The demonic forces in the haunted Long Island house escape through a mystical lamp which finds its way to a remote California mansion where the evil manipulates a little girl by manifesting itself in the form of her dead father.
The demonic force lurking in Amityville for over 300 years escapes to a remote California mansion. It encounters a struggling family living together by uncertain means. The beast manipulates a little girl by manifesting itself in the form of her dead father. Soon it will be able to possess her completely... is it too late for a young priest to defeat the demon and end the curse? Written by
Mark J. Popp <email@example.com>
Written and directed by Sandor Stern, scriptwriter of the original Amityville Horror (1979) film, Amityville: The Evil Escapes is an excellent, gripping extension of the Amityville mythos. This is all the more remarkable when we remember that it's the fourth entry in the series and it's a low budget made-for-television film--two factors that in the conventional wisdom do not often add up to greatness.
We begin with a cadre of priests who are attempting to exorcise the original Amityville home in Long Island for good after the events of the previous three films. Father Kibbler (Fredric Lehne) has a problem when an evil force runs through an electrical cord into a large, bizarre lamp, and it puts him into the hospital, unconscious. Assuming they were successful, the other priests authorize an estate sale cum garage sale. Alice Leacock's (Jane Wyatt) sister sees the lamp and decides it's perfect for a birthday present for Alice--she thinks it's hideously ugly (I thought it was attractive, but I obviously have unusual tastes) and they've been sending each other gag gifts, so the "Amityville Curse" moves to California by way of the still-possessed furnishing. At the same time, Nancy Evans (Patty Duke), a recent widow, and her three kids are moving into Alice's home. The "curse" doesn't just stay in the lamp, and most of us could probably fill in a lot of the blanks from this point.
So while it's not unprecedented in terms of its plot, I don't subtract points for covering familiar ground (or add them solely for "originality"). More importantly, Stern creates a focused script, with Stephen King-like "everyday horror" overtones enabled by "possessed appliances". He shoots the film with admirable style and atmosphere, on well-constructed (or located) sets, and he gets great performances out of his seasoned cast.
The extension of the Amityville mythos was important for the series as it enabled the first film that could take place outside of the original house. Smartly, Sandor still gives us a home that has a similar tonality, but it's also different enough to enable fresh material.
Aside from making the horror more related to common, everyday events and items, the idea of "possessed appliances" is not quite as goofy as it initially seems, at least for anyone who takes real life research into paranormal/supernatural phenomena seriously. The usual thinking about ghosts, at least currently, is that they make themselves known by manifesting as, or manipulating, energy. That's why there are "cold spots" around ghosts (we can forget that this may have to violate the usual understanding of heat transference in physics), why "electric voice phenomena" (EVP) is supposed to work, why electromagnetic pulse readers can supposedly pick up aberrations that could be ghosts, and why they could manifest as light. If any of that stuff were true (I'm a skeptic, but I find this stuff fascinating anyway), then it would make sense that ghosts could manifest through the electrical system of a house, in objects designed to be manipulated by changes in electromagnetism, and so on.
Of course, whether the plot is plausible in the actual world is beside the point of whether this is a good film. Horror is in the realm of "dark fairy tales". The important aspect is that Sandor created a great device from making very common things in a house frightening, under very common conditions, and subjecting a number of common people to the situations. He exploits this to its full potential in Amityville: The Evil Escapes. And in doing so, he often features scenes that are surprisingly visceral for a made for television film.
There is also more depth than one might expect from a fourth Amityville film meant to air on television. There is a subtext of a dysfunctional family (partially caused by tragedy, but appearing to have deeper roots) running throughout the film. For example, on a surface level, a "ghost"/evil spirit causes Brian Evans (Aron Eisenberg) to trash grandma's basement with a chainsaw, but we can easily read the supernatural premise as metaphorical and see the scene as a rebellious kid going nuts. This reading makes this particular scene, at least, just as funny as tragic, but most of the horrors in the film are symbolic of family relationship problems, and most of them are not very funny.
For my money, both this film and Amityville II: The Possession (1982) are better than both the 2005 remake and the 1970 original film. Unfortunately, this entry is not very easy to find on DVD, and the next three entries in the series have never been available on DVD in the U.S. to my knowledge. Hopefully, this situation will be rectified soon (I was hoping that all of the Amityville films would see DVD release/re-release with the arrival of the remake), but until then, I'll have to seek out region free DVDs or bootlegs of Amityville 5, 6 and 7.
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