Review: The Amityville Asylum

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At some point in a film series it becomes less about the sequels being good and more about what they bring to the table. After the fifth or sixth installment you are just checking off the boxes until the credits roll. When the series dips into the double digits it becomes less and less likely that anything interesting is on the way. That has certainly been the case with The Amityville Horror series. After the house exploded in flames at the end of the 3rd film the series skewed off into several different directions mostly involving demon-possessed garage sale items. The 2005 remake sort of tried to bring it all about home again but mostly just managed to piss fans off. Then in 2011 we got a film (The Amityville Haunting) that was supposed to take place in the original house, conveniently ignoring the events of Amityville 3-D. The Amityville Haunting wasn’t very good, but it was clear that the writers had at least done some of their homework and were done with demonic lamps and dollhouses.

The Amityville Asylum, released in the UK last year and just released on DVD in the US a few weeks ago manages to find a fresh take on the Amityville legend and for that I applaud writer/director Andrew Jones loudly for trying it. In this alternate reality the house at 112 Ocean Avenue is gone and in its place the city of Amityville has build an enormous gothic mental institution called High Hopes. It is a ridiculous premise given the physical reality of the house, which is literally steps away from its neighbors and not any bigger than your average suburban home, and the fact that the city would almost certainly never allow such a thing to happen. Even though I’m sure that some of the folks up there would be happy if the horror house was torn down I doubt very seriously they’d shine to the notion of a mental institution popping up in its place, no matter how big or small it was. But this is just a movie after all, so let’s accept this new reality and move on.

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The film opens…of course…in 1974 with the murder of the DeFeo family. I’ll bet no family in history has been slaughtered on screen more times than the poor DeFeo’s. This sequence, like much of the film, is dark and doesn’t really do much more than remind us that this crime occurred which is a necessary evil I think if you want to tell a story in this world. The series is so old at this point that there is an entire generation of people who probably aren’t sure if any of it really happened. Sadly the DeFeos murders are more often just a catalyst to dump us into the current haunting story, in this case the tale of Lisa Templeton.

Lisa is a girl who has made questionable hair color choices and is in dire need of a job. She has pinned her hopes on a coveted position as a cleaner at this new asylum in Amityville where she will spend long nights mopping up vomit and changing toilet paper rolls. Seems like a sure thing right? Well she manages to screw up the interview by sneezing a large slimy snot bomb onto the director of the facility, Dr. Mixter, making her financial plight even more desperate. She is shocked when Dr. Mixter calls her later that night to offer her the position anyway and the next night she is roaming the dark halls of the hospital. Almost immediately she discovers that not all is as it seems at High Hopes Asylum.

The next 45 minutes are mostly full of the usual “haunted hospital” cliches. Lisa sees things that no one else believes. She thinks she’s crazy. Her only friend, a handsome Brit named Delaney lets her cry on his shoulder. The other orderlies are mean and rapey. More ghosts appear…including young Allison DeFeo who just wants you to play with her. You get the idea.

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Kicking things up a notch is the mysterious Ward X where Dr. Mixter keeps all the criminally insane patients. They are poorly lit and say inappropriate things to Lisa which results in more crying. It isn’t clear where any of this is going until Lisa’s annoying friend Nancy mentions the history of the land where the hospital currently stands. This sparks some interest in Lisa and she goes on a quest to LEARN ALL THE THINGS about Amityville and GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS with Dr. Mixter.

With Nancy’s help she learns about the cult that formed as a result of the massacre of an Indian tribe that occurred on the land where the house, and subsequently the asylum occupied. We also learn that this cult has not entirely died out and one of their members is rotting away in Ward X doing her best impression of Gloria Swanson on meth. She even finds a reason to scream GET OUT at Lisa as a little nod to fans and I can’t be certain but I suspect the original audio of that famous moment from the 1979 film may have been mixed in there a little for fun. It is an interesting addition to the story that I certainly didn’t expect. In a more seasoned director’s hands and with a budget that amounted to more than the value of my 2007 Volkswagen it could have really been something fun to watch instead of just scenes of Lisa and Nancy surfing the internet.

But then the film makes the most predictable of all predictable plot twists. If you’ve seen any haunted asylum movies then you know what I am talking about. For the sake of not giving away EVERYTHING I won’t repeat it here, but I did say “Oh my, I am so surprised” out loud when it happened. Yeah. Thankfully the story didn’t take it all the way there, at least I don’t think they did. Things got a bit confusing at the end. Either way, things don’t end well for anyone. I almost wonder if Lisa’s fate was decided back when she sneezed on poor Dr Mixter.

My biggest problem with this movie actually had nothing at all to do with the far-fetched premise or the caliber of the actors. The main thing that hurt this movie in my opinion was the musical score. I’m sure the budget didn’t allow for something was extravagant as an orchestra but this movie really needed a score more substantial than what sounded to me like a cat walking on the Casio keyboard I got for my 18th birthday back in 1989. By the end of the 90 minutes I was ready to just mute the sound and make up dialogue in my head to get through it. Good music can really save a horror film and this film could have used some.

I enjoyed the film well enough, but I find it hard to recommend to anyone who I don’t already know is either interested in the case itself or a fan of the series. Even then it’s a hard sell given the implausible premise and the fact that the star of any Amityville movie…the house itself…is nowhere to be found. Out of the 11 films I’d rank this at about number 8. Certainly not the worst in the series but far from the best.

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