Review: The Amityville Curse (1990)

“Careful, this place bites.”

The Amityville Curse title over a red-tinted image of the house. A screaming man is off to the side.

There have been an embarrassing number of movies using the fair hamlet of Amityville to get a few views online from unsuspecting horror fans. On the surface Tom Berry’s 1990 direct-to-video entry in the franchise might seem like one of them, perhaps even the first. The house on the poster is certainly not the house we know and love, not even if you squint.

The Amityville Curse is based on the 1981 novel by parapsychologist Hans Holzer. His previous novel, The Amityville Murders, documented the DeFeo murders and subsequent trial of Ronnie Jr. as well as Holzer’s own investigation into the haunting. He claims that Ethel Myers, trance-medium and shawl enthusiast, made contact with the angry Indian spirit that haunts the property. This vengeful chief and the curse he placed on the land is the basis for the story that unfolds. I reread the book, which comes in at just under 200 pages after watching the movie so I could compare them. I’ll post that review later.

The movie begins like an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. An elderly priest is preparing for evening confession and perhaps hiding a few secrets of his own. His first parishioner is a mysterious smoking man who puts a bullet between the old man’s eyes. The church closes down as a result and they move all the priests belongings, including the confessional, into the basement of the old rectory next door.

Dun Dun

Twelve years later we meet up with a young couple house hunting in Amityville. Marvin (David Stein) is a psychologist and his wife Debbie (Dawna Wightman) is a neurotic mess. We get the sense immediately that Marvin is over her shit and would rather push her out of the moving car. She is inexplicably drawn to an old house they pass on the way into town and she insists they check it out. Turns out its for sale and quickly decide to buy the place even though Debbie sees a vision of a man hanging from a tree during the tour. Totally normal.

Turns out Debbie and Marvin want to share the house with their friends and renovate the place in hopes of making a quick buck. This would make one heck of an HGTV series wouldn’t it? “Haunted Flip”, or “The Amityville Reno: The Devil in the Details”.

Right off the bat I hate ALL these people. Marvin is a condescending prick and Debbie spends most of her time in near hysterics over every little thing. We are supposed to be rooting for her I think but I just wanted her to be quiet. Frank and Gabby are the other married couple, and it becomes clear almost immediately that they want you to think that Frank is a bad guy. He can’t recall his past. He’s moody and mysterious. He glares at everyone menacingly for no reason and talks in hushed tones. His wife Gabby enjoys her wine. That leaves the odd man out, Billy, who is just along for the ride and the only one with any real renovation skills.

Almost immediately the nosy old lady next door shows up and makes herself at home, invading everyone’s personal space and generally threatening them with death and dismemberment if they don’t heed her warnings. Of course they don’t, and the mayhem begins.

The rest of the movie is a miss-mash of generic “hauntings” that mostly don’t make much sense. The only one who seems to be on the right path is Debbie who sees visions of the people who’ve died there, and is eventually led to the basement where the spirit of the dead priest is trapped in the confessional.

The priest is focused on Frank though, who doesn’t realize his connection to the house or the dead man. As you can imagine things don’t turn out too well for anybody.

I have theories about why this movie turned out the way it did. It was made in Canada for very little money. I think they probably wanted to shoot at the house in Tom’s River and stick closer to the novel but couldn’t. Nor could they afford to build a reasonable lookalike. The murders only get a passing mention in this film, and a very vague one when some colorful locals talk about “that boy who killed those people all those years ago.”

Don’t waste your time with The Amityville Curse. I was so bored I struggled to pay attention so I could write this review. I’m sure there are far worse movies coming my way in this series, but I sure glad this one is behind me.

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