Desperate to make cash and too squeamish about selling his blood for money, Jim (Parris Bates) decides to take a job housesitting. It sounds like a pretty sweet gig: $100 a night, and all he has to do is make sure nobody breaks in and damages the place until the owner, Eunice (Rebecca Kimble), returns.
If he can also find a way to rid the house of the gloomy spook that’s terrorizing Eunice, so much the better.
Written and directed by Calvin Morie McCarthy (Jesus I was Evil), Amityville Poltergeist is a mishmash of ideas and images that never quite pull together to deliver the thrills for which it aims. Every time the movie is ready to give a big scare, it seems that it cuts to black and starts another unrelated scene. For example, Eunice, staying at her daughter’s house just down the road, is woken by the thump of someone slowly climbing up the stairs. She gets out of bed to discover a lady ghoul of the Ringu school of horror movie monsters stumbling up the stairwell. What happens next? Nothing. The screen goes black, and it’s the following day where we see Jim sitting on his bed in Eunice’s home, ready to start another day of housesitting.
While teasing the audience with such quick cuts can be a valuable tool in building tension in a movie, McCarthy uses it far too often and far less effective than necessary. Instead of fear, it only creates a sense of frustration in the audience as they wait for something to fully happen. He almost gets it together by the end of the film when Eunice, Jim, and the ghoul have their showdown, but it feels like too little too late by then.
The abrupt editing of scenes in Amityville Poltergeist is a big problem, but it’s not the only one. While the film’s secondary characters, especially Jim’s best friend Collin (Connor Austin) and his girlfriend Alyson (Sydney Winbush), are fresh and vibrant, the two leads are leaden. Both are haunted souls — Jim by the death of his mother and Eunice by the thing on her stairs –, but there needs to be more to revealing inner turmoil than simply staring wide-eyed, slightly off-camera, and delivering lines in a monotone.
Despite its faults, Amityville Poltergeist has its enjoyable parts. There’s a scene where Jim wakes up in bed next to a possessed Alyson that works well, especially when she peeks around the doorway after Jim runs out of the room. It’s a shame that McCarthy cuts to another scene just when it’s getting good, but it is still one of the movie’s more memorable moments. The last 15 minutes or so of Amityville Poltergeist are enjoyable, too. It doesn’t pull all the loose strings together into a cohesive story, but once Eunice starts fighting back, it’s kind of fun.
And while it may work within its limitations, don’t hit play for Amityville Poltergeist, thinking you will see some sort of cinematic mix-tape of the two iconic horror movie franchises, the Amityville House and Poltergeist movies, that the title invokes. According to the imdb.com trivia page for Amityville Poltergeist, “The movie was shot under the title: “No Sleep,” then was changed to “Don’t Sleep” during the editing process, and eventually changed to “Amityville Poltergeist” during the distribution process.”
It’s debatable if the other two titles would have been more effective, but at least they are honest.
- John Black, Amityville Poltergeist