“Can you explain to me why six people would be killed each year on this particular date?”
[aka The Amityville Playhouse aka Amityville Theatre aka The Amityville Theater]
Director: John R. Walker
Starring: Monèle LeStrat, John R. Walker, Linden Baker, Logan Russell, Kennie Benoit, Hollie Anne Kornik, Eva Kwok, Gary Martin, Ania Marson, Tiana Diehl, Spencer Banks, Cheryl Burfield
Screenplay: Steve Hardy, based upon a story by Steve Hardy and John R. Walker
Synopsis: After class, teacher Victor Stewart (John R. Walker) detains Fawn Harriman (Monèle LeStrat) to ask after her wellbeing: Fawn has recently lost both her parents, and is now living with her aunt and uncle. The conversation shifts to Fawn’s inheritance of an old theatre in Amityville. She tells Mr Stewart that she and her friends will be spending the weekend there to examine the property. Fawn keeps an appointment with attorney Dorothy Felix (Tiana Diehl), who presses her to agree to the sale of the old building, telling her that it was what her parents had been planning and offering to manage the entire transaction. She further tells Fawn that the building is in poor condition, having been neglected for many years. However, Fawn sticks to her plan of seeing for herself. Mrs Felix gives her a set of keys, the building’s alarm codes and instructions as to how to turn on the power, also offering to hire a surveyor to inspect the property. As soon as Fawn has gone, the attorney puts through a call to the mayor of Amityville… Fawn joins her boyfriend, Kyle Blaker (Linden Baker), and the two drive to the theatre, where they plan to meet Indira Divani (Eva Kwok), Fawn’s best friend, Kyle’s brother, Jevan (Logan Russell), and his friend, Matt Darnell (Kennie Benoit). The five locate two dressing-rooms to sleep in, with Jevan irritating Kyle by suggesting that Fawn and Indy occupy one and the three boys the other. As Fawn and Jevan talk, she tells him that Mr Stewart has promised to research the history of the theatre. The five then split up to explore the building, Fawn with Kyle, Indy with Matt, and Jevan, angry and frustrated as a result of Kyle’s relentless taunting, on his own. His first discovery is a squat, occupied by Wendy Shardlow (Hollie Anne Kornik). Wendy is belligerent at first, but Jevan calms her down; insisting, however, that she ask Fawn’s permission to stay on in the building. Meanwhile, Indy and Matt have made their way up into the Circle. As they turn back, a screaming figure plunges past them to the ground below. Rushing to the railing, they stare down in horror at Fawn’s broken body, but by the time they run downstairs, there is nothing there. Someone laughs at them mockingly from the balcony above; someone who looks like Fawn… Matt and Indy’s panicked cries bring the others to the scene. Assuming that a cruel prank has been played, Indy attacks Fawn while Matt abuses Kyle, but both deny they were anywhere near the scene. The group reunites; Jevan introduces Wendy, whose hostile demeanour does not endear her to the others. As a gesture of peace, Jevan offers to order pizza. However, no-one can get a phone signal. Fawn and Kyle return to the stage-door to go outside, but find it locked—and they are unable to get it open. Jevan takes over from Kyle and begins to struggle with the door. Suddenly, in a voice not his own, he cries out, “It wants us to die…!”
Comments: 2015 saw the release of not one but two Amityville sequels, Amityville Playhouse and Amityville Death House. Deciding which to examine first found me feeling less like a kid in a candy store and more like the Fair Rosamund, trying to choose between the dagger and the cup of poison. Rosamund chose the poison and so, apparently, did I, inasmuch as watching Amityville Playhouse was very much like sitting and waiting to die, with agonising pain giving way to a slow, suffocating numbness…
Technically speaking, Death House should have been first, since it went direct-to-DVD in February, whereas Playhouse had its limited theatrical release in April (“limited” in the sense that, according to actor-writer-director John R. Walker, he and the film’s producers were literally the only people who went to see it). However, learning that, like The Amityville Asylum, Playhouse had a British background, I was sufficiently intrigued to give it the nod; wondering how its makers were going to disguise their origins and/or work them into the story.
The answer to the first part of that is that they tried a compromise: they shot the film predominantly in Canada, in the town of Neepawa, in Manitoba; meaning that while accents are (generally) less of an issue here, the look and feel of the film is just “off” enough to draw attention to itself.
And the answer to the second part is—something we’ll consider at length a bit later on.
Despite what the synopsis above tells you, Amityville Playhouse opens with a scene that does succeed in setting the tone for all that follows, given that it involves someone wandering around in the dark for much longer than necessary before being attacked by something we don’t see. Later on it becomes evident that this scene has been shifted from where it should have occurred within the narrative. The appearance of some intrusive Amityville signage seems the only explanation for the move, which otherwise only confuses the issue when we immediately (though without warning) switch locales.
The film’s not-Amityville scenes are set in Dannemora, in upper New York State: a very curious geographical choice, one I can only assume was made for production reasons; maybe the local big-wigs insisted on the town being named in exchange for permission to film? And the screenplay actually tells the viewer where it is, which makes the casual back-and-forthing between Amityville and not-Amityville more than a little ridiculous.
It has advertisements up for films, opera and a concert…but no plays.
(A quick web-search reveals that Dannemora is over 350 miles away from Amityville, about five-and-a-half hours by road in good conditions. Yet the characters all manage to arrive in Amityville in broad daylight, after starting from Dannemora at the end of a school day.)
The film proper begins with a scene in school, with Fawn Harriman being kept back by her geography teacher Mr Stewart, not for wrongdoing, but so that he can check on her welfare—Fawn’s parents, whom he knew, having recently died.
Victor Stewart is played by John R. Walker, who keeps his own English accent (this isn’t the only way he indulges himself, as we shall see). Stewart has heard about Fawn’s inheritance of a theatre in Amityville, and now learns that she and her friends are planning a weekend sleepover there, to allow her to inspect the property. For his own part, Stewart offers to research the building’s history; he and Fawn agree to compare notes the following Monday.
This is one of many half-baked ideas in the film. If you look quick, there’s a sign on the theatre declaring it a heritage building, so it might indeed have a history; but since neither Fawn nor Stewart know anything about the place beyond the mere fact of its existence, why would he react like that? – let alone devote an entire weekend to the project?
(And the answer to that is, to set up a padding subplot so egregious, it makes the replayed footage in Crash! look like masterly film-making.)
The other notable point of this conversation is Stewart’s dismayed reaction to Fawn’s mention of her boyfriend, Kyle Blaker, which prompts Fawn to defend him:
Amityville Surveyors: so efficient, they get there before you call them!
Fawn: “Kyle’s cool; people have the wrong idea about him.”
No. No, they don’t.
We’re used to finding unlikeable characters in horror movies, but Kyle Blaker goes so far beyond “unlikeable” it’s almost incomprehensible. The only point of comparison I can come up with is Mekhi Phifer’s Tyrell Martin in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, a character so obnoxious I spent most of the film writhing in agony whenever he opened his mouth and pleading with a psycho-killer to do the world a favour and butcher him like a hog. Likewise here: Kyle is a stupid, hateful, foul-mouthed waste of space—so what exactly is Fawn supposed to see in him? The screenplay gives us nothing. In fact, on the evidence presented, Fawn barely tolerates him, while everyone else justifiably loathes him, including his own brother. So why are they hanging out with him? More to the point, why do screenwriters inflict characters like this on their audience? Do they want us to turn their film off five minutes in? – because honestly, I can’t imagine anyone less OCD than me putting themselves through the misery of listening to this (to use the film’s own favourite term for him) douche.
And we’re not kept long in suspense about Kyle’s dominant character trait, either. He and Fawn meet at a diner, where she tells him about her conversation with the attorney, Dorothy Felix, who is administering her parents’ estate. (Later we gather that Fawn and Kyle must already have driven to Amityville, but it certainly isn’t clear at the time.) Fawn remarks that she found some of what Mrs Felix said to her a bit odd, particularly a comment about her parents being, “Gone, too.”
Kyle: “Who cares? Bitch was probably shit-faced.”
That jarring (and completely inexplicable) response was enough to dissipate the mildly positive feelings the opening minutes had managed to generate, via its enthusiastic if unavailing efforts to convince us that we’re in the U. S. of A. American flags hang everywhere; while a stars-and-stripes-laden placard for the Amityville mayoral election is almost the first thing we see.
“And now— Deploy the amber waves of grain!”
Even Kyle contributes (it’s the film’s one enjoyable Kyle moment, so make the most of it), as he and Fawn read the menu at the diner:
Kyle: “I wonder if they have CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK here.”
In another odd structural choice, Fawn’s description of her meeting with Mrs Felix gives way to a flashback of it—why would you not just have the scene, then have her commenting on it? Mrs Felix presses Fawn to go ahead with the sale of the theatre which, she tells her, her parents were arranging, and offers to manage the entire business. Her manner begins to annoy Fawn, who stubbornly insists on inspecting the property herself, and demands the keys. However, she also realises that she does need the attorney’s help, and asks what the process would be if she wished to proceed with the sale. Mrs Felix tells her that first she needs to get the building surveyed, and offers to arrange it, to which Fawn agrees. Once the girl has gone, however, Mrs Felix’s first phonecall is to the mayor of Amityville…
(It is the surveyor who enters the theatre and is, presumably, killed there during the opening scene—whuh?)
We next find Fawn and Kyle arriving at the theatre—where we briefly hear – gasp!! – a fly buzzing—and we might as well deal with the elephant in the living-room right away: despite the film’s original title, the word “playhouse” is used nowhere in the script; its solitary appearance is on the banner strung across the front of the real Roxy Theatre of Neepawa by the film’s production designers. So why not just Amityville Theatre??
(In fact one British blog-piece from 2015 indicates that the film did carry that title during its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run.)
Save a little of the eye-rolling for later, sweetie, you’re gunna need it.
The sleepover at the theatre turns out to have been Kyle’s idea. He clearly has other ideas, too, which Fawn puts the kibosh on:
Fawn: “Nothing’s going to happen, okay? Nothing.”
Brother, she ain’t kidding.
After much irritating foot-dragging and back-and-forth sniping, Fawn and Kyle get the door open, the alarm off and the lights on. Their friends then show up and, oh boy—
It’s very evident very quickly that no individual connected with this film is ever going to win any major acting awards; while the ensemble non-acting turns Amityville Playhouse into a grim endurance test. Monèle LeStrat as Fawn gets the worst of it, just because she has the most dialogue. Even granting Fawn’s subdued state-of-mind, LeStrat’s breathy monotone becomes ever-more exasperating; her constant eye-rolling gets old, too. Kennie Benoit as Matt, conversely, comes off best for having the least dialogue – he’s the group’s Silent Bob – with about 90% of what he does say consisting of, “I don’t know.” Linden Baker as Kyle we’ve dealt with; while Eva Kwok as Indy almost matches him for annoyance in that she does nothing but shriek and whine (oh, and tell us how boring everything is, as if we needed telling). Logan Russell as Jevan wins at least some good-will purely for that fact that 90% of his dialogue consists of him bellowing, “Shut UP, Kyle!!”
Once the gang has assembled, we get the obligatory my-phone’s-not-working scene out of the way in quick order, then settle down for some of the most numbingly dull non-action I’ve struggled through in some considerable time. Briefly, the kids locate two dressing-rooms and divvy them up for sleeping in; Kyle says, “Airhead, geek, gay, fag, fuck, fuck, ass-wipe, butt-head, butt-head, creep, bullshit”, with a bare minimum of linking words; the five split up to search following a welter of unfunny Scooby Doo references; Jevan discovers a squatter called Wendy who is supposed to be homeless but seems to have unlimited funds to spend on her hair and makeup; and, in a sadly brief relief from the tedium, Indy sees a shadowy figure, while Fawn hears distant music.
When all else fails – and trust me, it does – there’s always the Dutch angle.
Did I say tedium? The main plot is bad enough but, to paraphrase Donald Pleasence in Halloween II, you don’t know what tedium is—not until you’ve seen what Amityville Playhouse serves up by way of padding.
We’ve already followed Mr Stewart to the bookstore, where he finds a couple of general books on local history but nothing specific enough for his purposes. The store owner suggests that he try the library instead, an idea which seems to take the high-school teacher by surprise. He gets into his car and drives at a speed considerably below the limit until he reaches a level crossing, where he sits while the world’s longest freight-train rolls by.
Eventually we get a flashback to Mr Stewart’s last day in England, most of which he spent at the Furzedown. Long, slow conversations take place about the unlikelihood of Mr Stewart finding satisfactory beer in America, and the perceived oddity of a successful palaeontologist living with a minister (her nephew), before we fade back to see the last of the freight-train.
And then – presumably because the film-makers were afraid our hearts couldn’t stand any more excitement – we cut back to the theatre for one of the few decent scenes in this pointless mess, as Indy and Matt think they see Fawn plunging to her death from the heights of the Circle, only for her broken body to vanish before they can get down to it, and for a strange, Fawn-like figure to laugh down at them from the balcony.
Matt and Indy’s cries bring the others to the scene: they think Kyle was responsible, Kyle (once introduced) thinks Wendy was. Fawn isn’t happy about her unauthorised entrance of the theatre, but Jevan persuades her to let Wendy stay, at least over the weekend, much to Kyle’s disgust (and accompanying editorialisation).
Kyle’s over-the-top reaction to Wendy is one of this film’s most puzzling aspects. Not-Amityville must be a stiflingly conservative little burg, if Wendy’s vaguely Goth-y appearance is enough to make her seem completely freakish.
A brief truce is called to allow the ordering of pizza, only for (of course) no-one’s phone to be working. The kids try to go outside to make their call, but they can’t get the door open—with Jevan’s effort ending with him cutting his hand open, and crying out in a voice not his own, “They’ve sealed us in! They’ve left us to die!”
Then he snaps out of it, and while Kyle is busy accusing “that freak” of tampering with the door, Fawn takes Jevan into a washroom to clean his injury; only when the blood washes away there’s no cut…
Since all the doors and windows except the stage-door are boarded up, Wendy leads the others down into the basement, where the grate through which she entered the building is located. As Kyle tries and fails to get the grate open again, and the always-irritating Indy shrieks and whines, Jevan has another weird episode, drawing his brother’s wrath. Kyle is convinced that someone is pranking them, probably friends of Wendy; while as for Jevan’s behaviour, “That’s easy to explain: he’s an asshole.”
Much tiresome circular argument follows, enlivened only by Wendy’s admission that she, too, has sometimes heard music in the theatre. Yet again they decide to split up and search, this time for signs someone else has been in the building.
And then it’s time to visit with Mr Stewart as he drives towards Amityville, where the 40 speed-limit is clearly someone’s idea of a joke. THRILL!! as we go slowly and carefully over a speed-bump. GASP!! as Mr Stewart arrives at the library only to find that it’s closed and he’ll have to come back another time.
And then, omigod, something almost kind of happens!! While Fawn and Kyle are searching, the former passes through some doors to find herself in the theatre proper—complete with an audience in their seats and someone singing opera on the stage (the music she and Wendy have been hearing). One person turns her head to look at Fawn – then they all do, including the singer – and then, suddenly, they’re on their feet and surrounding her.
Insanity and suicide were really the only sensible response…
“You okay? I heard you scream,” says Kyle from six inches away, as Fawn finds herself back outside the doors. Curiously, she reports to him that her mysterious companions were, “Pointing at me and screaming”, which they weren’t. Nothing so lively.
Aaaaand then it’s back to the Non-Adventures Of Mr Stewart, who left his non-library visit so late, he decides to stay the night in Amityville. A truly weird and uncomfortable scene follows, though I gather it was meant as an in-joke: the motel Stewart pulls into was the real one in Neepawa where the cast and crew stayed, and this scene has its owner effectively playing himself—or a version of himself—as he insists that there are no vacancies at his self-evidently deserted establishment, but changes his mind when Stewart offers him a wad of cash.
So the real Amityville horror is a lack of hospitality??
Aaaaand then it’s back to the Non-Adventures Of The Central Cast In An Alleged Horror Movie as after more dreary sniping we get something that vaguely resembles plot, or at least back-story. Wendy is detached enough to ask Fawn what happened to her parents, so we finally hear about her defining tragedy—that everyone summer she fought with her parents over them dragging her to their lake-house in Canada, and the year they finally let her stay home alone the cabin burned down and they were killed in the fire.
Wendy: “Wow. Heavy.”
It then turns out that Matt brought a Ouija board along, although it’s Kyle who insists on playing with it. Fawn and Indy both opt out, but Wendy knows all about it and offers to show the boys—
Of all the weapons in the armoury of Evil, none was so powerful as—limited library opening hours!!
—aaaaand then it’s back to the Furzedown.
This interpolation did make me laugh, albeit it was a laugh with a kind of broken wail in the middle of it, inasmuch as this flashback scene is dropped into the film without the hint of a framing device. We just cut directly from the conversation about the Ouija board to Mr Stewart sitting down for a drink with the palaeontologist and the minister. Remember them? This time around the conversation encompasses the time spent by Mr and Mrs Minister in Selah, Washington (the weather didn’t agree with them), and Ms Palaeontologist’s gift to Mr Stewart, a signed copy of her book (we get to hear the dedication read out), before we do get the back-end of a framing-scene, with a fade to Stewart taking notes from the history books in his motel room. (So maybe it was just a case of sloppy editing?)
Meanwhile, the kids have found a nice open space to set up the Ouija board, as well as an apparently limitless stash of candles, arranged on all surrounding vantage points and lit—the latter excused if not explained by, “They help the spirits find their way.” Indy does bail, but Fawn joins in. They get a reaction, of course, and accuse each other of pushing, of course; eventually, in response to a question about what the spirits want, the beaker-planchette spells out S – I – S – T – E – R, before leaping off the board.
Kyle thinks it’s “bullshit” (of course), while Fawn “feels somehow connected”. She then declares herself tired enough for bed and they all pack it in—without bothering to blow out the candles.
(This from someone whose parents just died in a fire? Really??)
In the middle of the night – “Just after 3.00”, of course – the lights in the theatre begin to flicker, various wires and pipes begin to shake, and we hear a fly buzzing. Spooky!
An hour’s candle-lighting for five minutes of séance.
Jevan wakes up needing to, “Take a piss”.
Well. Thank you for sharing that with us.
Meanwhile, it seems that Mr Stewart has been up all night taking notes from those two slender books. He departs the motel at dawn. For the library? That’s where he’s heading, all right, though it’s daylight when he arrives, somehow. After he makes the mistake of asking after the health of a pregnant librarian (“It’s just my first-born!”), he progresses, or regresses, with Librarian #2:
Mr Stewart: “I’m looking for your local history section, please?”
Librarian: “Why do you want to know our local history?”
Why, indeed? As far as we know, it’s the most boring place on earth. Amityville Playhouse may be set in Amityville, and it may have been [*cough*] “inspired by true events”, but there is no in-film indication that we’re in either the real place, or the evolving movie version: there’s no DeFeos, no Lutzes, no Ocean Avenue, no eye-windows, no nothing. Instead, Amityville Playhouse gets to stand in The Corner Of Shame with The Amityville Curse, guilty of being an Amityville sequel bereft of any Amityville.
(Look very quickly during the library scenes for this film’s only real connection to the franchise.)
Librarian #2 does eventually point Mr Stewart towards what he should have been able to find without help and, having been up all night doing research, he sits down to spend the day doing research.
The jet-setting life of a high-school geography teacher, huh?
“I don’t care! For what you’re paying me, you get one expression and that’s it!”
Back at the theatre, Jevan is missing. The others – hold onto your hats for this one – decide to split up and search for him. Yay! – more aimless wandering! Indy bails (again) and stays on her own in the dressing-room, so naturally she’s the one who starts hearing noises. She follows them to a closet…
Indy’s screams bring the rest running, but by the time they get there, she’s gone:
Matt: “That scream!”
Fawn: “I never heard anyone scream like that!”
Kyle: “Guys, calm down for a second. Something must have scared her.”
Anyway, what do you suppose they do in response to the situation? If you guessed “wander aimlessly”, give yourself a gold star.
Kyle ends up searching the body of the theatre alone. Unlike Fawn, he finds it unoccupied—except by Jevan, who tells him the show is about to start. That Jevan’s voice is not is own and that he looks kind of, well, dead, escapes Kyle’s notice. He curses his brother out and insists he come back with him to join the others. Fawn at least notices that Jevan looks sick, but her mind is on Indy.
Back at the library, Mr Stewart is going through Amityville’s Births, Deaths and Marriages records (which the town has printed, handily enough), and notices that a disproportionate number of townspeople have died on the 13th of November over the years.
And THEN – because that’s quite enough plot for now – we rejoin our Furzedown flashback, already in progress.
You oughta be ashamed of yourself.
This time around, an obnoxious local joins the others uninvited, won’t take their hints to go away, and provokes Ms Palaeontologist into giving him a stern lecture on the culture of the Native Americans and their historical mistreatment by the European settlers. (I suppose this is meant to be one of the “subtle connections” to the franchise of which the screenwriter seems inexplicably proud.)
We cut back to Stewart joining the dots of his research. With a gasp, he dashes out of the library and through the streets of Amityville to the theatre. He can’t get in, of course – a POV shot further informs us that his knocking and calling can’t be heard inside – and he can’t get a call through to Fawn. (He has her number why?) Thwarted, he rushes off to get help.
Meanwhile, inside, Matt and Wendy narrowly miss discovering Jevan’s dead body. A fly buzzes…
Kyle and Fawn – and Jevan – decide to give up on the search for Indy and concentrate on getting out. Kyle, Matt and Wendy go looking for tools with which to break the stage-door down, leaving Fawn with Jevan. “You know” she tells him, “you really do look sick.”
No, what he looks is decomposed. But then, to-ma-to, tom-a-to.
But you’d better brace yourselves, because Amityville Playhouse is about to blow its special-effects budget (among other things). Fawn looks away from Jevan; by the time she looks back, his entire his face has turned into a suppurating mess, the left cheek dominated by a gigantic boil—which Jevan proceeds to burst for our edification.
I think it’s meant to be symbolic.
“Hi! Logan Russell here for Proactiv…”
By this time Stewart is confronting the mayor of Amityville, having been sent to him by the police, and in consequence disinclined to take the mayor’s advice and go back to the police. To our surprise, we learn that Stewart isn’t confining himself to trying to get the kids out of the theatre, but has gone whole hog with the results of his research, telling a story about “demons, cults and rituals”. The mayor finally agrees to look at his notes, but first asks Stewart why, as he contends, six people should be killed each year on a particular date?
Stewart explains that the town was built over a series of caves where the local tribe once walled up six individuals supposedly possessed by demons. Before he can explicate further, a blow on the head renders him unconscious…
When he comes to, Stewart finds himself chained to a chair. A somewhat apologetic mayor explains that administering the town’s Dark Secret is one of his official duties, no less, and then goes on to tell him the story—about the party of Shinnecock who found the caves, and unwittingly awoke some “ancient entities”. Six of the tribesmen were possessed; the others managed to seal them in.
Years later, however, the catacombs were rediscovered and opened up by the white settlers. A compromise of sorts was reached (how, we are not informed), with the annual sacrifice of six people the price of the demons staying in their caves and leaving the rest of the townspeople alone.
So far, so, uh, good; from here, however, the “explanation” becomes increasingly confusing, as we hear about the “believers” who sacrifice their first-born children to the demons—
Mayor: “It’s kind of a tradition.”
Nice of Kyle to identify himself so clearly: it minimises the likelihood of the hitman making a mistake.
—and about the Harrimans, who technically met their obligations by sacrificing Fawn’s twin-sister (twenty minutes the elder) – such beautiful babies, the mayor reminisces, indistinguishable except for the birthmark on Adrienne’s neck – but pissed off the demons by not feeding them both babies…although why they should wait eighteen years to dole out the Harrimans’ punishment is even more unclear than the rest of the story.
The mayor then draws a gun and, as Stewart cringes back in terror—shoots the goon standing behind him; promising out of the blue to “try and secure a better future”. He adds that he, “Represents something which is corrupt and vile”, and that he needs to, “Break the chain.”
Wow. Those back-flipping politicians, hey?
The mayor gives Stewart the key to the city, a real key which works on any door, including the door of the theatre. However, he tells him that in addition to getting the kids out of the theatre, an act guaranteed to anger the demons, he must also ensure that no-one else goes in.
He then shoots himself, which isn’t very helpful.
But with only a single glance back, Stewart hurries off—only to find the townspeople milling around in the street, glowering at him ominously. Among them we recognise Librarian #1 (pregnant with her “first-born”, remember?) and the attorney Dorothy Felix. Though clearly not best pleased by Stewart’s interference, they make no move to stop him as he stumbles off towards the theatre—
Britain: home to a different breed of action hero.
—where, by now, undead – or, as I suppose I should call her, demon – Indy has shown up, with her real dead body lying disregarded under some stairs. She and demon-Jevan close in on Kyle—
—and the film cuts away.
The key to the city works on the main doors of the theatre, and Mr Stewart almost falls over Matt and Wendy as he bursts in. He follows them to the stage-door, where they had agreed to meet the others, but there is no sign of anyone else. Stewart stops Matt going to search, saying he’ll do it himself, and ordering him and Wendy out of the building. As he leaves, Wendy tells Matt that Stewart just saved his ass, because THEY have everything they need. A puzzled Matt glances around, but Wendy has vanished…
After some silly false – and even sillier real – scare-stuff, Stewart finds Fawn. He also finds demon-Jevan, demon-Indy and demon-Kyle, their voices all deep and reverb-y. They close in, asking for his help, his and Fawn’s. Stewart points out that’s it’s no good, the others have gone, that with himself and Fawn there are still only five of them—
—only for the long-forgotten demon-surveyor to stumble out of the shadows.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Stewart whispers apologetically to Fawn; but even as he speaks, there is a strange roar, and he looks around to find the demons gone. He and Fawn make a run for it, bursting through the front doors—where they find the townspeople still waiting.
According to John R. Walker, a total of three people paid to see Amityville Playhouse during its theatrical run.
“If we can run, I’m sure we can make it,” Stewart urges.
Fawn’s only response is a hair-flick that shows off the birthmark on her neck.
Well. Not really.
The truly remarkable thing about these Amityville sequels is that no matter how bad any given one is, the next one along is pretty much guaranteed to make it look like a masterpiece. I mean, there was me thinking The Amityville Asylum was just a bit of cheap rubbish! – now I feel like giving it a hug.
I used it at the outset, and “numbness” is the word I keep coming back to, to describe the effect of watching Amityville Playhouse. The utter refusal of this film to do anything remotely scary or even just interesting becomes, perversely, almost hypnotic. At least The Amityville Haunting, my previous nominee for Worst Sequel, has a few amusing moments, even if they were entirely inadvertent.
Only British viewers are really in a position to eke any entertainment out of Amityville Playhouse, with the film offering them appearances by Extra Extraordinaire, John R. Walker (over 2,000 screen credits and counting), voice-actor Gary Martin who, appropriately enough, is the one person who had to “do an accent” as Mayor Elliot Saunders, and Spencer Banks and Cheryl Burfield as Mr and Mrs Minister. As children, Banks and Burfield starred in the science-fiction series, Timeslip, which in 2004 was the subject of a documentary, Timeslip: Behind the Barrier, produced by Steve Hardy—the screenwriter of Amityville Playhouse.
“I’ve been watching the rushes…”
I find myself both amused and bemused by a web interview in which Hardy pats himself on the back for the way his screenplay “subtly” connects Playhouse with the rest of the franchise. I mean, yes, the original DeFeo murders occurred on the 13th November, and six people died; and yes, The Amityville Asylum picked up both details, though it then twisted them into part of a long-standing human-sacrifice ritual; and yes, Playhouse does this too—but in a way that connects with neither of the earlier versions of events, real-life or cinematic. In fact, it isn’t at all clear that Hardy and Walker understood what Asylum (which at least references the DeFeo murders, and is set at 112 Ocean Avenue) was doing.
Likewise, the long-suffering Shinnecocks are dragged into things again, despite the geographical improbability of it all: a blunder that traces back to Jay Ansen, and whose recurrence at this late date we can only chalk up to wilful ignorance.
Considering Amityville Playhouse in its entirety, the single striking thing about it is the way it manages to drag itself out to a stultifying 100 minutes while leaving the viewer with nothing but unanswered questions. How did the settlers negotiate with the demons? We don’t know. Does everyone in Amityville know about the human sacrifice? We don’t know. If so, why would anyone stay there? We don’t know. How are the six victims chosen? We don’t know. What’s with the baby-sacrifice business anyway? We don’t know. Why were the demons angry about the Harrimans not sacrificing Fawn as well as Adrienne? We don’t know. How does Mr Stewart extrapolate from “A lot of people die on 13th November” to “demons in the catacombs”? We don’t know. Is it in fact the 13th of November? We don’t know. Why would a town that runs on human sacrifice keep records of the fact lying around? We don’t know. Why does the mayor suddenly back-flip? We don’t know. Did Fawn really inherit the theatre, or was it just a trap? We don’t know. Why a theatre? We don’t know. Who was Wendy? We don’t know. What happened to Matt? We don’t know.
What could be more endearing than taunting your viewers with references to the franchise you’re completely ignoring?
Why did anyone think making this film was a good idea??
We don’t know.
Why do I keep watching these things!?
I don’t knowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww…
Nitpick here, actually chicken-fried steak is more southern American than American. I grew up in Michigan and had never heard of it. Now, of course, I order it whenever possible (but I will probably never try to make it myself). Of course, one might say it is typical of American diet. Let’s take some red meat and add some cholesterol to it.
You never knew of the horror of getting to the library after it closed? (before the internet, of course, and when there’s a big term paper due. I may be dating myself here.
Once again, it seems as if there would be some small hint of an interesting story here, underneath all the garbage. And at least they kill Kyle. I wonder if they hadn’t tried to tie it in with Amityville, it might have had a slim chance (with several more script revisions).
But it’s NOT Canadian, right?? 😀
Oh, yes, I have known that horror; I even blogged about it, though not here… That’s why now I always check first, even if I’m not travelling somewhere between “two towns over” and 350 miles to get there.
Maybe, but I’m tired of films that mention things without even trying to work them in properly. I mean, you don’t bring baby-sacrifice into the mix and then leave it hanging, do you??
The baby-sacrifice bit was a setup for the upcoming sequel, AMITYVILLE DAYCARE.
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PLEASE don’t put ideas into their heads!!
No, you’re right. Everyone knows you shouldn’t abandon babies. They even have laws prohibiting that. Of course, another nitpick, the laws do somewhat frown on sacrificing them. Although it sure would have improved this moving.
Movie and tv writers really should look at a map every so often, and possibly a calculator. Driving 350 miles in the afternoon and getting there before dark? Sure. If a mother can drive 100 miles, visit with someone, and make it back in time to make lunch with the kids, why not? (‘Medium’, show set in Phoenix). That really annoyed me, because there were plenty of small towns much closer that they could have used without breaking the sound barrier on the highway. I don’t think the writers knew anything about Phoenix. First clue was all that grass and trees around the house.
First clue was all that grass and trees around the house.
Are we supposed to not know, or not care? As I said, I can only assume that they were forced to identify Dannemora, because even if people don’t necessarily know where that is, newsflash, they DO know where Amityville is…
We get that the six sacrifices are supposed to keep the demons placated, but we’re given no hint of what the townspeople are getting for going the extra mile.
When I posted that, I forgot that College Humor had already beaten me to it. (Did I do that right?)
What was the huge flippin’ deal about Fawn being Adrianne all along? It’s not like she could have had anything to do with the sacrifice thing–she was a baby! Why would her parents switch the kids in the first place and then go around calling Adrianne Fawn???
No, it wasn’t Adrienne all along: when the victims get whacked, they get replaced by their demon-equivalent, but Fawn got replaced by demon-Adrienne instead. And as far as we know Adrienne was the elder and so rightly sacrificed, but the demons wanted both not just the technical first-born.
I think. 😀
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I suspect you’ve now officially thought more about this than the scriptwriter did.
Oh, I am ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN I did. 😡
Chicken-fried steak is not something I eat with any regularity, but now and again I indulge. While we have it in the Midwest, it’s definitely more of a southern thing. There are many more places that offer it here in Texas than where I grew up, though. It’s also served in much more ridiculously-sized portions. Like “has to be served on a giant oval-shaped plate because it’s as big as a normal plate” size. Because everything’s bigger in Texas. Including the waistlines. *rimshot*
Poor Lyzzy, putting herself through these awful sequels for the benefit of her readers. I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone when I saw we truly appreciate the sacrifice.
Speaking as an outsider (and I’m sure I speak for the Canadians and Brits too), “chicken-fried steak” is the most American-sounding food there is; it simply couldn’t have originated anywhere else. I’m quite certain that’s why Hardy and Walker picked it as yet another WE ARE SO TOO IN AMERICA!! signifier. The question of country-wide or just southern wouldn’t have come into it.
Hey, still more inexplicable sacrifice! This one was DEEP HURTING…though I’m currently guarding myself against saying anything so silly as, “Death House couldn’t possibly be worse!”
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It’s one of those ubiquitously American things I imagine most parts of the country serve somewhere or another, although frequency would naturally vary. For example, I think there’s an ordinance here requiring any restaurant that’s not a fast food chain or exclusively devoted to a particular foreign cuisine to have it on the menu.
“Fried” anything is probably the most American-sounding food to the rest of the world, I’d guess. Although I never could have imagined the depths mankind could sink to in that regard until I visitied the Texas State Fair…
So, is this now the worst sequel? Or does that title still belong to the found-footage one whose name I cannot be bothered to remember since I have no intention to ever watch it?
Yes, I’m aware of your frying fetish. [*shudder*]
Mind you, while I judge— If positions were reversed and film-makers needed a WE ARE SO TOO IN AUSTRALIA!! food signifier, I guess the Chiko Roll would be the item of choice…
Haunting is terrible, but mildly amusing. Playhouse is just DULL, DULL, DULL, which moves it to the top / bottom of the list, at least temporarily.
It’s not my fetish! I’m not even from here! (I know, general “you.”) Fried Twinkies, Oreos, Snickers, Coke…I’ve had none of those crazy things.
Your signifier is an egg roll? Really? I liked it better when it was shrimps on the barbie and vegemite. Washed down with Foster’s, natch.
I hope for your sake it stays at the bottom/top!
therevdd: I think the trick is that you need an American food that hasn’t (unlike e.g. burgers) become a worldwide fast-food thing. Tacos might work. And if you want terrifying frying experiences, visit Scotland; the deep-fried Mars bar may have started as a joke, but it still happens.
Lyz: sorry, the Chiko Roll hasn’t really made it out. Stereotyped Australia at least in the UK is still massive steaks, vegemite and nasty lager. I still think it’s a shame the currywurst hasn’t been exported from Germany…
I honestly had no idea that chicken-fried steak was considered so typically American by the world. My guess would have been hamburgers or hot dogs, or a little more up-scale, a 1-lb T-bone steak, with baked potato smothered in sour cream.
This really says something about the movie. Almost all the comments are about food.
Darn, now I’m hungry.
It’s closer to a spring roll (which isn’t quite the same thing as an egg roll).
The point, though, is that it *hasn’t* escaped into the world at large. By this time, with all the other things mentioned, you could be anywhere in the world, but there’s only one place you could be if you were having a Chiko roll. 🙂
Speaking as an outsider, it’s the descriptor “chicken-fried” that makes it definitively American. Everyone else just says “crumbed”. And we don’t usually do steak that way, more often lamb cutlets.
But let’s not start another debate about lamb… 😀
RogerBW: You want terrifying? Here’s a small sample of the insanity that happens at the fair (assuming it lets me do links): http://mentalfloss.com/article/31488/25-deep-fried-foods-texas-state-fair
Lyzzy: I don’t think I’ve ever heard something referred to as crumbed. Interesting. I’m guessing it’s a different style, since chicken-frying is just flour, egg, and seasoning? “Crumbed” implies, well, crumbs. I didn’t know it was considered so ubiquitously American, either.
Also, you’ve read my culinary bits in that B-Fest piece; surely you don’t think I’m unaware of the difference between egg rolls and spring rolls? 😉 I found a more detailed description, and yes, it is more spring roll. I actually prefer them, since egg rolls in America tend to be stuffed with cabbage and not much else.
And no, let’s not get into the lamb again!
Spring rolls are ubiquitous here and egg rolls uncommon, so we only think in terms of the former. I wasn’t sure if your situation was reversed.
We more often keep the flour coating for fish (as a thin layer or a heavier batter), while for meat or poultry we substitute breadcrumbs (with or without spices) for the flour. Fish can also be done this way (“crumbed” or “battered”).
But the bottom line is, no-one else says “chicken-frie
nd”, even if they’re talking about basically the same thing! 😀
Egg rolls are more common, probably because Chinese restaurants are much more widespread than Vietnamese or Thai ones. You can find frozen egg rolls in pretty much any store; not so much spring rolls. Although I’d much rather go down the street to our local pho place. Their spring rolls are so good.
The word “battered” is pretty much used for fish here, as well. You don’t see much else described as battered or batter-fried.
I don’t think anyone refers to anything as “chicken-friend,” save you, apparently. 😀 Although I do refer to squirrels as “squirrel-friends,” which I must have heard someone say a few years ago and it stuck with me. It’s like “man-animal” in that no other creature gets that sobriquet.
Really? This from Mr “I Can’t Get The Formatting Right No Matter How Many Times They Explain It To Me”?? 😛
Hey, I haven’t screwed that up in like a year goddammit!* Give me a little credit!
Still, touché, my dear, touché.
*At least I hope it’s been that long.
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Four separate titles – a sure sign of Kwalitee! (All right, two really, but I’m an archivist by nature.) Maybe they thought “Theatre” would sound too British, couldn’t afford two separate DVD covers etc., so went for a culture-neutral word instead?
Amityville Surveyors: No, This Isn’t My Mom’s Car With A Sticker On It, Why Do You Ask?
“Flag Police! Where’s your flag?” “Behind the photocopier, I think.” “Oh, that’s OK then.”
“The library? Where you can read books without paying? Why, that’s un-American!”
A geography teacher, a palaeontologist and a minster work into a bar…
“Why do you want to know our local history? We don’t need outsiders here!”
Open the civic gala, attend the zoning meeting, murder people to cover up the ancient evil – a public servant’s work is never done.
Apparently the film was written as “Legacy” but then one of the producers wanted it changed. (And then, of course, someone else moved in and took the unoccupied title…)
A geography teacher, a palaeontologist and a minster work into a bar…
Open the civic gala, attend the zoning meeting, murder people to cover up the ancient evil – a public servant’s work is never done.
And that is EXACTLY how the film treats both points—PARTICULARLY the second one. 🙂
And those Flag Police sucked, judging by that screen capture of the classroom! That is NOT how you hang up a flag! Not even a little tiny bit, nope.
Not all Americans call it chicken fried. Here in central Pennsylvania it’s country fried steak. Which seems to make more sense as no chicken is used. Now if the breading was soaked in chicken broth I could understand the chicken part. Perhaps the movie version of Chicken Soup for the Soul will have a found footage film sequel, Chicken Soup for the Sole Fillet that could explain use of chicken stock for a precursor to frying steak instead of fish. Needless to say the film would have……
Personally, sequel, original…. I loathe found footage films. Maybe I just don’t “get it.” I rank Blair Witch as my third most overrated movie ever. Dare I open a can of worms and mention the other two?
“Fried, the way you’d fry a chicken” seems to be the derivation.
Go on, we’re all friends here.
Ok, you asked for it.
Maybe it’s because they aren’t typical of films discussed here. I much prefer hunting down Gargoyles as my Bernie Casey tribute to watching these films.
Fight Club. Look, we have a pretty boy to star in our movie! Not Birdemic kind of bad, but really, IMDB, one of the top 100 films of all time? Considering every Chris Nolan film is at least 9 out of 10 it’s pretty clear that generational influences are at work and not a true random statistical sampling. I made it through once so I could talk with my 10 years younger friends and vowed never to bother with it again.
No Country For Old Men
At least I have company with this one. Love it or hate it with little middle ground. The plot holes have been restated numerous times. I’ll limit myself to two.
Now let me get this right. Law enforcement is looking for a serial killer. And a guy walking around with an air tank and no chance to conceal it escapes attention (until plot requires capture later.). Nobody stops and thinks. My that’s suspicious. Let’s pull over and chat with this guy about what’s up wud dat.
Now he’s gotten caught. The rookie policeman turns his back on him to talk on the phone about it. He escapes from handcuffs that clearly have much longer chain connecting them than the ones he was cuffed with. Quietly enough that the clueless turning my back on you junior security patrol officer doesn’t hear so he can be obligingly strangled.
Add this overstated “look our killer is sooooooo cooool” stuff to Tommy Lee Jones and you have a sure fire hit with a crowd that seems to think that Batman style death traps are not just plausible, but high art.
Haven’t seen either, so I can’t comment on the specifics. I will say, though, that a film being overrated (or underrated) has nothing to do with the film. I get very irritated by hype and over-advertising, which is one of the reasons* I rarely watch anything at the time of its first release: I prefer enough distance to let a production speak for itself.
(*That, plus the whole “slack and disorganised” thing.)
“slack and disorganized” – you say that like it’s a bad thing….
Oh thank goodness. I thought I’d be the only one who hadn’t seen either of those. That makes me feel better.
I’m not so disorganized, but I feel you on the slack thing.
And the over hype of Blair Witch is exactly what bothers me about it. It doesn’t matter that the ending makes absolutely no sense if you dupe enough people to think it’s cool and talk it up.
So you’d be okay with ending if it hadn’t been talked up?
Both the hype and the backlash are beside the point: does the film work on its own terms? Of course it can be difficult getting past the external factors but for me it’s important to try, even if that means a lapse of years in dealing with it.
I love that for the plot to make any sense the movie expects us to buy into the idea that Amittyville, N.Y. functions like a remote, rural village. In fact, Amittyville is a well-to-do suburb of NYCwhich has the most densely populated metro area in the US. The idea that a place like this can have mass disappearances/murders on an annual basis and not draw any outside attention is absurd. Not even getting into the different levels of law enforcement that might have an interest, the news media would be all over this in days. First the local media, then the national broadcast networks and finally the whole cable TV true crime industry. The fact that this is an installment of a movie franchise that itself originated with news media hype makes the absurdity doubly delicious.
This thing doesn’t warrant dignifying it with a response but that was one of my main objections to the plot of Dead Silence—which does at least position its town as somewhat isolated.
It is fascinating watching the various ways the franchise has wrestled with the “ordinary suburban house” thing, though. It still strikes me as very strange that Amityville II does it best (at least until the house blows up).
It’s pronounced SEE-luh, and is best known for its extensive apple orchards; the winters might be too cold, but it’s very standard seasonal weather.
Yeah, that did seem to me an odd way for English people to react.
On the other hand I enjoyed the fact that they clearly weren’t sure how to pronounce the place they’d been living…
I’ve only ever seen the original movie and have never seen any of the sequels, but for some reason I love coming here to read the reviews of them here! In addition to Death House mentioned at the start of the review, Amityville: The Awakening opens in theaters tomorrow I guess we can look forward to not one but TWO Amityville reviews here in the near future!
That makes a lot more sense than actually watching the things…
You reckon without my OCD: there’s another SIX sequels standing between me and Amityville: The Awakening.
Alas, there’s no sign of Awakening in *this* neck of the woods. I’ve sent a stroppy message to the other B-Masters, though, informing them I expect a report from one of them. And if anyone else feels like taking a hit—???
So this movie is considerably more tedious than just hanging out in Neepawa and staring at the sidewalk for a couple of hours? I don’t know how this one slipped by me, especially since I’m familiar with Neepawa as it’s quite close to my Mum’s hometown of Minnedosa. I remember that when we visited there that it seemed as if every ad on the local TV stations was for some business in Neepawa which led to a running family joke about how everything important was in Neepawa – the center of and the dynamo driving Manitoba’s economy.
These latest Amityville films really do seem remarkably inept. Anyone want to take any bets on whether an Amityville film will be soon be made by someone who confuses and conflates Amityville with the fictional town of Amity and comes up with a story about a family that moves into what they believe is the house of their dreams only to be tormented by red-eyed phantom sharks that inhabit the plumbing?
I’m aware of Sturgeon’s Law, of course, but some horror by new filmmakers is good. I wonder why it so rarely seems to hit modern Amityville films? Maybe you need some extra cash to buy into the franchise (or at least to get lawyers to say “this won’t be a problem”)? Or if you’re the sort of filmmaker who thinks “I’ll tie my film to the Amityville pseudomythos” you’re more likely to make something derivative?
This film makes staring at the sidewalks of Neepawa seem like the height of intellectual stimulation.
I WISH a shark would show up… (C’mon, there’s a river at the back of the property! They could make a sequel to the remake: Melissa George and the kids flee the house, only to get stalked by a gigantic bull shark…)
I think the underlying problem is that everything is done backwards: it isn’t “I want to make an Amityville film” but “I want to make a horror movie but can’t get funding, so I’ll call it an Amityville film”.
A bit late to the conversation, but if you want something stereotypically Australian, I vote for Burger Rings. Not exactly cooked food, but also impossible to get outside of AU/NZ.
I didn’t realise Burger Rings were a purely local product!
Dear gods and devils and all seven Thanagarian hells, there have been FIVE more Amityville “movies” since “Playhouse”? The latest hit Google Play, for free, back in October, before it had a very limited theatrical run and slipped into Blu-ray purgatory. Jennifer Jason Leigh is in it, which means she’s gone from working with Tarantino to working with Franck Khalfoun in the space of two years. Dang.
“The latest” was filmed in 2014 and sat on a shelf for three years. I made Will Laughlin go and see it (and remarkably, he’s still speaking to me); his review is here.
So, strictly, four afterwards and one before that I haven’t tackled yet…but which I’m getting a weird itch about…
If you hadn’t seen, in addition to Death House, there are also Amityville: Vanishing Point, The Amityville Legacy, The Amityville Terror and Amityville No Escape to contend with. (I heartily look forward to the reviews when you get to them.)
Oh, yes, I know; I know…
I’m glad someone’s looking forward to them!
“Just a few more miles for to tote the weary lo-oa-ad…”
Oh of course. Anytime I get sequels to your other reviews, particularly this series (I once watched all that existed at the time of the remake in one day) I am a happy camper.
Speaking of THAT, I’d love to see you do Scream 3 and 4 at some point. 3 in particular will further rub your issues with the blame of Maureen Prescott the wrong way.
(That note too I’d love you to do the remainder of the Halloween films, the Elm Street Series and the rest of the Chucky/Child’s Play films, for completionist sake. Haha. Hell, the Children of the Corn movies too if you REALLY wanna go down a rabbit hole.)
And now, Amityville, The Awakening. A woman whose son has been in a coma for 3 years moves into the house, HOPING the demons will possess her son and wake him out of his coma.
What could possibly go wrong?
Interesting (or maybe not) fact – when the movie was first being developed, it was going to be about a reality show based in the infamous house. Not sure how they got from the one to the other.
One of my standard tests for ideas of this kind is “if everything goes as right as it possibly can, will you actually achieve your objective?”.
It seems that when Ron DeFeo Jr began his sentence, he was sent to the maximum security prison in Dannemora.
I suppose that explains the Dannemora stuff—but really, it’s an “explanation” that explains nothing. Why would you go to the trouble, not just of referencing, but actually shooting in Dannemora, in a film that otherwise has nothing whatsoever to do with the real / “real” version of the Amityville story?
The only Easter egg that I found kind of cute was the big poster for Skull Krusher, the heavy metal band that the delinquent son was a fan of in Amityville 1992: It’s About Time.
Didn’t spot that, thanks!