The end of a production nightmare. Amityville: The Awakening – movie review

Back in 2013 the Weinstein Company announced that Amityville: The Awakening would be released to theatres in January of 2015, adding a tenth film to the official series – 18th considering spin-offs and remakes, 22nd including the movies from The Conjuring universe!

Ever since, there have been rumours stating that the female lead (Bella Thorne) acted without the permission of her parents (she was underage during the making process); others claimed that the production companies weren’t satisfied with the final product; somebody else said Christopher Quaratino, one time resident of the real Amityville house, sued the production companies working on Amityville: The Awakening for inaccurate portrait of the events and exploitation of a tragic story.

Amityville Awakening 1Seemingly, Quarantino’s real intentions consisted of making his own documentary styled film about the ‘actual events’ involving the most notorious haunted house in horror history. This seems quite exploitative to me, mate!

Anyway, the film was finally thrown out there a few days ago, straight to Google Play.

Obviously, when a movie has such a messy production backstory, you expect it to be a train wreck and Amityville: The Awakening clearly shows the scars of the troubles it went through.

Nevertheless, Awakening is an entertaining, disposable and self-aware movie that never tries to be the next ‘scariest movie ever made’.

In this umpteenth episode of the franchise, a family composed by mom, two daughters and a son in an irreversible coma, move to the titular Amityville house and, there, weird shit starts to happen. Above all, it seems that James is regaining consciousness due to the house…

The film benefits from a solid cast, including Jennifer Morrison, Kurtwood Smith, Thomas Mann and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The standout performance, however, is displayed by Cameron Monaghan, who plays the brother and is both threatening and defenceless.

Amityville Awakening 2Unfortunately, though, the lead is played emotionlessly and coldly by Bella Thorn, who seems nothing more than a pleasant on-screen presence to look at. Honestly, that’s a shame, since she’s proven to be a decent actress in the projects she embraced from 2015 on. Also, this movie would have featured some emotionally impactful scenes, if only Thorne didn’t play the dullest among the characters…

The production values of Awakening are surprisingly decent. It’s fair to say that the editing is often off and the colour design doesn’t match from one scene to the other. However, I can overlook all of that for this one time, since the flick went through an endless stream of reshooting.

Yet, the story follows the typical ‘haunted house’ formula and features many unoriginal horror tropes. Nonetheless, all of that is handled in a way that respects the audience (the movie is truthful to itself and never plays cheap tricks), apart from the two dream-sequences that are just plain lazy and irritating.

Furthermore, as I stated previously, Awakening is self-aware and its protagonists often quote or mention the previous instalment in the franchise, including some hilarious commentary on the awfulness of the 2005 Ryan Reynolds’ remake. It was fun.

An aspect I, personally, really enjoyed in the film was the soundtrack: it featured a nice mixture of heavy metal, rock ’n’ roll, alternative versions of the conventional horror scores and so on.

Amityville awakening 3All in all, Amityville: The Awakening is not the worst movie in the franchise and it even features an overall good pacing and quite a few good scares. The acting ranges from rather good to plain dull, but it’s never downright unbearable. In all fairness, I can’t call Awakening a good movie but I’m not regretting having watched it and I think a few people might even like it, especially the die-hard fans of this franchise. Cheers!

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The Classics of Horror #13 – Poltergeist (1982)

When Steven Spielberg’s name is attached to a project, every single moviegoer in the world expects a unique cinematic experience. If, alongside Spielberg’s talent, Tobe Hooper (RIP) works as a director in a horror flick, the result should be pure gold.

Poltergeist 1.jpgThese were the premises behind Poltergeist, a paranormal horror film about the average American family living in a haunted house – precisely, affected by a poltergeist, which is a type of ghost or other supernatural entity that is responsible for physical disturbances.

After a portal between two dimension is opened in their house, Carol Anne (the youngest of three children in the Freeling family) disappears, sucked up by the titular poltergeist. The rest of the film follows the family pattern to rescue her, with the aid of a few paranormal experts and investigators, among unwanted presences and demons.

As Roger Ebert said in his original review of Poltergeist, “the film begins with the same ingredients; it provides similar warnings of doom; and it ends with a similar apocalypse (spirits take total possession of the house, and terrorize the family)”.

Although plot and storyline didn’t bring anything new to the table when the movie came out, the show stealers were the special effects, both CGI and practical, combining Spielberg’s ground-breaking use of new technologies and Hooper’s mastery with good old makeup creations.

Poltergeist 2And here comes my biggest issue with Poltergeist: it doesn’t hold up. Don’t get me wrong, this movie has many features to be praised for and deserves its good reputation among horror fans.

However, it shows the signs of the time in a much more evident way than most of the films on this Classics of Horror list.

Indeed, it took me a couple of views and research work to truly appreciate this paranormal family thriller, because the scare factor connected to the CGI-driven sequences has been completely defeated by the test of the time and newer techniques.

Poltergeist 3The practical effects, however, are still highly effective and, therefore, impactful for modern audiences. For instance, the mirror scene in the bathroom genuinely gives me shivers; the skeletons towards the end (with actual corpses utilised by Hooper and Spielberg) are highly entertaining.

Yet, so many sequences have been executed in amazing ways: single takes, awesome camera angles, great shots and so on.

In regards to the characters, there aren’t standout performances, but each family member gives a solid representation of their traits and you must have a heart made of stone not to sympathise with Diana Freeling (JoBeth Williams) or Carol Anne – portrayed by Heather O’Rourke, who sadly died, aged 12, a few years after the film release.

Yet, Spielberg’s hand clearly emerges both in the character development and look and feel of the movie. The fact that he was the uncredited director of Poltergeist (he was working simultaneously on E.T. and wasn’t allowed to actively participate in another project that same year), is widely known, but even if you are unaware of the production history of this film, it’s impossible not to notice Spielberg’s influence.

In particular, Poltergeist could be seen as journey in and analysis of an average middle-class, small town family. The comedic dialogues and situations blend in the paranormal atmosphere very well and make this movie enjoyable to these days – more as entertaining mystery than straight-up horror, though.

If you follow my blog, you’d know that I come up with some unpopular opinions from time to time. Thus, I have one ready for Poltergeist as well: regarded as one of the scariest films ever made, to me it appears as one of the least frightening movies on this list.

poltergeist 4.jpgThis statement doesn’t want to imply that Poltergeist has never been scary: most probably it terrorised certain audiences upon its release, but it’s lost impact throughout the years, since it relies too heavily on CGI and features many “childish” scenes and monsters.

With that being said, Hooper’s and Spielberg’s collaboration remains a great watch, an extremely entertaining 80s horror suitable for the whole family, since a good horror flick doesn’t need to be scary in order to be enjoyable or interesting.

If anything, I don’t see Poltergeist as a classic of horror, since its impact shied away slowly but surely and it didn’t bring anything new to the game, other than some impressive special effects that aged quite a bit lately. I still recommend to watch it and apologise to those who consider it a really scary film (probably out of nostalgia).