“There’s evil in this place.”
In February of 1976, mere weeks after they fled the house in Amityville the Lutzs contacted the Parapsychology Institute of America and spoke to their director Stephen Kaplan. According to Kaplan they requested an investigation of the house to prove their claims that demonic forces infested the place. Kaplan was happy to oblige free of charge, but reminded George Lutz that if he found their story to be a hoax…he would make that information public. Lutz cancelled the investigation shortly thereafter.
The Lutzs ended up famously calling Ed and Lorraine Warren which led to a highly dramatic televised seance in the dining room of the house. Kaplan went on to be one of the Lutzs biggest critics. He wrote a book in 1995 called The Amityville Horror Conspiracy that claims the entire story was nothing but a money grab. I mention all of this feuding and drama because after watching 1983’s stinker Amityville 3-D I realized that its very possible David Ambrose had Kaplan in mind when he penned this script.
When we meet John Baxter he’s arriving at the famous house with his wife Melanie to meet with a psychic who they hope will help them contact their dead son Billy. Things seem to be going well as Billy shows up pretty fast in the form of some lime flavored cotton candy just as Melanie and John reveal themselves to be reporters for a tabloid magazine. They brought along their own psychic and the freaking District Attorney in an effort to expose the hoax surrounding the house and the demonic forces said to reside there. Melanie gets spit on and before long John has decided to buy the place so he can write his book in peace.
John, played by Tony Robbins in impeccable turtlenecks, is the only one around who doesn’t think there is something funny going on in the house. His partner Melanie (Candy Clark) is terrified of the place and his ex-wife Nancy (Tess Harper) is so paranoid about it she forbids their daughter Susan (Lori Laughlin) from ever going there. Luckily for us Susan has a best friend named Lisa played by Meg Ryan who’s a bit of a troublemaker and also obsessed with the house.
The house looks great in this film. Its clear by now that the looming structure is the real star of the series and the director Richard Fleischer spends a lot of time with his camera pointed at it. The movie is full of some great shots actually, but most of the are sadly ruined by the comical soundtrack. Lalo Schifrin’s haunting score is sorely missed here. The scene where Melanie finds herself alone in the house had me laughing out loud at the early 80s detective show music. I seriously wonder if it was written for another film entirely and just repurposed. The music made the fact that Melanie was nearly frozen to death by an over-active air conditioning system seem even more silly than it already was.
The film has its first truly creepy scene when Susan sneaks into the house with Lisa and some bros from school with popped collars and sex on their minds to hold their own seance. The Demon tries to warn them that Susan is in danger but they steal a boat anyway and disappear into the river just as Susan’s mother shows up to drag her back home. Inside the house Nancy snoops a bit then runs into a very wet Susan who says nothing and heads upstairs.
Turns out Susan drowned in the lake, and the house has claimed her. She lives there now, doomed to roam its rooms knocking on walls and throwing furniture around. It appears that is the end game for whatever demon lives in the old well down in the basement. It longs to lure people to the house, kill them and trap them there for company or something. It doesn’t seem to want John though. Instead it appears to be trying to punish him for the crime of skepticism. Considering that when this film was made the Lutzs story was under heavy fire from a parapsychologist and “Vampireologist” named Stephen Kaplan is merely a coincidence.
Watching this for the first time in many years I realized that trying to convince skeptics that just because they didn’t see anything happen there or that they didn’t believe in ghosts didn’t mean it wasn’t true. Elliott West, a parapsychologist friend of John’s spends most of the movie explaining this point in great detail whenever he’s on screen.
“Is what you believe more certain, more real than what I believe?” He asks John after Melanie is burned alive in her car by a demonic fly. John doesn’t have much to say other than he wants his daughter saved from that place. “Things happen there because people expect them to happen.”
Elliott and John confront the demon who looks like some horrid hairless sloth that has been dipped in a tub of KY jelly. It vomits fire and drags a shrieking Elliott into the well. He was able to free Susan though, and her cotton candy soul floats away as John and Nancy try to escape the house now that the Demon is truly angry with them. What follows is five minutes of nothing but poorly executed 3D effects that happen around them as they very slowly make their way toward an exit. In the end the house literally explodes into a million pieces, which I suspect was Fleischer’s attempt to end this franchise once and for all. He had made his point about believing in ghosts, now let’s move on.
This movie did effectively end the franchise…for a long time. It opened at number one but quickly fell into a well and ended up being a massive flop. Amityville wouldn’t grace the big screen again until 2005.
A3D is okay. I don’t hate it. I have the Scream Factory set with this film in 3-D but no way to watch it, which is a shame. I suspect I’d enjoy it more that way. I did notice some weird things about the set, like the quarter-moon windows were gone from the street side of the house. The well was also no longer hidden under the stairs and the boathouse was just entirely gone. The interiors did look a lot like the set used in Amityville II and I wonder if this was a standing set for a while, ready to be filled with unsuspecting families. Oh how I’d love to see that in person.