Oh, woe is this horror franchise. First in the hands of Samuel Z. Arkoff and American International Pictures, then picked up, with a trademark dispute, by Dino De Laurentiis and his company, and now, for this fourth film, into the grasp of American network television. Has any other iconic horror franchise been treated so poorly? I can’t think of one.
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, from 1989, is, believe it or not, not the worst horror film I’ve ever seen. But, it’s from the time before the internet age, when network television movies were a special kind of anti-art, purposefully devoid of most sharp edges. Yes, this was the era of television movies that brought us Roots, but there was a definite ceiling to the quality of a TV movie. Film critic Leonard Maltin, in his gigantic movie guide books, would not award stars to television movies, instead rating them as ‘below average,’ ‘average,’ or ‘above average.’ That makes sense. The difference in quality between television and film in the heyday of Maltin’s books was a vast gulf compared to today. This particular television movie I would rate as average. Had it been intended for cinema, I would rate it a ‘bomb.’
Written and directed by Sandor Stern, adapting the novel by John G. Jones, Evil Escapes premiered on NBC on May 12, 1989. It’s not a direct sequel to any of the other Amityville flicks. In fact, it barely takes place in Amityville, or at the infamous house on Ocean Boulevard, at all.
In the film’s open, audiences are treated to a group exorcism of the house, as a gaggle of priests invade the home, chanting prayers and splashing holy water on everything. The house is not happy, as it brings out all the greatest hits from the first film to try and drive the priests away. Flies, bleeding walls — it’s all there. In case one wasn’t sure they were watching an Amityville flick, this scene should set them straight.
After the house is purged of its evil, the owners must have decided they had enough, because they clear out the home and sell everything in a yard sale. The world’s ugliest floor lamp is amongst the items bought, and that’s bad for its recipient, because whatever had been haunting the house has taken up residence in the lamp.
Cut to sunny California! Nancy Evans (Patty Duke) is forced to move her and her children, Amanda, Brian, and Jessica (Zoe Trilling, Aron Eisenberg, and Brandy Gold) into her mother’s home, after she becomes a widow and finances get tight. Her mother, Alice (Jane Wyatt), isn’t all that thrilled with the intrusion on her later years, but she soldiers through and gets in her digs at her daughter when she can.
The bad news for the family is that Alice’s sister (Peggy McCay) was the person who bought the ugly lamp in Amityville as a joke gift and shipped it off to Alice’s house. Nancy and her family move in just in time for the lamp to start messing with everyone. What follows is the family coming to realize the supernatural threat they face, and the efforts to expel it.
This is horror by Standards and Practices, so a viewer must understand that despite this setup, in no way will they be watching a suspenseful or frightening horror film. There is more blood than I was expecting from a television movie of the era, but it’s fleeting, with no accompanying gore. Additionally, much of the set pieces when characters find themselves endangered end with everything turning out fine. One of these scenes was my favorite in the film.
Brian, while messing around in the basement, finds a chainsaw, and, as all directionless teenagers are wont to do, starts playing with it, pretending he’s sawing stuff. We all know what’s about to happen. The chainsaw comes to life. But, this being a TV movie, Brian ends up just swinging it around and screaming while the saw cuts through railings, shelves, and jars of gramma’s preserves. No words can describe how silly this scene is. From the horrified look on Brian’s face, to Alice’s light tumble down the basement steps, to the knowledge that none of the characters will be hurt, this scene encapsulates everything to love and hate about this awful film. Hate for the lack of real horror. Love for how sublime is the shittiness.
Other instances of sublime shittiness include:
- The guy who delivers the evil lamp, played by god only knows who, who has the line, “That’s a nasty lookin’ finger, lady.”
- The demise of Alice’s pet bird in a toaster oven — the first death of the film, if my notes are correct.
- Handyman Walt Reade (Alex Rebar). From haunted tea pots to possessed chainsaws, he’ll come by and look at anything, including the garbage disposal that ate his son’s hand.
For the most part, this is a dreadful watch. Television movies were so awful back then because they didn’t need to be good. In the late 1980s, the only competition they faced was from HBO, and viewers had to pay for that. TV was a wasteland of substandard content, and Evil Escapes was typical. It will be difficult for even the most masochistic of shitty movie fans to sit through the film, but while the lows are very low, the highs are downright hilarious. I can’t recommend this film, although it provokes a decent amount of mirth. All I can say is, viewer beware. Know ahead of time what you are getting into. Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes tumbles down the rankings in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index, landing with a thud at #310, displacing the execrable Exeter. You’ve been warned.