By the time audiences got to AMITYVILLE 1992: IT’S ABOUT TIME, they were undoubtedly wondering what another Amityville film could possibly offer. In the sixth entry into “Haunted House: The Series,” the action this time would focus on an evil clock and a heavy-handed theme of domestic abuse that, in Cinéma Dévoilé fashion, fails to explore the topic in any meaningful way.
AMITYVILLE 1992 marks for me a dreaded first within Cinéma Dévoilé that I knew would happen: I revisited a film I loved, to find out I can’t stand it. As we make our way from 1990 to 1999, first covering sequels, then repeating the linear progression with stand-alone films (before then plotting randomly ahead), it is a curse I expect to repeat. Many of these films dwell within memories of VHS rentals and slumber parties (sans massacre) with friends.
This week, I’m not going to lay out the history of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). There has been so much written on the topic, the word ‘redundant’ comes to mind. However, it’s of note that within Cinéma Dévoilé we will be given the chance to look at three other entries in the series: THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990); AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993); AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE (1996), being the fifth, seventh and eighth entries. If this seems excessive, then try to remember that as of this writing, the series is now eighteen films deep.
In this entry, we are introduced to the Sterling family. Father Jacob (Stephen Macht, doing his best Clancy Brown impression) returns from a business trip during which he purchased an antique clock which — SURPRISE! — happens to come from a certain little house in Amityville. Daughter Lisa (Megan Ward) and son Rusty (Damon Martin) were being looked after by Jacob’s ex-girlfriend Andrea (Shawn Weatherly), who served as the children’s mother figure after the death of their own. When Jacob is attacked by a dog and left fevered and sickly in bed, Andrea agrees to stay a few more days to look after the kids. Lisa and Jacob start to act strange and no one listens when Rusty tries to explain that he and the local neighbourhood nutcase believe that evil has infected the house. As things progress, a body count starts to rise and it’s up to Andrea to figure out what’s happening before it’s too late.
The biggest problem that AMITYVILLE 1992 faces, besides from the expected lack of budget, is its inability to decide on who’s story the film is. Based on the fact that by film’s end the only character to have grown is Andrea would suggest that the film is primarily about her; this also supports a reading of the film as metaphor for an abusive relationship. However, the screen time is divided between Andrea, Jacob and Rusty. After bringing the clock into the home, where it literally plants its roots, we follow Jacob through a morning and his attack by dog and the film appears to be leading us through his story; however, Jacob fades into the background of the film after this point and we’re left to grasp that Rusty must be the main character. The night the clock comes, Rusty sees a room of his house transform into the room of an ancient castle and it is through Rusty and his friendship with neighborhood loon, Iris Wheeler, that the evil within the house is identified and primarily experienced. But ultimately, Rusty never grows as a character, and only exists for the audience to learn the intricacies of the plot.
There is also an uncomfortable emotional polarization caused by the film’s thinly veiled theme of domestic abuse. I am fully for stories that deal with uncomfortable topics — hell, Haneke is my spirit animal — but AMITYVILLE 1992 is a film in which an elderly woman is killed by the beak of a ceramic chicken on top of a delivery van — a sentence which is as confusing to write as it was to witness. Later in the film, a highschool boy looking to get his rocks off with the now sexually liberated Lisa literally melts into the floor in a scene that is oddly reminiscent of Kane Hodder’s role as The Pizza in HOUSE IV (1992).
How well do these absurd moments fit into a story about domestic abuse? About as well as next week’s addition to Cinéma Dévoilé fits into the series it came from. Make sure to check back next week, when we take a look at JASON GOES TO HELL (1993).