Twice a month Joe Lipsett will dissect a new Amityville Horror film to explore how the “franchise” has evolved in increasingly ludicrous directions. This is “The Amityville IP.”
Despite featuring the most awkward title yet, it’s my pleasure to report that Amityville 1992: It’s About Time is a top-tier entry in the Amityville Horror series.
Thanks primarily to assured direction by Hellbound: Hellraiser 2‘s Tony Randel and a wild script from writers Christopher DeFaria swear Antonio Toro (based loosely on a book by John G. Jones), the sixth entry in the Amityville series is a genuine delight from top to bottom.
Many of the franchise’s key elements are here: the iconic windows, a widowed character, the dysfunctional family, goopy practical FX, and a new cursed object. Here it’s a clock, which is immediately described by a character as “ugly,” continuing a trend that began with the lamp in The Evil Escapes.
In the movie, Stephen Macht stars as widowed architect Jacob Sterling. He and his two teen children, Lisa (Megan Ward) and Rusty (Damon Martin), live in a cookie-cutter house in the suburbs of Burlwood, CA where Jacob relies on his younger ex-girlfriend Andrea Livingston (Shawn Weatherly) more than is appropriate. The film begins when Jacob returns from a trip to New York with the aforementioned ugly clock, which immediately drills itself into the fireplace mantel and begins to affect the house temporarily.
Like the best Amityville films, this results in a series of wild visual spectacles, which just so happens to be Randel’s specialty (the fact that the film owes a thing or two to Hellraiser 2 – from its music-box score to its slightly kinky sexuality – is a key asset). While Jacob isn’t the most interesting character, that hardly matters; once he’s bedridden following a bizarre dog attack, it’s pretty clear that Andrea is the film’s true protagonist.
Considering she’s coded as younger, her relationship with the kids is fascinating. Unlike other films that focus on step-parent conflict, Andrea fits right in with the Sterlings. Lisa confides in her and Rusty begrudgingly obeys her maternal commands, perhaps because Jacob seems ill-equipped to be a single parent and Andrea is always ready to lend a hand.
In interviews on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray disc, both Randel and DeFaria explain that Amityville 1992 is about the dangers of getting trapped in dangerous repetitive cycles. This specifically applies to Andrea and Jacob’s relationship, which is co-dependent at best and destructive at worst. Visually this also plays into the film’s narrative and special effects: from Rusty’s lost time between the kitchen and the living room (done in a single 17-second take) to the climax’s time loops as Andrea becomes an old woman and Rusty regresses to a toddler with a mullet (!), the film is obsessed with time-related cycles.
Despite this, the narrative never successfully argues that Andrea needs to get away from the family. She clearly has a good relationship with the kids, and while Jacob doesn’t respect her pursuit of a graduate degree, her new lover, Dr Leonard Stafford (Jonathan Penner), isn’t any better. The psychiatrist is far too interested in dispensing unsolicited advice to her while hanging around the Sterling house in a revealing kimono; the film definitely doesn’t present him as a viable alternative.
Murky messaging aside, It’s About Time consistently outperforms its predecessors in the weird, ridiculous and entertaining spectrum by a wide margin. This includes bold stylistic choices by the production team, who paint the walls a horrendous speckled blue color and use film noir chiaroscuro lighting to make the interiors threatening.
And then there’s the deluge of wacky set pieces compressed into the film’s tight 95-minute runtime:
- Prophetic harbinger neighbor Iris Wheeler (Nita Talbot) is killed in an utterly ridiculous Final Destination-esque hit-and-run accident that ends when she is impaled by a spring-loaded stork perched atop an out-of-control milk truck.
- The makeup effects for the dog bite on Jacob’s leg become increasingly grosser throughout the film, but there’s something more disturbing about the scene where Andrea finds him surrounded on the bed by no less than a dozen plates of decomposing food.
- The iconic scene when a possessed Lisa sacrifices her lacrosse boyfriend Andy (Dean Cochran) in a pool of Under The Skin-esque gelatinous goo is a stand-out, though I appreciated that she later sexually propositions her brother (continuing the franchise’s fascination with incest from Amityville II: The Possession).
- In the climax, Andrea rips open the wall to reveal that the whole house has become a giant clock (not unlike a certain puzzle box).
overalls, Amityville 1992: It’s About Time is silly, fun and visually outstanding. It’s a stand-out entry that confirms the wilder the films get, the more enjoyable they are to watch.
The Amityville IP Awards
- Celebrity Sightings: Dick Miller briefly appears as Sterling’s neighbor. Apparently, Randel considers directing the iconic character actor a career highlight, which is very sweet.
- Best Performance: Weatherly is clearly the anchor of the film and Ward gets the most fun arc – from clean cut good girl to vamp – but the film would be far less memorable without Penner. From his truly bizarre line delivery to his histrionic reaction when he is accused of sexually propositioning Lisa to his self-diagnosis after Andy’s gooey corpse attacks him, Penner is an absolute unhinged delight.
- Best FX: Andy getting dissolved as Lisa looks on and laughs is easily the film’s piece de resistance. As iconic 80s and 90s beefcake experiences go, seeing the tighty whities stud sucked into the floor is right up there with Zeke getting pulled under wearing a yellow speedo in “The Raft” segment of Creepshow 2.
- Drinking Game: Take a shot for every reference to time, watches or clocks. Your liver will explode.
Next Time: Screenwriters DeFaria and Toro return to draft the next entry in the series, so I’m excited to see where 1993’s A New Generation goes.