“There’s no sense in looking for it. It’s not like ghosts and demons and shit. You see, I think it’s inside of us. It’s inside of everything. It’s trying to make this house its home.”
[aka Amityville: It’s About Time]
Director: Tony Randel
Starring: Shawn Weatherly, Stephen Macht, Damon Martin, Megan Ward, Nina Talbot, Jonathan Penner, Dean Cochran, Terrie Snell
Screenplay: Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro, based upon a story by John G. Jones
Synopsis: In the Burlwood Estates housing development, Jacob Sterling (Stephen Macht), who designed the Estates, arrives home from a business trip, struggling with a large, awkward package as he climbs out of his cab. Jacob is greeted by his ex-girlfriend, Andrea Livingston (Shawn Weatherly), who agreed to stay with Jacob’s teenage children, Lisa (Megan Ward) and Rusty (Damon Martin), when Jacob was called out of town on short notice. Lisa greets her father affectionately, but Rusty is morose and stand-offish. Jacob opens his package and reveals its contents: an antique clock. The others look on doubtfully as he places it triumphantly on the mantle, explaining that it came from one of the east coast houses being torn down as part of his new development. Outside, a storm builds; and for an instant, in a flash of lightning, a neighbour, Iris Wheeler (Nina Talbot), seems to see the Sterling house replaced by another building: a wooden Dutch-Colonial with strange, eye-like windows… After the children have gone to bed, Jacob thanks Andrea for her help. She says drily that it was just like old times, particularly the friction with Lisa, still grieving for her late mother. Jacob tries to persuade Andrea to stay the night. She protests in spite of her lingering attraction to him, knowing it will lead to regrets, but finally gives in. Meanwhile, downstairs, mechanisms within the clock suddenly activate of their own accord and bury themselves into the walls and the mantle… While looking for a snack, Rusty sees a neighbourhood dog, Peaches, out on the patio. It forces its way inside and into the lounge, where it barks at the clock until Rusty drags it out of the house. Then, for a moment, Rusty sees the lounge-room replaced by an entirely different room, one lit by black candles and filled with frightening objects…but still with the clock on the mantle. After breakfast the next morning, when Rusty and Lisa have left for school, Jacob goes out for a run. It is a lovely morning and Jacob is in a good mood, waving greetings at his neighbours – although he still takes a moment to reprimand Mrs Tetmann (Terrie Snell), for allowing Peaches off her leash. Jacob’s run takes him to the far side of the Estates, where the second-phase building is under way. He turns at the fence dividing the two sections of the Estates – and finds himself confronted by Mrs Tetmann and Peaches. The dog launches itself at Jacob, savaging him… At the hospital, Andrea is given a long list of medical instructions, and realises ruefully that she won’t be leaving the Sterling household any time soon. Rusty cuts school to play chess with Iris, confiding his experience of the night before. Iris insists that something evil has found its way to Burlwood. Andrea drives Jacob home and reluctantly agrees to stay a couple of days to look after him. Andrea and Rusty call upon Mrs Tetmann, and find that Peaches shows no sign of the injuries that Jacob insists he inflicted. On the way home, Rusty tries to tell Andrea about Iris’s theory and his own experience, but she impatiently silences him. That evening, as the kids have dinner, Andrea looks for the phone-book. Rusty goes to get it for her, and returns to find the room empty and dark. Andrea enters and asks him where he went? A bewildered Rusty looks at the clock – and realises that three hours have passed since he left the room…
Comments: There’s a revealing little detail in the IMDb listing for Amityville 1992: It’s About Time, one that does not appear in the film’s credits themselves: a claim that the screenplay was based upon the novel Amityville: The Evil Escapes by John G. Jones, the source of the film of the same name, rather than just “a story by John G. Jones”. Mr Jones first became a contributor to Long Island’s most notorious cottage industry as the author of The Supposedly True Further Adventures Of The Lutzes, The Amityville Horror II – not the source of the film of the same name – and subsequently turned out a string of novels that exploited the brand name but, presumably in order to keep the author off George Lutz’s ever-lengthening Personal Enemies List, had progressively less and less to do with the original story.
The Evil Escapes, like the film based upon it, had an item from The House absorbing “the evil” and being carried all unknowingly into another house filled with a new series of potential victims, that item being – [*snicker*] – a demonic lamp. It’s About Time uses precisely the same premise, as the IMDb poster rightly recognised; but, as its punning subtitle indicates, this ride on the roundabout we have “the evil” inhabiting a clock, a twist that allows for all sorts of time-tampering – and which absolved the screenwriters (or so they evidently felt) from any responsibility to produce a story-line that made even a lick of sense.
It’s About Time is one of those frustrating “necklace” films, one whose flashes of inspiration are embedded in a supporting network of idiocy. Curiously, where this film succeeds best – and it’s certainly the only Amityville film to date I’ve felt inclined to say this about – is on the level of character, and more specifically in the ongoing conspiracy of events that drags Andrea Livingston back into the almost-family relationships that she reluctantly but necessarily severed some time back.
Shawn Weatherly gives a really nice performance as Andrea, but she is supported by some unusually sensible and clear-sighted writing, which avoids the annoying exaggerations and false conflicts that are too often offered up as “human interest” in horror movies. The relationship between Andrea and Jacob may have broken down, but there is still sincere affection between the two of them, and between Andrea and the kids; and when Jacob asks for her help she does not hesitate to offer it.
The Sterlings…and their new housemate.
Lisa and Rusty, some years older now than when Andrea was part of their household, accept her as their baby-sitter, and barely bat an eyelid when they subsequently find her at the breakfast table following Jacob’s return. Rusty, indeed, is entirely unconcerned; while Lisa, although still vaguely hostile to the notion of a step-mother, clearly likes the idea of having Andrea as a gal-pal. The two of them “talk boys”, and when Andrea is about to leave – she thinks – she prefaces her departure with a caress of Lisa’s hair and a promise of a shopping expedition.
As for Jacob, the attraction is still there; but so are all the reasons that Andrea broke things off in the first place, as she recognises only too clearly—although she sleeps with him anyway.
This is one of the film’s missteps, particularly given what we later deduce about the supernatural forces that have been set loose: it would have been far more dramatically valid had Andrea rejected Jacob’s advances; but then, who needs thematic complexity when you can have boobs?
Andrea’s mounting exasperation at her inability actually to leave the Sterling household has a comical aspect to it, but it culminates in a burst of anger when she brings Jacob home from the hospital following the attack by Peaches. In a nutshell, she fumes, it is their old relationship all over again: Jacob’s situation, Jacob’s needs, Jacob’s wants, completely subsuming Andrea’s own…and the fact that the current state of affairs is in no way Jacob’s fault only adds to her frustration. With Jacob potentially pre-rabid, and ordered to bed with regular medication and dressings that need changing every eight hours, Andrea is trapped, emotionally far more than physically; and with resignation she begins doing what she always did do, re-ordering her life so that it revolves around Jacob, a series of acts that includes cancelling a weekend away with her new boyfriend, psychologist Dr Leonard Stafford.
“Leash laws, my ass!”
To my mind, the character of Leonard is one of It’s About Time’s real successes. On the surface, Leonard is just one more example of the eternal romantic triangle straw man, the female lead’s dorky new boyfriend, who is written the way he is precisely in order to negate any particular need on the part of the viewer or the other characters to feel guilty when he is, inevitably, screwed over and eventually dumped.
Worse still, Leonard is simultaneously another cliché, the touchy-feely, psycho-babbling, Sensitive New Age Guy – except that the writers cleverly turn all this on its head by having him a genuine SNAG, and his psycho-babbling – “You are caught in the middle of a classic interdependent destructive relationship!” is his opening remark to Andrea – almost invariably dead on the mark in its diagnosis. It finally comes across more as though Leonard psycho-babbles in the course of his professional life and occasionally forgets to shut it off out-of-hours; hence his unwise suggestion to Rusty that the two of them “open up a dialogue”, which Rusty treats with the contempt it deserves.
Moreover, Leonard is sincerely in love with Andrea, enough so that he not only accepts her nursing her ex and looking after his kids, but moves in to help her do it. (Leonard’s niceness makes Andrea’s cheating even more discomforting…but, hey! – boobs!) Nevertheless, he’s understandably less than thrilled with the situation; and nor is he so SNAGgy as to be lacking in a certain hostility towards Jacob. When Leonard offers to “help” Andrea by calling in a favour and having Jacob institutionalised (“He’s a friend of mine – there’ll be no records!”), he’s not entirely joking; and after Jacob’s condition (or something) leads him to attack Andrea, Leonard’s hog-tying and sedating of his rival is carried out with something less than complete professional detachment – if not with positive relish.
Jacob was just fine with Andrea having a new boyfriend…
In short, Leonard unexpectedly turns out to be a joke we laugh with rather than at, not least because he gets most of the film’s best lines. I particularly like his summation of the Sterling family: “You have a pyromaniacal Nazi down the hall; you got a toxic lunatic in the master bedroom. The only one around here who seems normal is Lisa, and that’s because I’ve not met her yet.”
At the other end of the spectrum, the depiction of Rusty is wrong-headed in so many ways, it’s hard to know where to start. I can only assume that Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro had never in their lives come across an actual rebellious teenager, if this is what they think one behaves like – I mean, for heaven’s sake, Rusty cuts school in order to play chess!
Rusty is moody, sometimes to the point of rudeness, but we are given no hint of any history of real behavioural problems, still less violence – so when an outbreak of desecrations and acts of cruelty strike the Burlwood Estates, there seems no reason why every neighbourhood finger, and I mean literally, should be pointed in Rusty’s direction, or why the local police should be so unpleasantly pleased about it, as if they’d “finally” caught him at something. Perhaps in Burlwood, wearing a black T-shirt and an earring and playing guitar is enough to brand you a dog-murdering neo-Nazi, who knows? – but there’s no reason at all why Andrea should begin to believe Rusty guilty, when she of all people must know better. Her initial refusal to listen to his attempts to tell her about the “evil force” that has moved into the neighbourhood is, of course, another matter.
“Don’t be silly, of course I’m not enjoying this!”
The first person to become aware that “evil” has come to Burlwood – and by the bye, it’s hard not to agree with Rusty on this point: “Evil in Burlwood? All things considered, it hardly seems worth the trouble.” – is Iris Wheeler, the Sterlings’ neighbour and Rusty’s chess partner and confidante, who watches Jacob carry his package from “the east coast” into his house, and immediately experiences an odd vision of the Sterling house turning into—another house entirely…
Rusty suffers the next strange experience, as the lounge of his house seems momentarily replaced with room from a much earlier time period, one ominously decorated with black candles, pentagrams, and wooden bench like a butcher’s block, with shackles attached and covered with dark stains… Rusty finally describes all this to Iris, his description striking a chord in her memory, and leading her to a sketch in a book of “a very famous room”, one that belonged to the infamous Gilles de Rais.
Now – if at this point you’re sitting there going, “Gilles de Rais!? What the – fudge – does Gilles de Rais have to do with an Amityville film!?”, well, you’re more polite than I am: I’m pretty sure I didn’t use the word “fudge”. But yes, the premise of It’s About Time is that it is actually a clock that once belonged to Gilles de Rais that is the cause of all the trouble, although it is amusingly obscure on the question of whether it was the clock that was somehow responsible for de Rais’ actions, or whether de Rais’ spirit entered the clock after his death, and subsequently influenced all those who owned it.
Rusty Sterling: just your typical, chess-obsessed rebellious teen.
In either case, the upshot of this is that the clock has the ability to “possess” the house it occupies, burying extensions of its own mechanisms deep into the foundations and, in effect, turning the entire building into an extension of itself – hence the fluidity of time within that space. And this in turn means that all that mayhem in Amityville was actually caused by The Clock, and not by The House at all….
I call SHENANIGANS on you, Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro!!!!
(Or John G. Jones, as the case may be).
This, uh, slight revisionism notwithstanding, there’s a wonderful contradiction here, with the dismissal of The House as the source of our evil force running in tandem with this film’s acknowledgement of the necessity of retaining it as an entity. Thus, The House is not only not entirely banished from It’s About Time, but it in fact figures in the best scene in the entire film. It turns up the first time as Iris Wheeler’s vision (a night-time shot stolen from The Evil Escapes), which coincides with Jacob’s return from the new housing project he has been put in charge of, carrying the clock that he claimed from one of the old houses out there prior to – ulp! – its demolition…
Oh, go ahead, It’s About Time! Just keep kicking me in the guts!
Every time it thinks it’s out, they keep dragging it back in.
But even before Iris’s vision, we’ve already had a concession of sorts from the film-makers, as it turns out that, just coincidentally, the Sterlings live in a house that happens to boast two upstairs windows that, lit at night, look rather like eyes… The House itself makes its next reappearance as the post-attack Jacob begins a slow but ominous meltdown. This starts with what looks like an attack of mid-life crisis, with Jacob bemoaning his wasted potential and smashing the model of the Burlwood Estates that occupies the pride of place in his study. Subsequently, Andrea finds Jacob at his drafting-board, huddled up in a comforter and working feverishly – literally – on plans for his new project, while sketches of a house decorate the room – sketches, that is, of THE House.
Meanwhile, Iris Wheeler is conducting research based on Rusty’s recollections, and finds pictures of two almost identical rooms, one in a book dealing with Gilles de Rais, the other in one about a certain house in Amityville…
Much later, when Andrea has accepted that an evil force has indeed taken up residence and has possession of Jacob, she returns apprehensively to the study looking for clues, and finds that Jacob has constructed a whole new model housing estate, one where every single house is a tiny model of THE House…that each instance of neighbourhood desecration is marked exactly on the corresponding House…and that the model of THE House in which the Sterlings and Andrea are currently trapped comes complete with a pre-marked family graveyard, and a dead body dangling from the balcony: a discovery that, for the horrified Andrea, comes simultaneously with the beginning of an ominous thumping sound outside the closed shutters of the room…
Now, there’s a housing estate I could imagine living in! Well— Not living, exactly…
The other successful part of It’s About Time – and this is done with pleasing subtlety – is the way that the force in the Sterlings’ house acts primarily as an extension of Jacob’s ego. This fact sheds light upon the initially puzzling attack of pseudo-Peaches upon Jacob, which serves to incapacitate him and confine him to his home, where The Clock can begin to exert its influence.
Subsequently, its first real victim is Peaches herself, the real Peaches, against whom Jacob harbours a not unreasonable grudge, and who is later found – eww – crammed into her owner’s pool filter. (Yes, more animal violence….whacko.)
Along with Jacob’s reproof of Mrs Tetmann for allowing Peaches off her leash, we have also been privy to Jacob’s observation that the hedge around the property of his neighbour, Mr Andersen (a thirty second cameo from the always-welcome Dick Miller), is “above regulation height”, although at the time he also comments that it’s “not worth making a fuss about”. Nevertheless, the hedges are the next to go, supposedly torched by Rusty; while we never do find out what transgression the people over the road were guilty of, to warrant a swastika on the garage door (Rusty again, at least if you believe the finger-pointers). But the violence soon escalates; and when it does so, its two main victims are, tellingly, Andrea’s new boyfriend, Leonard, and Lisa’s new boyfriend, Andy.
There is no film that is not made better by having Dick Miller in it.
Now, I’ve said some nice things about It’s About Time – along with calling SHENANIGANS!!!! on it – to the extent that by now you might be wondering why I started out describing it so negatively. It’s simple enough, unfortunately: while there’s some good stuff in this film, and there really is, you have to be willing to dig for it; while the bad stuff is out there in the open, right up in your face, very nearly overwhelming all attempts by the film to retain the support of the viewer.
There are two distinct problems here. One is that, in sacrificing The House, the writers also sacrificed whatever sense of focus or purpose that this franchise ever possessed (so to speak). Substituting “The Clock” leaves us in a situation bereft of any emotional, or even just pop cultural, resonance. Consequently, the supposed manifestations of evil that follow lack any sense of a greater purpose and become – as Homer Simpson once succinctly put it – just a bunch of stuff that happens.
The other problem, the big one – the HUGE one – is that the acts of violence that are served up in It’s About Time in the name of Evil are some of the stupidest ever committed to film – and you don’t have to take my word for it: two of them are immortalised on YouTube in precisely that capacity, and there’s a third one that should have joined them. Whatever good will the film wins for itself on the level of character, it throws away with gusto in sequences to which the only possible response is a bray of laughter and/or the solid connection of the viewer’s jaw with the floorboards.
So, what’s the first sign that EEE-vil has come to your neighbourhood?
The first of these follows on from, to be fair, another of the film’s better scenes, in which Lisa gives up her bedroom to Andrea and sleeps on the couch downstairs in the lounge, which of course now contains The Clock; and in the course of the night, Lisa is woken and then seduced…by her own reflection in a mirror.
Unfortunately, the consequence of this is that the next morning we are confronted by Evil Lisa….
OH MY GOD SHE’S WEARING INAPPROPRIATE CLOTHING AND THINKING ABOUT SEX SHE MUST BE POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL!!!!!!!
That, or she’s a sixteen-year-old girl.
I wonder… You know, I really do wonder if, in some far-flung Kubrickian, or Spielbergian, or preferably Groeningian future, we will eventually reach a point where a woman being “evil” is not automatically defined in terms of her sexuality?
“And at #1 on our Sign Of Evil Countdown— “
Anyway, so it is that Evil Lisa goes off to school wearing skimpy clothing, and with big hair and way too much make-up, after speaking provocatively of people “not waiting up” for her – and after causing her brother to do a perfectly justified and perfectly executed spit-take.
(That both Rusty and Andrea react to Lisa’s transformation by laughing shows that at this stage, the film-makers still retained at least some sense of proportion.)
That night, Lisa brings her boyfriend, Andy, home, and Hansel-and-Gretels him to her father’s hobby-room by leaving a trail of her clothing. Andy finds her sitting in her bra and panties in the middle of Jacob’s model train set and immediately starts stripping off himself, babbling about how he can’t wait possibly an instant (in which respect, thanks to poor directorial choices by Tony Randel, the viewer might reasonably conclude that Andy’s mouth is writing cheques that his whitey-tighty-clad body can’t cash); but he gets no closer to Lisa than a single step forward before he finds himself trapped and sinking in goo; the same goo, we gather, that occupied Andrea’s bed two nights before. And as Lisa laughs in a sexual and therefore evil manner, Andy dissolves into a puddle of goo himself before being sucked down the drain.
Please don’t ask me what demonic goo has to do with a possessed clock.
It’s About Time: a subtle allegory of the perils of teenage sexuality.
Andy’s fate, however, is nothing compared to Lisa’s own, after this film takes an unwelcome turn into Amityville II territory by having her attempt to seduce her brother. Rusty, thankfully, is having none of it; but as he tries to fight her off Lisa turns violent, and he is compelled to take drastic action by—
Now, I might as well say up front that electronics and such are not and never have been my area of expertise; so perhaps I’m entirely in the wrong when I seem to detect something just…slightly off about the following sequence:
- Rusty pulls the plug out off his electric guitar, and—
- sticks it in Lisa’s mouth, where it lodges while Rusty—
- turns the volume on his amp up full, which—
- causes Lisa to go up in a shower of sparks and—
- drop dead
But even this, believe it or not, is not the stupidest death scene you will find within It’s About Time, which is that reserved for Iris Wheeler. The morning after she ties the Sterlings’ clock to Gilles de Rais and to the mysterious happenings in Amityville, Iris sets out purposefully, presumably on her way to the Sterlings’, but gets only so far as trying to cross the road before the tip of her cane gets caught in a crack newly opened in the road, from which spills some greenish goop that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the goop inhabiting the Sterlings’ house. And that’s where Iris is stuck when a nappy service van, parked down the road while its driver talks to a customer, puts itself into gear and drives purposefully towards her.
Ask your physics teacher.
Look— Don’t even try making sense of this bit, or waste your time wondering why Iris stands in the middle of the road tugging ineffectually at her cane and calling for help as the truck bears down upon her, instead of, oh, I don’t know, getting out of the way. Save your energy for the next phase, when Iris does, in fact, get out of the way, flinging herself onto a nearby lawn as the truck’s progress is violently halted by its collision with a brick letter-box stand. The van’s bewildered driver runs up, apologising frantically, and then moves away to “radio this in” – and it is then that Iris, still lying on the ground and laughing in relief at her narrow escape, notices the metal stork that sits atop the van, which in the wake of the crash is tipping forward, and backward, and forward—
You know…I suppose there must be more humiliating ways to die than being taken out by a demonically possessed nappy service – but I can’t off-hand think what they might be.
And another problem! – yes, another one: I don’t know whether its the fault of bad make-up work or a bad transfer, but all the blood in this film is pink. It’s hard to be disturbed by scenes of violence when it just looks like the victims have spilled cherry syrup on themselves. This is particularly self-defeating with respect to Jacob’s unhealing leg injuries, which are otherwise repulsively convincing.
I really have nothing to add here.
And so the bodies pile up until it’s just Rusty and Andrea versus Jacob and The Clock. Jacob attacks Andrea and throws her through a glass table, because of course you can’t have a glass table in a film without someone being thrown through it; and then Jacob in turn is taken out of commission when, in an excruciating moment, Andrea thrusts the points of his own draftsman’s compass into his thigh injury. The Clock retaliates by taking Rusty out of play, by spinning itself backwards and reducing him to the age of about two.
And having created Baby Rusty, the film instantly removes him from any possible danger by having The Clock respond to Andrea’s verbal threats, and opening the hitherto implacably sealed front door of the house.
That’s right: the spirit of Gilles de Rais, one of the most notorious child-murderers in history, goes out of its way to allow Baby Rusty to toddle away to safety.
And then Andrea attacks, ripping open the wall beside The Clock and – in another nice bit – revealing The Clock’s mechanism filling the space beyond. The Clock counters this by spinning forward, aging Andrea drastically even as she struggles to take advantage of the gas leak that (whether by accident or design) has accompanied this final struggle. But Ancient Andrea is not so decrepit that she can’t strike a light…
Supreme Evil was helpless against…The Power Of Architecture!
Curious, isn’t it, not just how many writers make their Evil bigger and eviller without bothering to make its defeat concomitantly harder, but how few of them seem to realise the damage they do to their story by having victory won too easily? I mean, I’m all for Girl Power and all, but I have great difficulty coming to terms with the notion of a Supreme Evil, one that has destroyed lives over centuries, being overcome by a woman armed with an architect’s T-ruler and a lighter.
Anyway— This being the time-twisty kind of story that it is, naturally it isn’t all over yet; although credit to the writers for not having the final scenes play out the way we might have expected, which is to say, they don’t simply regurgitate the opening scenes in that annoying way films have when their writers can’t think how to end them. It’s also interesting that Andrea remembers the events of the previous time-cycle—and so can take steps to stop them happening again. The actual ending also allows the film’s subtitle to act as a punchline – whether for good or ill, it is for the individual viewer to decide.
And likewise, it wasn’t all over for the franchise, either, which the following year allowed Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro a chance to press the reset button once again with Amityville: A New Generation, in which the object of contention is, I believe, a possessed mirror. But that, my children, is a tale for another time….and quite probably for another year.
In the end, Leonard is the big winner. I am happy to say.
Footnote: Notables about two of our cast: two years after appearing in It’s About Time, Jonathan Penner (Leonard) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film along with his wife, director Stacy Title; while perhaps more to the point – or at least, more to my point – after spending all of Dean Cochran’s (Andy) screentime going, “I know you from somewhere, I know you from somewhere”…I remembered…