It was only a matter of time until the ‘found footage’ format reached The Amityville franchise. In the latest direct-to-DVD installment – aside from 2005’s original remake, it’s the first since the mid-90s – a brand new family move in to the infamous, murderous spirit-filled New York suburban house, seemingly the only home they could afford.
But there’s a reason that the place is cheap – no one ever lives there for more than a month or two. Former serviceman Douglas Benson (Jason Williams) persuades his wife Virginia (Amy Van Horne) to fall in line and help build a home for them and their children. They are a contrary bunch: Tyler (Devin Clark) is about 12 years old with a penchant for filming everything (you can see where that is going), Lori (Nadine Crocker) is probably 16 with an attitude that’s at least an 11 and Melanie (Gracie Largent) is the youngest and, just like the original kid from the seventies, has the connection with the house that no one else does.
The film begins with what turns out to be virtually unrelated scenes featuring four adventurous kids who break in to the house and film themselves getting up to no good. The only reference to this during the rest of the movie is when Tyler finds an old iPod with the footage they filmed that night but it doesn’t even become a plot device so it’s kind of pointless.
Most of the movie revolves around Tyler filming the family around the home and capturing the aftermath of the demise of several characters (a real estate agent, a mover). He’s not a bad kid but he gets treated like a dog by the contemptible Douglas, a stern, unreasonable, impatient, needlessly-aggressive man whose disdain for his son is only superseded by his intolerance of his (admittedly) annoying older daughter. When the back door is left open at night he blames all the kids one after another showing parenting skills on a par with Harry Wormwood (when of course, having seen almost a dozen of these movies, we know who is really responsible).
Even though the script acknowledges the house’s infamy – a detective who turns up to investigate the disappearance of a neighbour references the movies and books written about the building – the fact that doors open and close by themselves and several people die in the first few days doesn’t initially suggest to Douglas that something might not be quite right. He decides to put up CCTV cameras (“Paranormal Activity 3”-style) to catch the ‘burglar’ that is opening the door at night, and this becomes another source of footage which I suppose adds a little bit of variety if nothing else.
We know that there’s an unseen presence as the camera occasionally goes black and an accompanying “static sound” interferes with the footage. The best scenes are when we see ghosts on camera that the family cannot see although that effect wears off pretty quick as it increasingly loses its subtlety.
The final ten minutes counters utterly laughable scenes involving Douglas with the movie’s best moments (albeit that’s not saying much). Performances are predictably poor although these are bit-part actors who are presumably doing their best in the leading roles. And, in a rather castrating move, not once in the film do we see the distinctive house front that was pretty damn effective in its initial outings.
The final word on “The Amityville Haunting” is that it’s from The Asylum. Presumably they came up with and filmed this entire thing bell-to-bell in about three weeks. And it shows.