“For God’s Sake, Get Out!”
That tagline for The Amityville Horror (1979) is one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few good things about not just that movie, but the entire Amityville franchise. And I should know because I’ve watched them all.*
I’m sure that statement will annoy those of you who have watched a handful of Amityville movies and found them to be pretty good. If there are 3-4 solid entries in a franchise, that’s not bad, right? I know. I felt the same way, which is why I signed up to write this article. After all, even the great Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has a few good movies and a few stinkers in it, right? Here’s the thing though — there are eight Nightmare movies, so three greats, a few goods, and a few stinkers isn’t a bad average. But there are twenty-one Amityville movies. TWENTY. ONE. And exactly one of them is really good. Sure, there are a few not bad entries, and one that’s so-bad-it’s-good, but as one of the few people on this planet who has seen them all, I can say with some authority that the Amityville franchise is bad.
I suspect a lot of the interest in the franchise has less to do with the actual movies and more with the story behind them. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo murdered his parents and siblings living at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island. When asked why he did it, DeFeo answered, “The voices told me to.” The following year, George Lutz and his family moved into the house only to flee 28 days later, citing supernatural activity. The story inspired Jay Anson’s 1977 bestseller novel The Amityville Horror and then the 1979 film of the same name, which became an unprecedented blockbuster, grossing more than 86 million dollars off a 4.7 million dollar budget. 40 years and 21 movies later, the franchise is still going. But should audiences today get in or get out of the series? Read on to find out!
21. The Amityville Haunting (2011)
For its first nine entries, the Amityville series follows the usual pattern for horror movies of the era. It begins with a successful first entry, followed by a couple of theatrical sequels, a few direct-to-video sequels (sadly, the house never goes to space), and then gets a mid-2000s remake. But in the 2010s, we get a number of “unofficial” movies, in which the Amityville name gets slapped onto all sorts of crap, whether it involves a demon-possessed house or not.
This run begins with the worst of the later films, a Paranormal Activity (2007) knockoff from Asylum. Yes, I defended found footage movies last month, but Asylum uses the technique here as a cost-saving measure, not as an aesthetic choice. In fact, the entire thing stinks of a cheap cash grab. It’s the basic Amityville story all over again (albeit not at 112 Ocean Avenue), this time with bad actors shouting improvised lines at each other or explaining to the camera scary stuff that the movie’s lack of a budget prevents it from showing.
Get Out or Get In? For Basic Dignity’s Sake, Get Out!
20. Amityville: Mt. Misery Road
Perhaps the most damning thing to be said about The Amityville Haunting is that it’s worse than Mt. Misery Road, because Mt. Misery Road isn’t a movie. It’s a vanity project made by husband and wife duo Chuck and Karolina Morrongiello, who did all the writing, directing, composing, editing, and acting, and they did it all terribly.
More frustrating still is the fact that Mt. Misery Road doesn’t even pretend to be Amityville related. It’s about the couple visiting a creepy forest road (even though it takes more than half the runtime to get there). There’s no haunted house, there are no haunted objects from the haunted house, no family members killing each other. It’s not even in Amityville. The filmmakers slapped “Amityville” onto the title of a movie that has nothing to do with Amityville, just so saps like me would watch their self-indulgent nonsense.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR THE SAKE OF THE FILMMAKER’S EGOS, GET IN. BUT FOR ANY OTHER REASON IN THE WORLD, GET OUT.
19. AMITYVILLE: VANISHING POINT (2016)
The opening title credits to Vanish Point list every single person involved with the film, including every artist who contributed to the soundtrack listed three at a time, and a solo title card for the person who designed the titles. And that’s a pretty good indication of what Vanishing Point is — not a movie, but a bunch of friends goofing off with one another. There’s a certain charm to that, in a pure “let’s put on a show” way. The movie devotes plenty of time to the friends goofing around or doing a slow-motion freak out while a friend noodles on the guitar. Also, Lloyd Kauffman shows up. It isn’t every scary or funny or related to the Amityville concept, but they all seem to be enjoying themselves.
Look, if you’ve ever had to watch more than a minute of someone else’s kid in a school play, you know that these things are painful for anyone without a vested interest. Vanishing Point never inspires the same rage as Mt. Misery Road. It just makes you want to pat the producers on the head and say, “You kids have fun.”
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR ANYONE NOT IMMEDIATELY INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE’S SAKE, GET OUT.
18. AMITYVILLE: NO ESCAPE (2016)
I’ve said that the previous entries were not movies, but No Escape is two halves of found footage movies slapped together. Half follows a group of college students who go to the Amityville woods to study fear, and the other half focuses on a housewife who recently moved into 112 Ocean Avenue, recording video diary entries to send to her husband overseas. Although some of the actors show real on-screen charisma, too much of the movie features stuff that people hate about found footage movies: ad-libbed dialogue, shots of nothing, and out-of-frame monsters.
Somehow, the whole of No Escape manages to be less than the sum of its insubstantial parts, trudging toward an ending that we all know is coming. And the movie counts on us knowing what’s coming because it can’t show us the scary stuff.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR ORIGINALITY’S SAKE, GET OUT.
17. AMITYVILLE EXORCISM (2017)
Director Mark Polonia showed a lot of promise in his first crack at the franchise Amityville Death House (2013), so hopes were high with his return in Exorcism. Even setting aside the film’s no-budget limitations — digital footage, special effects rendered on 2005 freeware, low/no budget actors — the movie drags along a terrible plot about a priest who needs to exorcise a house remodeled with wood from the Amityville house.
There’s really nothing to recommend here, outside of the clear desire to tell a story that innovates on the Amityville mythology. Yes, it does crib way too much from The Exorcist (1973), even doing its own version of “Tubular Bells,” but it has more ambition than many of the other Amityville films. It’s just unfortunate that Exorcism never pays off the potential of Death House.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR LOST POTENTIAL’S SAKE, GET OUT.
16. THE AMITYVILLE LEGACY (2016)
The Amityville Legacy has more going for it than most unofficial movies in the franchise. It’s generally well-shot and better acted than most low-budget movies, and the plot connects to the mythology instead of slapping the “Amityville” name on as a cheap cash grab. Plus, it’s only 58 minutes long!
The idea of a loving family overcoming tensions to celebrate a birthday is a welcome change from the families who hate each other (or love each other too much) in most of these films. And the toy monkey from the Amityville house that shows up in this film is a much creepier way to spread outside evil off of Long Island than the haunted lamps and lumber that show up in other films. Unfortunately, the movie quickly squanders this promise, either going too weird or staying too mundane, never finding a consistent tone. It ends up feeling like a community theater version of The Amityville Horror.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR THE EVIL MONKEY’S SAKE, GET OUT.
15. THE AMITYVILLE PLAYHOUSE (2015)
As is already becoming clear, filmmakers can’t resist the extra attention they get from the Amityville name, so they’ll slap it onto horror movies with the most tenuous connection to the original story. That’s how we end up with something like The Amityville Playhouse, a movie about a haunted theater. Unlike the Amityville movies already mentioned, Playhouse actually has a real plot that it follows all the way through, with a town-wide conspiracy and sacrificed children.
Of course, a story alone is not enough for a good movie, and Playhouse tells it terribly. We’re back to bad actors playing hateful teens who bicker with one another. Worse, while director John R. Walker gets some nice shots here and there, he lets every scene go on far too long, padding out the runtime and killing any tension the film accidentally builds.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR THE DESPERATE NEED OF ANOTHER PASS IN THE EDITING ROOM, GET OUT.
14. AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE (2013)
Amityville Death House is the first movie on this list that actually feels like a movie. Not a good movie, mind you, but director Mark Polina serves up the best possible Amityville movie that one can make without a budget. Yes, writer John Oak Dalton cribs way too much from The Evil Dead (1981), with a possessed grandma in the 112 Ocean Avenue house taking the place of a possessed wife in a cabin. But still, Polina pulls off a real movie!
Okay, I’ll settle down and judge what’s onscreen. And what’s onscreen isn’t good. The acting’s subpar and it isn’t scary, especially when it’s just redoing stuff we’ve seen in better movies. Still, I have to admire Polina for actually trying to do something within his limitations, which is a rarity for the Amityville franchise.
GET OUT OR GET IN? WITH A GRADE E FOR EFFORT’S SAKE, GET OUT.
13. THE AMITYVILLE ASYLUM (2013)
In the continuity of The Amityville Asylum, the house at 112 Ocean Avenue was razed shortly after the Lutzes escaped, replaced by High Hopes Mental Institution. Of course, that’s not enough to purge the evil from the land, especially when the institution holds some nasty serial killers.
That’s a solid hook for a horror movie, and writer/director Andrew Jones gets some great scares in and has a strong cast to work with (even if the largely British cast cannot always hold their American accents). But the movie too often undercuts itself with some interesting choices, like making the actor who cannot pronounce the word “Amityville” say it more than any else and stopping the movie for long and ponderous conversations.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR ENDLESS CONVERSATION’S SAKE, GET OUT.
12. THE AMITYVILLE TERROR (2016)
The Amityville Terror is the best unofficial Amityville movie, which means that it’s a bad but competent film. Sure, the acting’s pretty flat, but it’s more nuanced than the previously mentioned movies. The digital footage looks ugly, but the lighting has more character than anything else from the off-brand Amityville movies. And while it just repeats the “house drives a family member crazy” bit from other movies, it does at a witchy landlord who sends potential victims to the house, so that’s something.
Overall, it feels like a better version of The Amityville Haunting (I mean, how could Haunting get worse?). We’ve got two parents with a teenage daughter who moves into 112 Ocean Avenue with their hippy aunt. The aunt gets possessed, and murder and incest follow. I wish I had more to say about it, but it’s just a bad movie done better than other bad movies.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR MONOTONY’S SAKE, GET OUT.
11. AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993)
Even though box office numbers dropped almost immediately, the breakout success of The Amityville Horror allowed the series to limp on for some time, until A New Generation finally killed it for a while. Following the tradition Amityville II: The Possession (1982) begins by replacing the DeFeos with a different ill-fated family (the Bonners here), A New Generation follows a haunted mirror from the original house, which comes into the possession of photographer Keyes Terry (Stranger Things). As he and his artist friends plan for an exhibition in their trendy New York apartment building, the mirror begins possessing people and slowly reveals to Keyes that his long-lost father was the murderous Bonner teen.
Each of the Amityville movies to this point features a possessed family member, but this is the first to really track the victim’s psychology as he goes mad. It’s a great idea, but neither director John Murlowski nor Partridge are up to the challenge. The former over-relies on “shocking” imagery that feels more at home in the notebook of a pre-teen metal fan, and the latter lets his floppy hair and stylish stubble do most of the acting. Not even the movie’s great supporting cast — including Terry O’Quinn (The Stepfather), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London), and Lin Shaye (Insidious) — can overcome the movie’s bland lead and ugly aesthetics. The whole thing ends up being a drag and a missed opportunity.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR FLOPPY HAIR’S SAKE, GET OUT.
10. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)
After the success of The Exorcist and The Omen, It’s not hard to see why audiences in 1979 went nuts for The Amityville Horror. But several decades removed from those fads, the movie is far less effective. James Brolin sleepwalks through his performance as the possessed George Lutz, and Margot Kidder earns the Judy Greer award for “dynamic actress reduced to worried mother” award for her role as Kathy Lutz. Rod Steiger deserves special recognition for thoroughly phoning in his performance as Father Delaney, the priest who recognizes the house’s evil but must fight through the Catholic Church’s red tape — including Murray Hamilton, playing a holier version of his bureaucratic mayor from Jaws — before he can help.
Director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) constructs this entire movie as a cinematic shrug, from the pacing to the scares. Windows won’t open, and then they slam shut. Flies gather and then go away. The possessions may stem from an “Indian burial ground” or satanic residue from 17th-century witches. Whatever, take your pick. For whatever reason, this cinematic shrug caught fire with audiences of the late 70s, and moviegoers today are still paying for that sin of our fathers.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR GOD’S SAKE, GET OUT. I MEAN, IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE POSTER.
9. AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING (2017)
After many, many super-low budget Amityville movies, I breathed a sigh of relief when the Blumhouse production logo came up on Amityville: The Awakening (and then I threw up a little when the Weinstein’s Dimension Films logo came up). Without question, The Awakening is a step-up from the dreck of 2010s Amityville movies, with the best cast and visuals the series has had since the 2005 remake.
That said, The Awakening is paint-by-numbers Amityville, complete with a troubled family moving into 112 Ocean Avenue and a possessed family member. Writer/director Franck Khalfoun offers a nice twist with the possession manifesting in comatose teen James (Cameron Monaghan, Gotham), but too much of the movie focuses on James’s disaffected twin sister Belle (Bella Thorne, Scream: The Series). Not even greats Kurtwood Smith or Jennifer Jason Leigh make much of an impact on-screen, despite some occasional nice scares.
GET OUT OR STAY IN: FOR A MOPEY, DISAFFECTED TEEN’S SAKE, GET OUT.
8. AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989)
With the 112 Ocean Avenue house destroyed at the end of the third movie, Amityville 4 needed to reinvent the series, which it does by introducing the idea that items from the house can carry demons. Several movies in the series (including the aforementioned A New Generation and Exorcism) build on this idea, but it starts here, with a haunted lamp that ends up in the California home of Alice (Jane Wyatt, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), who’s learning to live with her newly widowed daughter Nancy (Patty Duke, Valley of the Dolls) and two grandchildren. Evil soon ensues, including a sentient chainsaw, an aggressive garbage disposal, and lots of mother/daughter squabbling.
As a made-for-tv movie, the production value isn’t very high, but that will become par for the course for Amityville. And there are some pretty great moments here and there, including the previously mentioned killer objects and lots of black goo. It gets a bit weighted down by the crusading Father Kibbler (Fredric Lehne, Men in Black), whose attempts to get from Long Island to California are pretty boring, but it’s clearly better than most movies in the franchise.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR A LAZY SATURDAY’S SAKE, SURE. GET IN, I GUESS.
7. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005)
Conventional wisdom says that only bad movies should be remade. Box office logic says that only successful movies should be remade because they have name recognition. The Amityville Horror offers both — a bad movie that made a ton of money.
And to be sure, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes does improve upon the original, casting a very engaged Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) and Melissa George (Triangle) as George and Kathy Lutz, and Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia) as Father Delaney. This version streamlines the narrative to focus more on family dynamics, and Reynolds adds some pathos to his trademark snark, which makes the family feel more cohesive in the first half. Unfortunately, he can’t quite sell the menace of the possessed George, and the conventions of mid-2000s horror — loud string stings, jitter monster visuals — have aged poorly already.
GET OUT OR GET IN: FOR A SECOND CHANCE’S SAKE, GET IN.
6. THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990)
This is my most controversial ranking because there’s a lot to hate about The Amityville Curse. Not only is it the first in the franchise to have nothing to do with 112 Ocean Avenue, but it also features a group of annoying young adults going crazy as they renovate an old house. Gone are the family dynamics, the slow dread, and the iconic house. In its place is a pretentious guy named Marvin (David Stein, Hangfire), who constantly complains about his friends’ shortcomings.
But you know what? I liked it. There’s a goofy charm to the whole thing, and the cast feels like it’s transported from one of the better Friday the 13th movies. Stein brings a Glenn Shaddix (Beetlejuice) vibe to Marvin, and everyone seems to be having fun complaining about Marvin. Plus, there’s a Chekov-like nailgun that gets set up in the first act and goes off in the third!
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR MARVIN’S SAKE, GET IN!
5. THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS (2018)
After decades of movies about the Lutzes and haunted homewares and reimagines and cheap knock-offs, someone thought, “Hey, maybe we’ll just make a movie about the DeFeos. I mean, that’s the actual scary thing that happened at the house, right?” Thus, The Amityville Murders came to be — a straightforward retelling of the DeFeo murders.
“Straightforward” is definitely the operative word here because although Murders does nothing poorly, it doesn’t do anything particularly well either. The story unfolds exactly how we’ve been told it unfolds, and while the acting is definitely strong — especially John Robinson (Wendy and Lucy) as Butch and Paul Ben-Victor (Tombstone) as Ronnie Sr. — the stunt casting of Amityville II alumni Diane Franklin (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) as mother Louise and Burt Young (Rocky) as Brigante hints at a crazier movie than we actually get.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR THE UNTOLD STORY’S SAKE (EVEN THOUGH IT’S KIND OF BEEN TOLD SEVERAL TIMES ALREADY), GET IN.
4. AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)
Make no mistake; Amityville II is terrible. So why, you ask, is it ranked so high? Because half of it is terrible in the most entertaining way. Although billed as a prequel to Horror, Amityville II takes place in the early 80s and changes the doomed family from the DeFeos to the Montellis. But what it lacks in plausibility it makes up for in utter nastiness. Burt Young plays patriarch Anthony Montelli as a less-classy version of his Pauly character from Rocky, beating his family in private and in public, and plenty of incest begins between older kids Sonny (Jack Magner, Firestarter) and Patricia (Diane Franklin) before the possessions begin.
It’s all goofy and over-the-top, right up to the killings in the middle of the movie. That’s where everything slows right down as Father Adamsky (James Olsen, Commando) tries to exonerate Sonny by proving that he’s been possessed. The movie becomes a dull procedural at that point, with no line ever reaching the cringe-inducing glory of “I think Mommy doesn’t want to make love to Daddy anymore.”
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR YOUR SISTER’S SAKE, GET IN UNTIL YOU START TO THROW UP, THEN WANDER OUT.
3. AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983)
As an 80s horror franchise, Amityville is required by law to make its third entry a 3-D movie. And you know what? It’s not too bad! Okay, it’s not too good. Like most Amityville movies, it too often repeats bits from other movies (post-child death marital tension was done much better in Don’t Look Now,), and Tony Roberts’s (Annie Hall) Don Adams-esque voice doesn’t really sell the tension. And yes, someone does throw a frisbee at the camera, because, you know… 3-D.
But all that aside, this one’s pretty solid. Gotcha journalist Roberts moves wife (Tess Harper, No Country for Old Men) and daughter Susan (future Full House star college admissions scam artist Lori Loughlin) into the Amityville house to debunk the stories around it, which is always a solid set-up. Richard’s smarminess plays well at first, and it’s fun to see a young Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally) play Susan’s rebellious friend Lisa. More importantly, Amityville 3-D has the most well-constructed kill scenes in the series, including some fantastic set-pieces around the evil well in the house’s basement. Overall, it’s a pretty solid bit of 80s cheese.
GET OUT OR GET IN? FOR THE TRUTH’S SAKE, GET IN! IT’S NOT TOO BAD.
2. AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE (1996)
Dollhouse was the Amityville movie hardest to find, and that’s too bad because it’s one of the best. Yes, the titular dollhouse — modeled after the 112 Ocean Ave house — is a bit of dodgy continuity, given that we’ve never seen it before and it conveniently shows up just as a blended family moves into a new house. But continuity has never been one of the series’ strong suits, so who cares?
For me, Dollhouse’s advantage over most other Amityville movies comes from how much we want the family to work. Newlyweds Bill (Robin Thomas, Pacific Rim) and Claire (Starr Andreeff, Dance of the Damned) try their best to make it work, and the tensions between the new step-siblings are portrayed better here than in most movies of any genre. Plus, the 90s monster effects have quite a bit of charm, as do the scares they elicit. The script is a bit over-written and the performances too often over-heated, but Dollhouse handles the family drama much better than most Amityville films.
GET OUT OR GET IN: FOR THE FAMILY’S SAKE, GET IN!
1. AMITYVILLE 1992: IT’S ABOUT TIME (1992)
One of the first horror movies I ever saw, one that featured images that still bother me today, Amityville 1992: It’s About Time is the reason I signed up for this list. And after hours of watching bad Amityville movies, I’m happy to report that About Time holds up and makes it worth it.
Another of the haunted objects movies, About Time features a clock that real estate developer Jacob (Stephen Macht, Graveyard Shift) brings from Long Island to his two teen children and on-again/off-again girlfriend Andrea (Shawn Weatherly, Police Academy 3). All sorts of nasty evil follows the clock’s arrival, including some fantastic gore effects and a truly inventive kill involving a garage drain. Writers Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro (Amityville: A New Generation) have a lot of fun with both the family concepts central to the franchise and with time travel ideas, all paid off well by director Tony Randel (Hellbound: Hellraiser II). It’s the fullest realization of the Amityville concept and the model that all other movies in the franchise should follow.
GET OUT OR GET IN: FOR OLD TIME’S SAKE, GET IN!
*Some may quibble when I say “all,” because I have omitted four movies that often turn up on lists of Amityville movies. The documentary My Amityville Horror (2012), in which Daniel Lutz explains what happened during the 1975 haunting, is no more essential than a DVD bonus feature. The Amityville Prison (2017) and Amityville: The Final Chapter (2017) were both filmed and initially released under different names. The former is about a slasher in a prison and the latter about the Mothman; neither involve anything from the Amityville series and were just given the more famous name to get attention. Amityville: Evil Never Dies (2017) is a re-release of Amityville Legacy (2016), which I do discuss on the list, but I’m not about to watch twice.