accept that her father has gone, and who has regressed emotionally since his loss. Naturally, it is upon her that the malevolent force focuses its attention; and Nancy grows increasingly concerned about the girl’s mental state, particularly when she starts holding conversations with the lamp and insisting that “Daddy was here”.
Jessica’s interaction with the lamp is curiously staged. It makes no reference at all to the “invisible friend” trope of the original Amityville Horror, but instead blatantly rips off Poltergeist; an artistic choice made all the more puzzling by the fact that the screenwriter of the former was, yup, Sandor Stern.
The supernatural phenomena, such as they are, tend wander between the painfully clichéd to the just plain boring. When the lamp is first brought into the house, Alice’s pets, Pepper the cat and Fred the bird, both freak out, much to the dull-witted humans’ puzzlement.
Amanda and Brian react to The Haircut.
(Fred, by the way, is an Australian eastern rosella – and what a member of his species is doing in a film like this is by far its greatest mystery.)
That night, as the lamp flashes, the Satanic Bump once again makes its way along the electrical cord and enters a power point. The house lights waver, a radio turns itself on, and the kettle manages to overheat its heat-proof handle and burn Alice’s hand. Various other electrical mishaps follow, climaxing in twin disasters, one gruesome-hilarious, and the other just hilarious-hilarious.
In the latter, Brian is messing around with a chainsaw in the basement and making vroom-vroom noises (how old is he?) when, naturally, it turns itself on, taking out a good chunk of the shelving and the stairs and very nearly Alice herself before Peggy the housekeeper rather bravely interposes a metal bar, upon which it obligingly turns itself off again.
And in the former, the family decides that enough is enough with the mishaps and calls for professional help. Uh, an electrician, that is, not a priest. The electrician sends his son, Danny, to pick up the “faulty” appliances. Danny starts making goo-goo eyes at Amanda before he is well across the threshold, but what looks like the set-up for a little teen romance swiftly takes a turn for the nasty. After helping Peggy move the lamp into the attic, Danny comes downstairs to find that the garbage disposal has malfunctioned – mwoo-ha-ha!! Taping the off-switch, he proceeds to stick his hand down the drain to see what the problem is, and—
The Sicilian Mafia puts a horse’s head in your bed. The Australian Mafia is…a little different.
This last sequence is one of only three really memorable scenes in The Evil Escapes. The film’s best comes when Nancy lies sleeping, clearly dreaming of her late husband, and smiles in her sleep as a man’s arm slides around her and holds her tight….only to jerk awake with a terrified gasp as her conscious mind realises that this really shouldn’t be happening.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the fate of the unfortunate Fred, discovered during breakfast the following morning, when Brian goes to pop some rolls into the toaster oven… This little contretemps Alice manages to blame on her family (although she does blame herself for leaving the cage open, once they’re out of earshot), without anyone stopping to ask how a 100 gram bird managed to open up the toaster oven, hop inside, and then close the door after himself. I guess Fred really, really wanted out of this movie.
(Jokes aside— If there’s a meaner, lazier way to get a reaction out of a film viewer than doing something rotten to an animal, I haven’t encountered it.)
The family’s residential woes continue when the phone repeatedly misbehaves (all the better to intercept those pesky warnings from the east coast, nyuck-nyuck-nyuck), and then The Source Of All Evil goes for a classic by making black goop run out of the taps and fill up the toilets. (Despite of the fact that we are told that the goop “smells like a sewer”, Amanda notices nothing wrong at first and goes on brushing her teeth – ewww!!!!) While Peggy responds to black goop in the water-lines by – doing a load of washing!? – the summoned plumber crawls in under the house.
As he struggles to undo the seal on the end of the main pipe, the pipe itself swells up, dislodging a beam that falls and traps him. The end of the pipe finally blows off under its own pressure, revealing – ulp! – Danny’s hand.
“Well, now, there’s your problem.”
The pipe then disgorges its disgusting contents upon its unfortunate victim, who can only lie there, trapped and helpless and drowning in shit: an audience identification figure if ever there was one.
And if all this fails to convince us that we are dealing with Three Centuries Of Evil, it also makes the plumber’s van drive away by itself.
Meanwhile, the forces of Good are massing….or to put it another way, Dennis Kibbler has hopped a discount flight from New York to California, after discovering the sale of the lamp, then arriving at Helen Royce’s bedside just in time to perform the last rites. A string of phone-calls having ended in ringing out on one coast and a dead line on the other, Father Kibbler decides that he has to warn Alice personally. Father Manfred tries to dissuade him, suggesting that they ask the local police to check on Alice instead; and The Evil Escapes comes perilously close to acknowledging its own idiocy when the younger priest retorts, “On what basis? A satanic force has taken possession of a lamp!?”
Recognising the unanswerable when he hears it, Father Manfred sends his protégé on his way with his blessing, literally, but not before giving him another warning about what he’s up against. Claiming that “Three Centuries Of Evil” are concentrated in the lamp, and that no-one has ever managed to leave peacefully on “that land”, Father Manfred adds that, “As recently as 1974”…well, you know how the rest of that goes.
As usual with these post-lawsuit sequels, there is no explicit mention of anything or anyone later than the DeFeos, which here has the peculiar consequence of leaving us with no idea why Father Manfred and his team of holy rollers finally took on the house in the first place, a good fifteen years after the events he refers to.
Yeah, kids have that effect on me, too.
Back in California, the Satanic Lamp has also been stepping up its attacks on Jessica, whose screaming hysteria while being dragged out of the attic has so far been diagnosed as “fever” leading to “hallucinations”. Left to look after her, Peggy finds the child’s room wrecked, then hunts her to the attic, where the lamp attacks, strangling Peggy with its cord. (Curiously, her death will be later be called “heart attack”.)
Thus it is that when Father Kibbler arrives, he finds only Jessica in the house. She gives him Creepy-Kid-Eye while insisting upon his coming in, which not unnaturally has the opposite effect. He turns, stumbles across Alice’s front lawn – and then throws up at the base of a tree. YES!! Another puking priest!!
(Really, of all the continuity points they could have chosen….)
Father Kibbler recovers enough to slip a note in the letterbox, which eventually falls to Nancy. First, however, they discover Jessica’s ruined room, which they take as the sign of a break-in….although the violent picture that the child is drawing, plus her dogged insistence that “Peggy went home”, eventually has the same effect on Nancy as her “Come in”-s did earlier on Father Kibbler. During the subsequent hunt, the luckless Brian, who was the one to find Fred, also finds Peggy.
(I tell you, if that kid ever opens a door again in his life, it will be a miracle.)
There’s being possessed…and then there’s enjoying it.
As the police and the medical crew depart, Nancy re-reads the note from Father Kibbler and decides to meet with him. In the bar at his hotel, the priest explains to Nancy all about the “Evil Lamp” thing, warning her that the Evil will naturally attack the most vulnerable person in its environment. Realising that this means that Jessica’s problems probably can’t be solved with Ritalin, Nancy invites Kibbler back to her place for coffee and a quick exorcism.
Meanwhile, Amanda decides to break up the monotony of babysitting a satanically possessed child by looking for the cat. It turns out to be on the roof, giving Amanda the opportunity to lean out the window – which promptly whacks her on the back of the head and knocks her out.
Jessica evades her siblings and her grandmother and makes a triumphant dash for the attic, where the door unlocks itself to admit her. Nancy arrives with Father Kibbler, who immediately charges upstairs, but can’t get the attic door open. As Nancy orders Brian and Amanda out of the house, Kibbler fetches an axe from the basement (I was hoping for the chainsaw, but never mind) and bashes his way through the suspiciously flimsy door to where The Lamp Of Doom is giving out about 100 watts of Evil.
What follows is one of the most pathetic “exorcisms” I’ve ever seen, and believe me, I’ve sat through some doozies! Kibbler starts with the holy water, and has some initial success: The Lamp recoils, leaving behind it a trail of black goop that rather comically suggests that The Source Of All Evil has had an accident. Jessica levitates, and flies towards the priest shrieking, “Don’t hurt my Daddy!” and brandishing a knife. She succeeds in stabbing Kibbler in the shoulder before he and Nancy can subdue her and toss the knife away.
“Depend®…because you’ve got a lot of demonic manifesting to do!”
Kibbler then moves in with the crucifix, only have it jerked from his hand as The Electrical Cord Of Doom wraps itself around his arm. Nancy is distracted from her ongoing struggle with Jessica when the demonic face within the lamp briefly becomes that of the late Frank Evans, and Jessica reclaims the knife. She goes to stab Nancy, but is stopped by The Power Of Mother Love.
(Yeccchhhh!! Put me in the Alice Leacock camp.)
Meanwhile, Alice has had enough, and she starts in with the holy water, shouting, “Leave us alone, you son of a bitch!” – which quite frankly works at lot better than any of Kibbler’s ritual chants. Alice presses her advantage, finally lifting The Lamp and tossing it through the window – unfortunately for Father Kibbler, who is still enmeshed in Satan’s Personal Power Cord. However, The Cord turns out to have grown about a hundred yards since the last time we got a good look at it, and therefore Nancy has time to snatch up the axe and sever it, freeing Kibbler and allowing The Lamp to plunge to its destruction on the rocks below the cliff.
The film dissolves into a scene of mass hugging and kissing as the family celebrates its new-found ability to express love. Alice departs with Father Kibbler, the Evanses do a bit more hugging, and everything seems to be sunshine and lollipops.
Father Kibbler exorcises Three Centuries Of Evil, as Alice looks on in, um, terror. Yes, that’s what it is: terror.
But wait! – would you be astonished to learn that It Isn’t Over After All?? Well, truthfully, neither was I – although the way in which we learn it is a pretty jaw-dropping experience. The film ends with a pan across the smashed lamp, and lurking beside it is Pepper the cat; and as she yowls and turns towards the camera, we see that—
—the film-makers could think of no better way of closing this sad excuse for a horror movie than by ripping off another sad excuse for a horror movie, Zoltan, Hound Of Dracula. And if you don’t know what I mean, shame on you!
As a made-for-TV movie, The Evil Escapes is fairly inoffensive entertainment (actually, can you say anything worse about a horror movie?), but the bottom line is, it lacks pretty much everything that was at all memorable about the three cinema releases that preceded it. Sadly, that includes The House – although amusingly, there was clearly recognition of how much they were giving up on this point on somebody’s part, as can be judged by the way that the film includes numerous shots of Alice Leacock’s home instead…which just happens to be a white, three-storey, wooden job.
At least the professionalism of the cast helps this to go down easy. At this point in her career, Patty Duke could justly be referred to as “genre veteran Patty Duke”, and she handles her role with ease. Jane Wyatt – I beg your pardon, Miss Jane Wyatt – is clearly more at home in the domestic angst scenes than the horror scenes, though: her expression during the exorcism is chiefly indicative of extreme boredom.
Brandy Gold hasn’t much more to do as Jessica than glower ominously, but although I snark at their eighties-ness, Zoe Trilling and Aron Eisenberg do quite well as Amanda and Brian – and perhaps more to the point, to find a couple of nice, well-behaved, non-bickering, non-sulking teens in a film like this is a very welcome change.
You’re not fooling anyone, you know.
Fredric Lehne is convincingly panicky as the inexperienced priest who knows only too well that he’s in over his head, while veteran character actor / producer / director Norman Lloyd rounds things out with a nice supporting performance as Father Manfred – even if he does get the film’s dumbest line (see above)
After taking this holiday in California, the franchise did at least return to Amityville for its next entry – but the results were hardly more successful, even though in place of a Satanic Lamp they offered up a far more terrifying premise: home renovation.