Color, 1990, 90 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Tom Berry
Kim Coates, Dawna Wightman, Helen Hughes, David Stein, Jan Rubes, Cassandra Gava, Anthony Dean Rubes, Mark Camacho
Canadian International Pictures (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), X-Rated Kultvideo (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
More or less the fifth film in the very loose Amityville series that jammed video stores and TV channels well through 1990s, The Amityville Curse immediately sets itself apart from its predecessors by being a Canadian production with Quebec standing in for Long Island. Loosely inspired by part of a book of the same title by Murder in Amityville author Hans Holzer, this one was essentially sent straight to VHS in 1990 on the heels of 1989's made-for-TV Amityville: The Evil Escapes, creating the impression that it was part of the continuum that ran through the rest of the decade with Amityville: It's About Time, Amityville: A New Generation, and Amityville Dollhouse. After that the series that had begun in 1979 with The Amityville Horror laid dormant until a remake in 2005, which led to the hugely troubled Amityville: The Awakening and a flood of hysterical bargain basement cash-ins like Amityville Karen, Amityville in Space, Amityville in the Hood, and, uh, Amityville Vibrator. What we get here with The Amityville Curse is still an odd one, ostensibly set across the street (or not?) from the infamous original house on Ocean Avenue and functioning as kind of a murder mystery along with a traditional ghost story. This series was insanely inconsistent anyway, so you're best off here just going along with its weird, Witchtrap-style atmosphere and endearing Canadian trappings. Initially circulated on VHS in North America by Vidmark, the film has largely been out of sight since then apart from a pricey German mediabook Blu-ray or DVD as Amityville V; its revival on Blu-ray from CIP (Canadian International Pictures) as a standard edition or a limited edition embossed and spot gloss slipcover designed by Gary Pullin will probably be a first-time viewing for most most -- and it'll definitely make an impression.
Something has been amiss in Amityville for a long time ever since the parish priest (Jan Rubes from Witness and Dead of Winter) was shot in the confessional booth. Now big city couple Debbie (Wightman) and Marvin (Stein) have decided to move into a supposedly cursed house (the former murder site) to fix it up and flip it. The property still has all the belongings of its previous owners left behind, but that doesn't seem to faze them or the friends they've brought along to help out and stay under their roof: Frank (Sons of Anarchy and The Last Boy Scout's Coates), Abigail (Gava, the seductive witch from Conan the Barbarian), and Bill (Anthony Dean Rubes). Soon Debbie is plagued with intense nightmares, a big spider crawls around, and death seems to strike the local townspeople at odd intervals. However, are the hauntings at work or is there a malicious human element at play as well?
It shouldn't be much of a surprise here that the Amityville connection is pretty tenuous apart from a few verbal references to the town. None of the real or fictional events have any bearing here whatsoever, and even the entire motive and behavior of the supernatural forces is quite different here for reasons that will remain unspoiled. It is pulpy fun when it gets moving though with a prosthetic-heavy, slasher-style finale (despite the fact that the culprit's identity should be screamingly obvious early on). All told it's a modest little chiller that looks a lot better now given all the Amityville films that have come in its wake, and fans of odd Canadian horror should enjoy seeing a recognizable cast getting put through the haunted house wringer.
The Blu-ray release featuring a 2K scan from the 35mm negative will likely be a shocker to anyone who saw this back in the VHS days; the presentation is excellent throughout with lots of atmospheric photography that looked like fuzzy mud before. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also in good shape and features optional English SDH subtitles. A new commentary by Canuxploitation's Paul Corupe and film historian Jason Pichonsky is lots of fun as they point out the Canadian actors, give background about the production company, note stylistic similarities to The Changeling, and assess the film's successes and failings. Corupe also has the most endearing way of pronouncing "Amityville" you'll ever hear. In "Amityville Memories" (16m15s), director Tom Berry shares lots of memories about the making of the film including the reason for going with a different house, his favorite scenes, and the lawsuit by Holzer that temporarily threw a wrench in the proceedings. "Acting in Amityville" (12m28s) features Wightman noting how her dreams of becoming a stage actor led her down a path, the way her screaming abilities landed her the lead role, and why she doesn't like watching her own work. "Shooting Amityville" (12m14s) and "Rodney Remembers" (11m19s) feature cinematographer Rodney Gibbons (My Bloody Valentine) delivering plenty of tales from this and other sets, as well as explaining how he and Berry first met in film school and the Vilmos Zsigmond crash course that profoundly affected him. The disc also comes with a booklet featuring a new Rick Trembles Motion Picture Purgatory comic strip salute and an interview with ghost hunter and author Alexandra Holzer.
Reviewed on October 13, 2022.