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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

How ‘Amityville: It’s About Time’ Perfected the ‘Amityville Horror’ Model [Shudder]

Currently, there are eight Nightmare on Elm Street films, eleven Friday the 13th movies, and one movie shared between the two series. Thanks to recent reboots, the Child’s Play franchise is now seven movies long and The Puppet Master franchise is 14 entries long. Halloween’s up to 13 movies, The Conjuring universe has seven films, and Saw will be up to nine whenever Spiral: From the Book of Saw finally comes out. 

But all of those venerable franchises pale in comparison to The Amityville Horror’s 23 (and counting!) entries. 

In a way, that huge number makes sense. At its core, 1979’s The Amityville Horror is a solid haunted house narrative with a “true story” hook. Based on Jay Anson’s 1974 novel, The Amityville Horror describes the travails of the Lutz family, who experienced paranormal activity shortly after moving into 112 Ocean Avenue on Long Island, where ghostly forces drove one of the previous residents to murder his entire family. 

The first set of sequels brought new families into 112 Ocean Avenue or re-enacted the first murder, before destroying the house and distributing cursed objects to other locales. Later entries have only a passing connection to the original house, seemingly slapping the Amityville title onto largely unrelated stories to get some brand recognition. Badly acted found-footage movies about haunted apartments and movie theaters became just as much a part of the Amityville story as the original Long Island house. 

Some might complain that all these entries dilute the brand, but here’s the thing: the Amityville movies were never very good. Last year, I watched and reviewed them all for this article, and found the large majority to be bad to mediocre (including the 1979 original). 

However, one entry stood out above the rest. Released directly to DVD with an unwieldy title, Amityville 1992: It’s About Time might sound like a forerunner to the lazy cash-grabs that will come to mark the series. But director Tony Randel and writers Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro have in fact crafted the perfect Amityville film, one that outdoes its peers by every metric and deserves a place in the horror canon.  

It’s About Houses

For me, the best part of the original 1979 Amityville Horror is its tagline, “For God’s Sake, Get Out.” That command captures the fear we all have whenever we move into a new place, that creeping suspicion that the previous owner’s sins have somehow contaminated our new home. 

Amityville 1992 twists that idea by taking place, not in a New York two-story with generations of history, but in a tacky modern California tract house. The home belongs to widower Jacob Sterling (Stephen Macht), a housing developer tasked with designing a new concept for his planned community. Jacob finds inspiration in an antique clock he purchased in New York, a clock that once sat on the mantle of 112 Ocean Drive (and also in the murder dungeon of a French schoolmaster, but the movie doesn’t waste too much time on that weird offshoot) 

Apropos of a trendy developer, Jacob’s home is the epitome of early 90s cheese. The exterior façade may have a compelling design, complete with dormers that recall those of the Amityville house, but the inside features hideous purple wallpaper, gold-colored fixtures, and neon-highlighted fixtures. Every room screams fake and disposable. 

So when the clock takes root in the house, literally drilling into the walls and magically infesting it with gears and black sludge, it triggers a unique fear. An anonymous space, devoid of all personality, finally gets character in the form of pure evil. 

When the clock possesses Jacob, the house gains a sense of agency. After a vicious (and inexplicably mystical) dog attack, Jacob must design his new concept neighborhood from bed, stricken with fever and a pulsing puss-filled wound on his leg. Jacob spends his days drawing plans for houses, each of which resembles the 112 Ocean Drive house more and more. When he finally finishes, the model for his new concept neighborhood features nothing but Amityville houses, side-by-side and exactly alike – except for the graves of Jacob’s family out in front.  

It’s About Family

Like most haunted house movies, The Amityville Horror was about a family pulling together to deal with a paranormal threat. But the film added a wrinkle to its family dynamics by making the father into a stepfather who hadn’t quite earned the trust of his wife’s children. 

Amityville 1992 goes one step further by making the central family even less cohesive. Since his wife’s death, Jacob has lived alone with his son Rusty (Damon Martin) and daughter Lisa (Megan Ward), while pursuing an on-again / off-again relationship with grad student Andrea (Shawn Weatherly). The film opens long after Andrea has dumped Jacob, but she still agrees to stay and help with Rusty and Lisa, against her better judgment. She regrets that decision even more after the wounded Jacob guilts her into staying longer. 

For some, the blurred lines between Andrea and the Sterlings diminish the movie. We never get a clear handle on how she feels about the family, which some reviewers have chalked up to bad writing. At times, Andrea has affection for Jacob, sleeping with him on their first night back and calling him “honey” while cleaning his wound. Other times, she openly resents him, yelling at him after driving him home from the hospital.  

Things become even more strange when she invites her new boyfriend Leonard (Jonathan Penner) to stay with her. It does seem odd that Leonard would feel so comfortable in the house of his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, but the incorrigible behavior only underscores the flakiness Penner brings to the character. Leonard feels like Ellis from Die Hard as played by Paul Reiser from Aliens, the platonic ideal of 80s sleazeball. 

But for me, the fractured nature of the central family refocuses the story. This Amityville movie isn’t about the tragedy of an upstanding family man gone bad. Rather, it’s the story of a woman who can’t get out of the shadow of her uncaring ex-boyfriend long enough to live her own life. She’s nearly suffocating in hegemony, even before Jacob begins designing an Amityville suburb. 

It’s About Gore

Perhaps the best reason to watch Amityville 1992 is that it features some of the gooiest and memorable kills I’ve ever seen. Granted, this was one of the first horror movies I watched, back when I was a sheltered and easily scarred 14-year-old. But even revisiting the movie as a horror-hardened adult, I sometimes have to avert my eyes. 

Amityville 1992 has a kill that predates Final Destination’s absurd Rube Goldberg deaths, involving an elderly woman’s cane and a runaway diaper delivery truck. It has death by guitar amp. It even has a “babality” a full year before Mortal Kombat II

But the most amazing moment involves a randy teenager slowly melting in a puddle of black goo. Like most of the movie’s kills, the scene makes absolutely no sense. But Randel doesn’t give us time to think about it. The camera cuts between the dying teen and a possessed girl’s cruel laugh, finally spinning above the victim in an overhead shot. Special effects artist Peter Kuran designs a convincing combination of melting flesh and black gunk, all building to a disturbing shot of the teen screaming as his face gurgles above the drain. 

That kill outdoes not only every Amityville movie, but nearly every horror movie ever made. 

It’s About Time

There’s a reason the Amityville franchise keeps going. Its central ideas can be moved to any horror subgenre, retold in thousands of ways. But no matter how many times filmmakers try, they just don’t seem to reach the heights of Amityville 1992

It’s about time Amityville 1992 gets the recognition it deserves. 

The film is now streaming on Shudder.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3632086/amityville-time-perfected-amityville-horror-model-shudder/

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