Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Earlier this week, Ronald DeFeo Jr. died. Most of you are probably thinking, “Who?” But horror aficionados will recognise the name, or at the very least the surname, as this man and the terrible deed he committed is the reason we have one of the most infamous haunted houses in existence. And one that has gone on to spawn a horror franchise all its own—The Amityville Horror.
Now I don’t want to make light of what occurred all those years ago. Ronald DeFeo killed his entire family and that was and will always be a tragedy. He claimed “voices” in the house told him to do it and, while he was convicted for his crimes, there are those out there who believed him, most famously paranormal investigators the Warrens, who are portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring franchise. Fun fact: The opening scene of the second movie, which shows Lorraine Warren partaking in a séance, is supposed to be in the Amityville House, as this was one of their most famous cases.
Yes, the Amityville House is a famous and well-known location, but the movies based on it? Well, it might surprise you to learn there are TWENTY-ONE films in this franchise! With its reboots, remakes and terrible, terrible sequels it is the reigning horror franchise in terms on quantity (Puppet Master is number two and Friday the 13th takes the bronze). The main reason most of these films aren’t well-known is because they aren’t that good. Hell, even the original movie is a slog fest. I’ve seen 11 of them and I have no intention of watching the others because even the completionist in me isn’t that crazy. And I think it’s more than enough to give you guys this list. So without further ado, here are my TOP 5
BEST OKAY-ISH AMITYVILLE MOVIES:
#5 Amityville Dollhouse (1996)
I’ll remind you folks that most of these movies are sub-par, but there are those that had just enough in there to keep my interest, and Dollhouse is one of them. There are only so many stories you can tell about one haunted location, so the “creative” minds at work here decided ALL the objects from the cursed house were cursed themselves. And that’s how we end up with a haunted dollhouse.
An exact replica of the real thing, this doll house is found by protagonists Bill and Claire, who give it to their daughter Jessica as birthday gift. I won’t even PRETEND this movie is scary. But I remember being somewhat entertained by the ridiculousness that occurred once that dollhouse started doing its thing. A giant fly, voodoo dolls, weird sex stuff, and portals to hell are just some of the wackiness found in this movie that takes itself way too seriously. I’ll give them this though—the replica dollhouse looks just like the real thing, and somehow I found this movie interesting enough to make it all the way to the end.
#4 Amityville: It’s About Time (1992)
Remember what I said about all the household objects being cursed? With a subtitle like It’s About Time, I’ll give you one guess which household knick-knack is next up on the agenda. That’s right folks! We have an evil clock. I can see you rolling your eyes from here.
This one came out before Dollhouse and looks like they actually spent some, ahem, time thinking this one through. It’s still ridiculous, but the acting isn’t half bad, the effects were decent for the time. And if all the sequels were like this one I think the Amityville series might’ve been as popular as other horror franchises that have gone on to be considered classics. Not great, but not half bad either, this one might actually be worth your, ahem, time. Okay, I’ll stop now.
#3 Amityville: The Awakening (2017)
I saw this one on Netflix recently and I think it might just be the best sequel to come out of this haunted house legend.
The story follows a teenager named Belle (Bella Thorne of The Babysitter films) and her family, as they move into the infamous house at 112 Ocean Avenue, so they can be closer to the doctor who is treating her twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan from Gotham). James is brain-dead from an accident that Belle’s mom (played by Juliette Lewis) blames her for. On moving into the house, James miraculously begins to get better, while Belle suspects her brother isn’t really her brother at all.
While the movie doesn’t offer up anything groundbreaking, it does a good job of delivering some solid scares, decent acting, and genuine tension. Compare it to a franchise like Insidious or The Conjuring and it wouldn’t even register (although it is head and shoulders better than The Nun) but considering the other films in this lacklustre franchise, The Awakening definitely deserves to sit high on this list.
#2 The Amityville Horror (1979)
I might take some flak for this, because not only is it the movie that started the ball rolling, it’s actually considered by some as a classic of the horror genre. Sorry, but I’m not one of them.
I give this movie points for its score, which was nominated for Best Original Score by the Academy, and I think both actors, Margot Kidder aka the OG Lois Lane, and Thanos’s real-life dad James Brolin, are both doing their best here. But the pacing and lack of any real tension just weighs this movie down for me. The story is based on the real-life couple George and Kathy Lutz, who bought the Amityville House after the DeFeo murders and who went on to claim terrible, ghostly things happened to them while they were there. I just wished the movie did a better job of portraying those things (flies are not scary).
Maybe it’s just me, maybe I need to watch it again (it’s been a minute) and I did see it when I was much younger, so there’s some stuff I’m sure I missed. Then again, if you can’t scare a kid, you just might want to stop and do a rewrite or two.
Honourable Mention—Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
It’s an evil lamp…AN EVIL LAMP, PEOPLE! So get some friends together (safely, Zoom that s*&t if you need to) and break out the popcorn and beer because a movie where a demon possesses a lamp deserves, nay, DEMANDS to be seen!
#1 The Amityville Horror (2005)
Now I KNOW I’m gonna get flak for this one!
The 2005 remake of the 1979 film, Amityville Horror follows George and Kathy Lutz, this time played by a pre-Deadpool Ryan “look-at-my-six-pack” Reynolds and Melissa George. Throw in a few kids (including a pint-sized, pre-Kick-Ass Chloë Grace Moretz) and we have a solid cast of victims for the Amityville House to prey on.
This remake, unlike the original, actually managed to scare the pants off some people (and the shirt off Reynolds, but I digress) and I found it to be genuinely creepy. To its credit, it also shows a lot of love for the original, even though it goes for the big jump scares over the more subtle ones found there. I guess it comes down to your personal preference. I hate cheap jump scares, but there’s just enough dread here, as well as a likeable family you don’t want to see get hurt, to make me put this remake at the top of the Amityville pile.
As silly and sometimes downright bad as most of the films in this franchise are, The Amityville Horror is still one of the most legendary and intriguing stories out there. So don’t be surprised if in another decade or so it maintains its title as the horror franchise with the most movies under its belt. Let’s just hope they getter better and not worse.
Then again, I wouldn’t say no to a movie about a family’s fight for survival when they discover the toilet bowl they bought at auction is actually a gateway to hell. DUN! DUN! DUN!!!
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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