For my Horrorathon for Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (aka MASK) I watched 10 Amityville Horror movies in a row. These are my stories.
There are two subgenres of Amityville films within the series
I naturally assumed all these films would involve a family moving into the Amityville house and being haunted. That is not the case. Four out of nine original films (excluding the remake) are about a haunted object from the Amityville house making its way to an unsuspecting family in California and causing chaos. This subset includes Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, Amityville: It’s About Time, Amityville: A New Generation, and Amityville: Dollhouse. The first two haunted object movies were funny if not ridiculous, but by the third and fourth haunted object films I was pretty tired of it.
And no, they do not explain why specific objects from the house are haunted and others are presumably fine.
The Amityville franchise inadvertently depicts America’s changing relationship with religion
The first two Amityville films have heroic priests who sacrifice their own well-being to save the unfortunate souls that move into the demonically-charged house. The second film spends nearly half its running time showing the priest valiantly fighting to save Sonny from his possession (worth noting – does it really make sense to save Sonny at this point? He had sex with his biological sister and murdered his whole family. He will probably spend the rest of his life in jail. It probably would have been better to just leave the demon inside him).
The third is free of religious references – instead focusing on journalists and researchers attempting to debunk the house. Interestingly, a scene involving a hoard of flies attacking a character happens to a duplicitous realtor instead of a priest.
The fourth doubles back to priests as heroes, but kind of makes the main priest character a bit hapless. He certainly helps the family, but it is ultimately their familial bonds that truly save the day.
The fifth starts with a scene of a priest getting murdered in a confessional booth. Later, we learn the priest had a shocking secret – he had a love child that he abandoned. Later, we see the murder scene from the perspective of the killer (now the grown up abandoned child). So the fifth entry taints the purity of the religious figure in this film, even more so than the bumbling young priest from the fourth film.
The sixth film goes back to having no religious figures, and even goes so far as to say the evil of the clock is beyond ideas of the devil, implying the religious struggles in the previous films are short-sighted in comparison to the evils of the clock.
The seventh film, like the third, really doesn’t make mention of religion.
The eighth movie is possibly the most overt replacement of Christianity, with the roles typically reserved for Catholic priests being enacted by a couple who seems involved with the occult. They use their knowledge of the occult to fight against the evils of the house, ultimately and nobly sacrificing themselves (much like the priest in the second film) in order to save the protagonists.
The remake of the original all but strips the religious elements away, save for three unnecessary scenes with a priest in order to recreate one of the most memorable scenes from the first one: the flies attacking the priest coupled with a disembodied voice saying “Get out.” The priest in the remake is noticeably less heroic than the priest in the original. Another notable element of the remake is moving away from the implications that the evil spirit is the work of the devil himself. Instead, the evil presence is a Colonial period Reverend who tortured Native Americans, thus implying the evil stems from a human and specifically a corrupt religious figure. Perhaps notably, this is the first entry in the main series to come after the Catholic sex abuse scandal that was uncovered and revealed widely in the U.S. in the early aughts.
Finally, the in the last film, religion makes a sudden reappearance in the story. Although the characters are never shown going to church, they reference their beliefs (or lack thereof) in God, and the character who mostly clearly renounces her faith perishes. Although a character dismisses this theory, the film seems to validate the idea that the house waited 40 years to attempt another possession because of the Biblical significance of the number. A doctor takes the place of a priest by being attacked by a swarm of flies, but the doctor takes on a somewhat antagonistic role in the ending sequence by arguing that Belle was responsible for the murders. The film distances itself from organized religion, but makes the spiritual perspectives of Belle and her mom significant to the story.
So ultimately, the films move sharply away from the more Catholic/organized religion elements into a more agnostic direction until the last film (which instead features a more individualistic depiction of religious beliefs). All in the span of about 38 years.
The Amityville movies have shifting sources of “the” evil
Almost all the films involve a demonic possession which I wasn’t expecting. The exceptions to this are Amityville 3-D and Amityville Dollhouse, which feature characters battling demons in their demonic forms.
Additionally, two of the movies attribute the evil of the house or its object to particular humans. In Amityville: It’s About Time, it’s a 15th century French necromancer and in The Amityville Horror remake, it’s a reverend from colonial times named Jeremiah Ketcham.
Most of the films are based on books
The Amityville Horror (1979): The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Amityville II: The Possession: Murder in Amityville by Hans Holzer
Amityville 3-D: One of two films in the series not based on a book. But it is loosely based on Stephen Kaplan who at the time was trying to prove the Lutzes’ story was a hoax
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes: Amityville: The Evil Escapes by John G. Jones
The Amityville Curse: The Amityville Curse by Hans Holzer
Amityville: It’s About Time: Amityville: The Evil Escapes by John G. Jones
Amityville: A New Generation: Amityville: The Evil Escapes by John G. Jones
Amityville Dollhouse: Amityville: The Evil Escapes by John G. Jones
The Amityville Horror (2005): The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Amityville: The Awakening is the only film besides Amityville 3-D in this series that is not based on a book (although Jay Anson’s original book exists in its universe).
These aren’t even all the Amityville Horror books, most of which continue to follow George and Kathy Lutz as they keep getting followed by the entity, and include these lines in the Wikipedia summaries: “As the Lutz family flies around the world on a publicity tour they are horrified to discover the Entity continues to haunt them wherever they go” and “Using Indian powers she breaks the invisible wall.” George Lutz was upset the movies didn’t continue to follow their story after the first film, hence the reason most do not directly mention the Lutz family or their story.
Ranking the Films
After watching a series of films where all but half were released as Made for TV or straight to video entries, here’s my ranking from worst to best:
10. Amityville: A New Generation aka “Rent as an Amityville movie” (#7) – A haunted mirror and a city setting should have been some fresh blood, but this movie is pretty terrible. It was the hardest watch in this whole marathon. (IMDb: 3.8)
9. Amityville Dollhouse (#8) – After Amityville: A New Generation, I had a very low tolerance for yet another haunted object film. (IMDb: 4.2)
8. The Amityville Curse (#5) – This film wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be based on its abysmal IMDb score, and it was one of funnest to write about. I appreciated the female characters including a rare female harbinger, but none of that makes it a good movie. (IMDb: 2.9)
6. The Amityville Horror (1979) (#1) – This movie has two great leads and really capitalized on the “based on a true story” moniker, but it just isn’t that good. But at some point thanks to this movie and Jay Anson’s book, the town name “Amityville” became synonymous with a “spooky” in American minds. And that is something no critique of mine can take away from it. (IMDb: 6.3)
5. The Amityville Horror (2005) (#9) – Even though this was much worse than I remembered, it is still slightly better than the original. Yeah I said it. I bet if the teenagers in Amityville: The Awakening had chosen to watch this instead of the original, they wouldn’t have looked so bored during their movie night. (IMDb: 6.0)
4. Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (#4) – This movie is about a haunted lamp that an old lady ultimately defeats by throwing out a window. It is delightfully cheesy. Is it a better or scarier movie than the previous ones? No. But it is more entertaining, hence the higher score. I mean, just look at the screen grab below and tell me this movie isn’t great in its own special way. (IMDb: 4.3)
3. Amityville: It’s About Time (#6) – I’m torn about ranking a haunted clock above a haunted lamp, but I love the main character Andrea and it edges out the haunted lamp. Its silly subtitle is one thing, but using that subtitle in the actual dialogue seals the deal for me. (IMDb: 4.6)
2. Amityville: The Awakening (#10) – That’s right, this franchise ALMOST matched Final Destination by ending with its best film. Honestly, I’m a bit torn on these top two. But despite some remarkable originality and restraint in some of its scares, this is still a pretty generic modern horror film. This will be an interesting one to revisit in a decade to see if it holds up after some time. (IMDb: 4.8)
1. Amityville II: The Possession (#2) – This was a tough choice, because I honestly don’t know if I could stomach watching this film again. It is pretty disturbing and uncomfortable in certain moments, but it is really a little gem of 80s horror I wasn’t aware of, and makes some creative choices that I admire. Plus it is actually scary in some scenes, with the evil basement room taking on an almost otherworldly appearance. (IMDb: 5.5)