Just like Saw gave birth to a dozen torture porn movies the same has happened to found footage. While the genre was born into the mainstream with The Blair Witch Project (or The Last Broadcast…depending on who you ask) almost 13 years ago the latest round of “lost tapes” movies owe their existence to the more recent success of Paranormal Activity and its sequels. It is from this bag of tricks that former stuntman Geoff Meed has pieced together The Amityville Haunting.
The movie opens with a group of horny teens breaking into the notorious house (more on the house in a bit) for an evening of ghost hunting and sex. If you are familiar with the rules established by the original Scream then you already know that these kids are as good as dead, but not before a gratuitous tit shot and some of the most boring bathroom sex I’ve ever seen. From there the setup is simple. Shortly after this massacre the Benson family moves in and the movie begins playing fast and loose with the Amityville legend.
The Bensons are a family in crisis but you never really find out why. The dad is ex-military (and mildly hot actually) and runs a tight ship. The teenage daughter Lori is a troublemaking slut who spends most of the movie texting and whose antics have forced the family to relocate 18 times over the past 5 years. Their teenage son Tyler annoys them all by filming their every move using bad camera angles and idiotic narration. He claims to be making a documentary but about what we don’t know. It seems to mostly involve sneaking shots of his sister in a towel and daily video diaries of just how weird his life is. He is also presented as the only one who really knows anything about the Amityville case, but he tends to forget these facts. For instance, he knows all about the DeFeo’s and the murders but is confused when his dad breaks out the crucifixes and sage to ward off the evil spirits.
Borrowing a gimmick from the 2005 remake we have the youngest daughter Melanie and her imaginary friend John Matthew. Amityville nerds will recognize that as the name of the youngest DeFeo son, aged 9 when he was killed in 1974. Also haunting the home is the killer Ronnie DeFeo who mostly just stands in corners staring at people. For the next 75 minutes these two slam doors, moan, giggle and lurk menacingly as the family slowly goes insane. Okay mostly it’s the dad who loses it but they all go a little crazy.
In the meantime everyone who visits the house dies, including the realtor, one of Lori’s boyfriends, a moving man and the shady alarm installation man. Nevermind the fact that eight other families have occupied the house since the Lutzs left and they all survived. Why was this family chosen for slaughter? Why do we care? Very little effort was made to establish any connection with these people. Even the kid with the camera is forgetful and he’s the most charismatic one in the bunch.
My problem with people who make Amityville movies is that they rarely do any research. Mr. Meed could have spent a half hour on Wikipedia and come away with a more factual script that what he ended up with. According to this movie the house is 150 years old and Ronald DeFeo’s sister was the real murderer. They did manage to sneak in a couple of little nods to the original movie and book that only a true Amityville nerd would have noticed. The first was a lingering shot of a stone lion on the front porch, very similar to the one that supposedly “bit” George Lutz in the book. The second was a speech by the little girl about how her imaginary friend wanted her to live there forever and ever. There was even a quick mention of some flies so someone at Asylum was paying attention.
Lastly there is the issue of the house. When I first saw the trailer for this film I was spitting blood and screaming that they couldn’t even get the damn house right. The house on the poster is sort of cool, but not right, and completely different that the house in the film. Now that I’ve seen the movie I get why they picked it. The interior conveys the normalness of the real house and the time period with the paneling and the groovy seventies kitchen. It was easy to imagine that this was how the interior of that house would look 30 years later. And given the low budget I can see why the couldn’t build a facade that at least made an attempt to look like the real house. Unfortunately without the iconic windows looming overhead it was easy to forget this was an Amityville movie and not just another haunted house flick.
I realize I tend to be a little harsh on movies that venture into Amityville territory. I keep hoping that someone will get it right and so often I am let down. However, if you are a fan of the found footage, haunted house genre then this movie is only marginally better than watching a rerun of Ghost Adventures. Asylum’s 8213 Gacy House was much better. If you are an Amityville nerd like myself then this movie will probably just make you mad. I got the Dvd for $4 though so I’m not complaining. Now, let’s hope The Amityville Tapes and The Amityville Legacy 3D…should they ever get made…are a bit better.