After Amityville Island, Amityville Asylum, Amityville Cornfield and Witches of Amityville Academy I was actually surprised to find out that nobody had made a film called Amityville Poltergeist before this. It seems like a natural combination, the infamous haunted house and the most infamous type of haunting.
Jim (Parris Bates, Fencesitters) is a broke college student. His friend Collin (Conor Austin) and Collin’s girlfriend Alyson (Sydney Winbush, Shrill) suggest selling his plasma but he hates needles. Instead, he gets a weekend gig house-sitting for Eunice (Rebecca Kimble or Rebecca Morse depending on whether you go by IMDB or the end credits) and her son Tony (Jon Ashley Hall) after what has to be one of the most awkward job interviews on record. During it, the old lady tells him she’s not afraid of people breaking in, she’s afraid of what’s already in the house.
Of course, the house is haunted and it’s not long before Jim is seeing and hearing ghostly activity of the low-budget kind. Meanwhile, we see that Eunice has been experiencing some strange goings-on as well.
Director Calvin Morie McCarthy (Jesus I was Evil) and co-writer/cast member Jon Ashley Hall (Population 2) wrote the film as No Sleep and changed it to Don’t Sleep during post-production. It was then renamed An Amityville Poltergeist by the distributor, who changed it yet again to simply Amityville Poltergeist because an “An” can make all the difference at the box office.
What this means in practical terms is that Amityville Poltergeist has nothing to do with the infamous house or the town of Amityville. It’s just another haunted house movie given a more marketable title.
I think we all know not to expect the demon from the poster to make an appearance, but there also isn’t a poltergeist in Amityville Poltergeist. And that was rather disappointing. Instead, we get dreams within dreams within dreams involving a fairly solid-looking spectre.
There are a few scares and a bit of atmosphere, this isn’t an entirely bad film. It just undercuts itself on a regular basis. Amityville Poltergeist starts at the moments before the end then goes back a week to tell its story. So we know how it ends before it really starts. Then it has flashbacks even further back to events leading up to the weekend’s events. You’ll need to keep careful track of the times and dates flashed on screen to keep the timeline straight.
It also doesn’t help that Jim is one of the most pitiful excuses for a protagonist I’ve seen in a long time. He constantly looks like he’s about to fall asleep and/or start crying for no apparent reason. And he acts as whiny as he looks. I know he has issues over the way he reacted to his mother’s death, he tells us at great length, but watching him mope his way through the film is neither interesting nor entertaining.
Amityville Poltergeist is so fixated on mental health and gun ownership issues that going into the last few minutes of the film I wasn’t even sure if there was a ghost. We do get an answer in the final frame, but it’s never explained just what was going on or why.
I will say that, unlike several films I’ve reviewed recently, Amityville Poltergeist isn’t a total disaster. It’s competently made and it does have some effective moments. It just doesn’t have enough of them to keep the film from getting lost in its non-horror elements.