“The first taste of revenge is always the sweetest… Five more, dear Abigail: five more must die before the dawn…”
Director: Mark Polonia
Starring: Krysten St. Pierre, Houston Baker, Michael Merchant, Cassandra Hayes, Ken Van Sant, Danielle Donahue, Yolie Canales, Mark Polonia, Kathryn Sue Young, Steve Diasparra, Jeff Kirkendall, Austin Dragovich, Todd Carpenter, Eric Roberts
Screenplay: John Oak Dalton
Synopsis: On their way home from assisting with the clean-up after a hurricane, four friends detour into Amityville, in order to check on the welfare of Florence Raymond (Yolie Canales), the grandmother of Tiffany (Krysten St. Pierre). In town, they mention their intention to Veronica (Kathryn Sue Young), who phones her ex-husband, Sheriff McGrath (Ken Van Sant), explaining that in fact she has not seen Florence in town for some considerable time. The sheriff agrees to check on the situation. On their way out to the remote farmhouse, the friends come across a broken-down car. They stop to help, and Aric (Michael Merchant) manages to get it running again. While he works, Charlayne (Danielle Donohue) tells the others something of the town’s history and her own, including that one of her ancestors was involved in the killing of a witch. As the others drive away, Charlayne lets her dog out of the car. He immediately plunges into the surrounding woods, forcing her to chase after him. There, she discovers a human skull—and then something much worse… When they arrive at the farmhouse, the friends are dismayed at its condition. Tiffany lets the others in, suggesting that they set up downstairs while she checks on her grandmother. She is appalled to find Florence bedridden and incoherent, with the room around her a mess. When she tells the others, Dig (Houston Baker) tells her comfortingly that it’s okay if she thinks they need to stay a while. He begins cleaning up and, as he carries some rubbish outside, catches a glimpse of a woman’s figure slipping into the barn… Tiffany prepares some soup and, while her grandmother is struggling to eat a little, begins to tidy the room. In doing so, she uncovers an ancient-looking book with metal clasps. Florence reacts violently when she touches it; however, when she goes to sleep, Tiffany takes the opportunity to carry it away. When she examines it, she discovers that it is a homesteader’s journal, kept by a family that moved from Salem to Amityville after one of its members, Abigail Wilmot, was accused of being a witch. According to the journal, she did indeed practice white magic, and continued to do so after arriving in Amityville. Later, as she walks in the woods nearby, Tiffany is horrified to find a number of animal skulls hanging in a tree—along with a piece of fresh meat. Back at the house, she confides to Dig something that happened in her childhood, when she received a phone-call from her grandfather, warning her never to return to the farmhouse. Later she discovered that the call was made after her grandfather died… That night, as the friends sit around a bonfire, Tiffany reads aloud from the journal: how Abigail tried to help a child with her white magic; and how, after the child died, she suffered the wrath of the townspeople—being hanged from a tree near the house…
Comments: Well…they did it; they broke the pattern.
The pattern, that is, of me condemning every Amityville sequel as the worst of the lot, until I watch the one after that.
Yes, it’s true: I like Amityville Death House better than Amityville Playhouse.
Mostly because of this—
A shameless attempt to curry favour with the reviewers! Review-er.
I know. It’s pathetic. Particularly the cellophane-and-crayola lighting-effect in the night-time shot. But that’s the first proper attempt at giving us the windows since 2005 – ten years with no eye-windows!? – so you better believe they get points for trying.
The other thing that Amityville Death House has in its favour is that it is a full twenty-five minutes shorter than its predecessor; and if you’ve seen Amityville Playhouse, you will appreciate that this is no minor consideration.
Make no mistake, though: in general terms, Amityville Death House is terrible. It also takes makes a concerted effort to wrest away the prize from The Amityville Curse and the aforementioned Playhouse, for having the least to do with the franchise that contains it—the eye-windows notwithstanding.
This film’s version of Amityville is a small town in the middle of nowhere; while the surrounding narrative, such as it is, offers a Haunted Palace-esque tale of a witch taking revenge on the descendants of the men who executed her. Though there are implied links throughout the franchise between Salem and Amityville, Death House doesn’t even nod in that direction; and while we do, yet again, have a plot in which six people need to die, there’s no franchise-cogent reason for it.
This was my first real brush with the Polonia brothers, and I came away somewhere between mildly entertained and mildly bored. We’re in low-low-budget territory here, with all that entails. The acting isn’t good, though it’s not as terrible as we might anticipate (at least not across the board); the script makes little if any sense, and barely bothers to tell us what anyone is called (three of the main characters’ names I had literally to source from the credits); and, though only seventy-five minutes long, the film still needs padding to drag it out to feature-length—although, since it tends to offer long silences rather than inane dialogue to fill its gaps, it could be worse.
“Abandon hope”, etc.
On the other hand, there are a couple of decent gore effects – though one of those I could have lived without – and the location shooting (obviously of the we-can’t-afford-sets variety) is, in franchise terms, different enough to be visually engaging.
Death House’s most egregious sin (and most overt padding) is committed at the outset: is this of those films that opens with a potted version of itself, basically a highlights reel. Presumably this is intended to reassure the viewer that there will be some Good Bits, if they stick around long enough; but since this brief sequence gives away pretty much everything worth watching for, you’re left with little reason to do so.
(Prune away the two sets of credits and the spoiler-prologue, and this thing is only sixty-six minutes long!)
The film proper opens with a masked, robed figure intoning some sort of spell. Eric Roberts gets top-billing in Amityville Death House, but—I’d be willing to bet a significant sum that it isn’t him under the mask. Rather, I suspect, Roberts simply did a voiceover of his lines, while someone else actually plays “the Warlock”. This device works reasonably well as long as whoever it is keeps still; but when he starts to move and gesticulate, in a manner quite divorced from Eric Roberts’ line-readings, all I could think about was the Great Guidance from Robot Monster.
This interlude also introduces one of the film’s more distracting touches: the Warlock first speaks of our witch as “Abigail Wilcott”, but later in the film everyone says “Wilmot”. Similarly, the farmhouse occupied by Florence Raymond is generally called, “The Beaumont Place”, but is once or twice also referred to as, “The old Wilmot Place”.
Anyway— As we look at a young actress in a piece of costuming that wouldn’t pass muster in a third-grade play, the Warlock tells us that over three hundred years ago, Abigail Wilcott [sic.], his obedient servant, was hanged for witchcraft. Since, evidently, she was a witch, I don’t think this can be classified as “sacrilege”, although that’s what he calls it.
And for those of you who can’t even be bothered sitting through the prologue…
Oddly, in this speech the word “Amityville” is almost drowned out by a gun-shot.
The Warlock adds that, “Using this magical Book of the Dead”, he will allow Abigail to take revenge on the descendants of her executioners, as per standard procedure. (Also as per standard procedure, each of the six will turn out to have only a single descendant.) The Warlock wraps up by telling us that killing the six will be Abigail’s gateway back into the world of the living: words accompanied by what will soon be a very familiar evil laugh.
Then, evidently fearing it hadn’t ruined enough surprises for us, Death House gives us a quick shot of each of the six who are doomed to die.
But even THAT isn’t sufficient: having shown us two chunks of its ending already, the film proper opens after the climax, before flashing back to “24 hours earlier”. The sheriff, while fondling a piece of paper with burned edges, and full of arcane symbols, has his deputy (a cameoing Mark Polonia) hook up a digital camera so that he can see what was last filmed. He watches as a girl we will soon know as Tiffany begins to tell us about her and her friends’ experiences doing hurricane clean-up, but soon waves a hand: “Shut it off; I’ve seen enough.”
You and me both, pal.
This sequence initially leads us to expect something in the nature of a found-footage film: the images break up periodically, and we get subliminal flashes of more things that will happen later on; but this turns out to be misleading.
Then we do flashback—and I’ll save you my own confusion: the characters are Tiffany and her boyfriend, Dig; and Bree and her boyfriend, Aric. On their way home from Florida, where they were volunteering with the clean-up after (what I take to be a fictional) Hurricane Courtney, they detour to the town of Amityville, to check on Tiffany’s grandmother.
“Appear in Amityville Death House? I must, but I cannot!”
We get a weird cutaway here to the house; and as the kids’ conversation continues, we hear – gasp! – a fly buzzing, and see the house through—well, it’s hard to explain: a distorted kind of fish-eye-lens-through-mesh effect, I suppose, which I’m guessing is as much as the film could afford by way of compound-eye vision. However, the really weird thing is that when the subjective view stops, we see a bee rather than a fly—eh?
(Although there are flies in the fridge later, or at least some indeterminate blurs on the image…)
The kids stop in town to collect a few supplies, leading to the usual Ominous Look from the local store-manager…but she only warns them about the state of the roads. Once they’re gone, however, she calls the sheriff – who turns out to be her ex-husband, for no particular reason – and pushes him into checking on Florence Raymond herself, as it now occurs to her she has not seen Florence in town for a worrying amount of time. The sheriff agrees to go, but he’s not happy about it:
Sheriff: “No wonder they call them old wives’ tales!”
One of the most irritating things about this film is that we can never be sure whether the characters are seeing and hearing what we are seeing and hearing. This starts here, with Tiffany apparently having visions of black-robed figures executing someone; but her expression barely changes, and she says nothing.
On their drive out to what is mostly called “the old Beaumont Place”, the kids are tailgated by a couple of local idiots (who will reappear later to up the body-count), and then stop to help a girl whose car has broken down.
For the heinous crime of rock-juggling, Abigail was put to death.
Charlayne, who has a sort of Alanis Morissette thing going on, explains almost unprompted about the witch-killing; that one of her ancestors was involved; and that she has come back to Amityville to clear her family’s name, by proving Abigail really was a witch.
As the others drive off we stay with Charlayne, who lets her dog, Snappy, out of the car. He immediately runs off into the woods, and she is forced to follow. I was expecting the worst here; but after Charlayne finds a skull and then an absurdly low-hanging noose, the film gave me a pleasant surprise by having Snappy go all Cujo.
The Warlock then butts in to confirm that, yes, this was revenge-killing #1; five more to go, “before the dawn”…
Upon their arrival, the kids are dismayed by the state of the house (which doesn’t actually look all that bad, considering it’s a neglected property in the middle of nowhere). A worried Tiffany hurries upstairs to check on her grandmother and, as she is knocking on her bedroom door, the wheelchair on the landing suddenly moves of its own accord—gasp!
Aw, I love a good possessed-wheelchair film, don’t you?? (But don’t hold your breath here waiting for more: that’s the only incident of its kind in the whole film!)
One of the biggest and most inexplicable flaws in Amityville Death House is that the elderly Florence Raymond is played by a young actress in terrible old-person makeup…who tries to sell the character by using a croaky voice and calling Tiffany “child”. As we never see the character in a “young” incarnation – hers or someone else’s – there seems no reason at all why they went down this path instead of just hiring an older actress: it’s stupid and distracting.
(It’s evidently Yolie Canales under the makeup. I think it may be her au naturel in our brief glimpse of Abigail, too, but I’m not sure because I haven’t seen either of her other films, Sharkenstein and The Amityville Exorcism…yet.)
While Florence is turning her nose up at some soup and Tiffany is cleaning up, the latter comes across an old, leather-bound book, which Florence explains that she found after having her husband’s beehives removed, following his death. (Um…is that supposed to explain the bee-not-fly?) Other incidents of note include Tiffany finding a jar of human teeth in the cellar, and Dig spotting a woman with long tousled hair and wearing a pink nightgown as she slips into the barn. Neither of them mentions these things to the others.
Meanwhile, Bree and Aric are so bored, they’re watching—no, not Amityville Death House, smartarse!—footage of themselves doing their relief work in Florida. The image begins to flicker, and then Aric exclaims at the sight of a woman with long tangled hair and wearing a pink nightgown. “Does anyone remember that chick standing there?” he asks obtusely. Dig frowns in confusion at recognising the woman from the barn, but of course he says nothing…
(So Undead Abigail followed them to Florida?)
Tiffany then lightens the mood by reading out loud from her grandmother’s book…in which, we note, in spite of Charlayne’s placement of the Amityville witch-killing in “the 1700s” – and even that seems a little late – all the journal entries are dated from 1852-1853!
Also, I don’t think moving from Salem to Amityville can really be described as “migration”.
When Snappy wants walkies, he really wants walkies.
Here we get a cutaway to the sheriff talking to a fisherman called Ernie, who complains that the fish aren’t biting…but who, as soon as the sheriff leaves, gets the biggest bite of his life…
So much for Descendant #2.
Tiffany has another vision (we gather) and as a result goes wandering into the woods, where she finds animal skulls dangling from a tree—along with an ominous lump of fresh meat. This incident prompts her to confide in Dig about her phone-call from beyond her grandfather’s grave. “When he said, ‘Summer’s over’, I think he was trying to warn me,” she concludes. Uh, no—that would be when he said, “Don’t ever come back to the farm.”
Meanwhile, the world’s slowest sheriff – still on his way to check on Florence Raymond, you might remember – gets distracted again from the task at hand by discovering Charlayne’s car. He looks around for her briefly, but doesn’t really want to venture into the woods—and so misses the evidence of her gruesome demise. (Which, by the way, should be a lot further from the road.)
That night finds the friends drinking beer around a bonfire, while Tiffany reads more of the journal. This time we hear how Abigail’s attempt to cure a sick child by ‘white magic’ failed, and how the angry townspeople of Amityville turned on her—and that she was hanged from the tree just near where the kids are sitting.
“Well, we all know how well things turned out in Amityville,” comments Dig—and I have absolutely no idea what he means—unless that is a distant allusion to the more familiar history of the town?
Tiffany opines that the magic of Amityville – “White or otherwise” – has long since “drained back into the earth”—which prompts the Warlock to butt in again with a promise of the demise of another descendant.
“Truthfully, I haven’t much cared for soup since that day I took a scalding bowl of it in the face…”
This one is a hulking hunter who speaks with a Southern accent for some reason, but also has a kind of backwards, Lenny-ish vibe going on. None of that matters, of course, because he’s only been introduced in order to die horribly—which he does, by having his head seized between the hands of Undead Abigail, and his eyes gouged out.
You bastards. THAT’S the effect you got right!?
Up until now, we’ve had flashes of Abigail, either in ghost-form or dangling from the hangin’ tree; but from this point she will be a disappointingly corporeal figure, if still obviously undead.
Back inside, Bree manages to cut her finger on the binding of the journal, before Tiffany finds and reads aloud one of Abigail’s spells—which we hear the Warlock chanting with her. This is treated ominously, with many subliminal flashes of Tiffany’s visions and Undead Abigail; but since the latter is already up and killing, it all seems a little misplaced.
It’s long after nightfall by now, and the sheriff thinks to check in with his deputy, Sullivan:
Sheriff: “Hey, Sully: I’m about to head over to the Wilmot residence.”
Deputy: “Okay, Sheriff, but make it quick: you’re off-duty in an hour.”
Of course, given that, even allowing for diversions, it’s already taken him somewhere between four and six hours to do the same drive that took the kids about thirty minutes, we hold no great hopes of the sheriff’s timely arrival.
“Ehh, they were having a sale at Amazon: buy the DVD, get the Magical Book Of The Dead free…”
And then he gets diverted again, this time by (i) a glimpse of Undead Abigail (he drives through her in an amusingly awful bit of effects work), and (ii) the empty pick-up of the tailgating idiots, who turn out to be Descendants #4 and #5…
(“Some kind of buzz-kill, huh?” comments Aric of all the death-screams emanating from the woods.)
…which has the effect of leaving us with four major characters (six if you count Florence and the sheriff) and only one doomed descendant to go. Of course, this aspect of the film would probably be a bit more effective if they hadn’t TOLD US AT THE OUTSET WHO THE LAST DESCENDANT IS.
But far from regretting this artistic choice, the film underscores it, by inserting a longer version of Tiffany’s vision of the black-robed figures, two of whom we have seen several times preparing to execute a third—who this time is revealed as Tiffany herself…
…who, sigh, sits bolt upright as she jerks awake from a nightmare. She then goes upstairs to check on Florence, and finds Undead Abigail in the room—holding Florence by the hair and speaking through her: “I have no need for this broken vessel, to keep my spirit in this world,” she remarks, and snaps Florence’s neck.
Tiffany screams, prompting an oddly unconcerned reaction from her friends (“I’d better go check,” comments Dig calmly). The two boys are then distracted by Bree’s evident illness: she has been huddled under a blanket, and now emerges burning up with fever and with that cut on her hand from the journal having turned into a suppurating mess (another of the film’s better effects).
Another Amityville film, another Proactiv joke…
With Tiffany taking forever to run downstairs, Dig wanders down into the cellar—apparently being “summoned” by a barrel of water (!?). The barrel turns Dig all weird, and when Aric and Bree appear, he insists peremptorily that Aric force Bree into the water. Obviously a suggestible type, Aric does—holding Bree’s head under until her oozy hand is the least of her worries.
By this time Tiffany has shown up. She tries to intervene, but gets pushed against the wall and bumps her head—not that hard, actually, but she has an excuse to sit down and do nothing while Aric finishes the job on Bree.
Once it’s too late for Bree, Tiffany springs into action—swinging an axe at Dig. He stops her easily enough, and pushes her back against the wall again so that she bumps her head a second time.
But that’s not all.
We get the film’s most hilariously stupid touch here, as Tiffany’s cardigan pops open to reveal that she has six breasts! Dig and Aric both stop to gape at her – as you might imagine – with Dig intoning, “She has the witch’s teats!”
Meanwhile, we viewers may well be pondering the fact that Tiffany’s teats seem to sit on top of her clothing…
(…putting me irresistibly in mind of Teeth-On-The-Outside-Of-His-Lip Guy from Kill Squad.)
Anyhoo— The Warlock butts in again here to editorialise that Tiffany’s teats prove that she is (i) a witch, and (ii) a rival to Abigail, and (iii) that she should be killed on either or both grounds. By this time Aric too has gone “weird” (we can tell, because his and Dig’s faces have both broken out), and the pair of them obediently intone: “She’s a witch! Kill the witch! Get the witch!”
Let’s be honest, though: they’d stare like that if she only had two breasts, amiright?
Meanwhile, with an embarrassed little gesture, Tiffany tries to button up her no-longer-quite-big-enough cardigan. And if anything could make this scene funnier, her first words after The Big Reveal are: “What’s wrong with you guys?”
A bright light suddenly floods the cellar; and Tiffany gasps as Undead Abigail appears at the top of the stairs. She throws a rope down to Aric and Dig, who start fashioning a noose—
—and I’ve let this pass so far, but now it has to be remarked: Krysten St. Pierre is generally competent as Tiffany, though her line-readings could do with some work; but she undermines everything she does by constantly, and I mean constantly, pushing her hair out of her face—no matter how inappropriate the moment in-film. And we get the most inappropriate moment here: as Aric tries to loop the rope around Tiffany’s throat, she raises both her hands—not to protect herself, but to flick her hair back.
Rather Too Corporeal Abigail stomps down the stairs, presumably to take a closer look at Tiffany’s agonies. And then suddenly we discover that Bree isn’t dead after all! Her resurrection distracts the witch-hunters, allowing Tiffany to loosen the noose. This in turn prompts the Warlock to observe, “She resists us! The power is strong with her!” – as Dig and Aric snap out of their trance (with their skin clearing up: it’s a miracle!). They stare in shock at Rather Too Corporeal Abigail, who offers further proof of her corporeality by bleeding copiously when Dig buries the axe in her chest. (She also, unless I’m much mistaken, spits up ketchup.)
Abigail takes a swing at Dig, slashing his face open. She then collapses herself, allowing Aric to stomp on her while demanding to know what she did to them?
“The book!” mumbles Dig. “Destroy the book!” – while Aric – paying no attention whatsoever to the girlfriend he just tried to drown – comforts him.
I don’t think Florence ever looked better.
Tiffany dashes upstairs to find the volume. As she picks it up, she is confronted by Undead Florence. “You’re not my grandmother!” she cries – perspicacious girl – and swings the journal…decapitating “Florence” with a single blow.
Wow. That’s some book.
Downstairs again, Tiffany begins tearing the journal apart—causing instant possession in Bree, who roars and does that black-eyed, distorted face thing, and also prompting Rather Too Corporeal Abigail to bob up again. Having had so much success with decapitation-by-book, Tiffany follows up by caving Abigail’s skull in with a small can of gasoline. She then re-joins Aric in destroying the book; the pages fly around on their own, cutting open Aric’s face. Tiffany warns Aric that they have to destroy all the pages, by burning them.
(So why not just burn the whole book?)
But no sooner has she spoken than the (poorly computer-generated) pages start trying to elude capture by hiding themselves in various nooks and crannies. “We’ll have to burn this place to the ground!” says Aric.
Meanwhile, we see what we take to be Abigail’s spirit leaving her body; and suddenly Bree starts thrashing around and drooling, and—
Okay. At least the teats were funny-stupid. This is just stupid-stupid. Not to mention overly-familiar-stupid.
(Or that I’m pretty sure the only reason they did this was so that they could put A CRAWLING NIGHTMARE OF HORROR! on the poster…)
So you’ve seen The Exorcist and The Thing? Good for you!
Anyway— Bree suddenly sprouts six long spider-legs out of her body; also flipping over so that, facing up, her body makes the spider’s body.
Spider-Bree knocks Tiffany over and grabs her, but the film grants her a Heroine’s Death Battle Exemption©. Aric isn’t so lucky: when he stops throwing gasoline around and tries to help Tiffany instead, he hesitates over axing Bree to death (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t remember trying to drown her), and gets a pointy spider-leg through the chest.
This gives Tiffany a chance, however, and she sets the cellar on fire—somehow not setting herself on fire too, since she must have been rolling around in the gasoline. She then tries to bolt; but she is only halfway up the cellar stairs when—
—the house explodes!
Some truly terrible effects here, but at least their hearts were in the right place: we haven’t seen a house go up in flames at the end of an Amityville film since 1996!
And oh my goodness me, look who finally arrived!
Sheriff McGrath gapes in horror at the place he was supposed to be checking out some eight hours earlier, and calls frantically for the fire-department, an ambulance, and everyone else.
He also steps on a stray partial-page of the journal, helpfully putting out the fire which is consuming it.
“Okay, folks, show’s over, nothing to see here, show’s— OH MY GOD! The house exploded! Hey, everybody, get a load of this flaming wreckage! Come on, crowd around, crowd around, don’t be shy, crowd around…”
We then fade back to the sheriff watching the footage of the kids, shot a mere twenty-four hours before. And this time around, instead of ordering it shut off, he pauses the image on a subliminal shot of Abigail…
…just as he gets word from his ex-wife that “the Raymond girl” just wandered into her store.
Aw, c’mon… You didn’t think we were getting out of this without a kicker ending, did you??
Or without one more evil laugh from the Warlock…who, his business finally done, can at long last get back to watching his favourite movie…
Seriously—do my eyes deceive me, or is the Warlock’s “magical Book of the Dead” played by the Collector’s Edition of The Evil Dead??
Psst: you’re holding it upside-down…
Footnote: It occurs to me that Amityville Death House was originally released before Amityville Playhouse, and that I reviewed them out of order; so they didn’t break the pattern after all.
Which means that, from here, it can still get worse…