(Original Air Date: May 12, 1989)
Actually, this fourth film, Amityville: The Evil Escapes, marks a few firsts for the series. The writer of the first film returns to write and direct this one. It's the first of the series not to debut in theatres (it first aired on NBC Television). It's the first film to not take place in the infamous house at 112 Ocean Avenue (and not because the damned thing blew up in the previous flick). It's also the first instance I've ever seen of a Haunted Lamp!
Yeah! A Haunted Lamp. And not the kind you might find in Aladdin. We're talking about an ordinary (if weird-looking) floor lamp that just happens to be possessed by Satan. Or... whomever. See, at some point recently a bunch of priests booted their way in to the old haunted joint to cleanse every nook and cranny of its unclean spirits. At least one of which seems to like hanging out in this silly looking lamp. It's shaped like a tree with bulbs on the branches and a great big globe up top. Funny, you'd think we'd remember such a gaudy thing in either the abodes of the Defeo/ Montellis or the Lutzes.
But seriously, folks, an Estate Sale at the Amityville House? In the universe of the movies, who in the hell is something like that going to attract outside of your standard overweight goth-wannabe twentysomethings with Aleister Crowley tattoos? Can't you just hear their nasally voices going "See this Microwave Oven I got? Yeah, it totally used to be in the Amityville House. I got it at this creepy rummage sale. Now let's play D&D!"
Surprisingly, two somewhat normal old ladies show up in the crowd. Much to the dismay of Rhona (Gloria Cromwell) her Bee-Eff-Eff Helen (Peggy McCay) sets her sights on only one antique in the lot. Can you guess which one? It's not George Lutz' microwave! Okay, okay, I'll tell you... IT'S THE HAUNTED LAMP!
Yeah! I was hoping she'd go all Anchorman on us and say "I Love Lamp!"
No such luck! She actually buys the damned thing as a bit of a "Gag Gift" for her sister Alice way out in California. In that Alice is played by Spock's Mom Jane Wyatt, you'd think she could detect something being amiss! The Lamp isn't the only new arrival at her charming beach home! Nope, Alice has agreed to share her abode with her recently widowed daughter Nancy (Patty Duke... really!). To make the plot feel slightly more like one of those late 1980s family sitcoms, Nancy also brings along her three kids, the all-but-silent Jessica (Brandy Gold), the nigh-androgynous Brian (Aron Eisenberg - "Nog" from Deep Space Nine) and the super-duper steam-producingly hot Amanda (Zoe Trilling in her tight, 80s-chick outfits).
Needless to say with "The Lamp of the Morning Star" in the house, weird shit quickly starts to happen. However, since the electric antichrist arrived on the same day as home-chick's grandkids, you'd better believe she's thinking the weird shit is "Teenager-Related". It's safe to say that no supernatural explanation immediately popped into her head. Dude, are we SURE she's Spock's Ma?
From there, it's a race with the Devil (or whomever) to save the family (especially sexy Amanda) from the Darkness in the Light. To this end, Father Dennis(!) plans to travel across the country to fight the phantom menace, while Helen nurses a horrifying finger infection, thanks to the sharper parts of the overgrown glow stick.
Amityville fans will recognize a good deal of the usual haunting motifs in this fourth film, from the swarming flies to the creepy, unseen presences (which young Jessica believes might be her dead father), to the standard Priest-Versus-Malevolent-Force conceit, to the weird house-coming-to-life issues.
What's most interesting here is that... well... this TV Movie doesn't suck NEARLY as much as it could (and possibly should) have. Let's face it, in spite of its name-recognition and longevity, the Amityville Series isn't exactly a saga packed with great films. It's hard to believe that the fourth in the series (and a made-for-TV-movie at that) would be more logical and better-made than the theatrical releases that preceded it. Writer/ Director Stern pulls some interesting plot points from the John G. Jones novel (of the same name) that this film is based on. He also manages some scary moments and challenging camera angles. For a TV Movie there is a little more blood than expected as well. I would say that this overall better film could be a turning-point in the series, but the next film, 1990's The Amityville Curse is a huge, steaming bag full of doggy dump... so... no!
Still, better though this film may be, it's hard not to notice that the very idea of of this film is pretty ludicrous. A haunted lamp? What evil was wrought on the poor suburban couple who bought the Amityville Steak Knives? It's also not the most original corn flake ever to hit the Horror List. While Poltergeist may have been influenced by The Amityville Horror, it seems pretty clear that Poltergeist is written all over this fourth film, in turn. Jessie seems to be simply channelling Carol-Anne at times. In reality the film does fall into some cheesy traps, even as it works toward impressing the audience with the attributes it does have.
It's kind of cool to see Patty Duke in a horror flick (and not for the first or last time). She was in her early forties at the time and just divorced from ol' Samwise's dad! It would seem that being that this was a TV Movie, they might have done some sort of crossover with The Patty Duke Show! You know, she and her identical cousin Cathy could have teamed up to fight evil while Zoe sunbathes in the foreground? And then they could do a "Wild Duet" of one of the classic Patty Duke songs!
It's brilliant! I love it. At the time of this writing, Patty is still in her early sixties. This film (and most of the others in the "series") ignored the continuity of the rest! Let's just say screw all the other entries except this one and we'll do a sequel/ crossover! Yeah! And we'll invite Spock and Helen Keller and Sam Gamgee and Professor Mortimer Gangreen and maybe a few of the Lutzes and DeFeos! No? Oh, I'm on a tear again? Okay, moving on!
A quick note on the timing of this film (like it even matters). Amityville II: The Possession is meant to take place prior to the events of The Amityville Horror. Amityville 3-D necessarily takes place after both of those flicks when the house is empty. Notably (and ridiculously) the house was completely destroyed during that film's climax. I'm not saying that the producers cared enough about continuity to have thought this through, but it's feasible for this film (or at least the opening sequences) to have taken place prior to the events of Amityville 3-D. After all, if you're that concerned with continuity, you probably shouldn't be watching the Amityville Flicks in the first place, but, hey, take it where you can get it.
And if you don't get it, then "For God's Sake GET OUT!" as the saying goes. Amityville: The Evil Escapes isn't quite the mess that other films in this saga are and in spite of being an undeniable TV Movie, it's a fun, if insubstantial fright flick that is worth seeing, if not adding to your all time top ten favorites of all time. Still, for all it has going for it, Amityville 4 still nabs Two and One Half Stars out of Five! Congratulations Amityville 4, you are now the highest-rated Amityville flick on WorldsGreatestCritic.com! That's too bad, actually, because The 2009 Summer of Horror is going to need some Dog-Ratings. I guess mediocrity was exorcized this time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to prepare my happy home for this weekend. You see, my In-Laws are coming in to town and I need to ensure that I'm not going to explode and hiss "GET OUT!!!" Wish me luck, True Believers! I'll see you in the next reel!
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