Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)

Sandor Stern


Patty Duke - Nancy Evans

Jane Wyatt - Alice Leacock

Fredric Lehne - Father Kibbler

Norman Lloyd - Father Manfred

Peggy McCay - Helen Royce

Brandy Gold - Jessica Evans

Zoe Trilling - Amanda Evans

Aron Eisenberg - Brian Evans

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 95 Minutes


The demonic force lurking in Amityville for over 300 years escapes to a remote California mansion. It encounters a struggling family living together by uncertain means. The beast manipulates a little girl (Zoe Trilling) by manifesting itself in the form of her dead father. Soon it will be able to possess her completely… is it too late for a young priest (Fredric Lehne) to defeat the demon and end the curse?


It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a film from THE AMITYVILLE HORROR franchise, probably because there’s like 20 of these movies in the series and I’ve only been a fan of the two [of the four] that I’ve watched. I’ve always made it clear that I find the 1979 original to be a dull piece of horror, preferring the 2005 remake over it because it does more with the story. 1982’s AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION is probably the best of the films I’ve watched [and it seems to be the best of all of them, if you believe the consensus], while 1983’s AMITYVILLE 3-D was just a bad flick that existed only for 3-D effects that weren’t great to begin with. So I put the franchise out of sight and out of mind for a while.

Then out of the blue, I stumbled onto Amazon Prime and noticed a bunch of the AMITYVILLE films were free to watch. I read the description for 1989’s AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES [which I’ll call AMITYVILLE 4 for the rest of the review] and I found myself intrigued. Former TV star Patty Duke in a horror film? A lamp that possesses and kills people? A story that doesn’t take place inside the Amityville House? I figured I could at least give another film in this franchise a chance to see why so many of these damn films were made.

So after 90 minutes, I’m still wondering why over 20 of these films have been made, with more probably coming. But while AMITYVILLE 4 isn’t a good movie in the slightest, at least it had me laughing unintentionally - which is more than I could say for the first and third films. I couldn’t help but be entertained by this dumb movie.

AMITYVILLE 4 is a film that was made for television, since the previous installments, besides the first one, didn’t really make that much of a dent at the box office. It’s also apparently the first film in the series that focuses more on an object that was inside of the infamous house instead of the house itself. That makes sense, considering that having families dealing with a possessed house was probably getting old fast. It also helps the television limitations in terms of budget as the scares only need to focus on a single object than a huge house. And despite the high definition of the transfer I watched [the film does look better than it probably ought to], you can definitely tell it was made for TV with its less than stylish direction, cheap special effects and melodramatic acting that won’t wow anyone. It’s not entirely a bad thing, since I personally find charm in things like this. But it’s definitely a step down from the previous installments, as the budget allows more drama but not enough horror to match the earlier films.

AMITYVILLE 4’s issue really stems from the script. It’s honestly just a retread of earlier supernatural movies dealing with demons and possession. A vulnerable child, who is grieving her father’s passing, succumbs to this evil, demonic lamp and becomes possessed by it. The demon possessing the lamp also makes her believe that her father is speaking through the lamp, building her attachment and addiction to it. That’s a perfectly fine setup, but it never goes beyond that. There’s no character study or anything psychologically thrilling about it that’s all that memorable. It doesn’t help that the other characters are oblivious to it, or even oblivious to things that just happened seconds prior before just forgetting they happened and never bringing them back up again. The characters are also pretty forgettable themselves, or just plain unlikable. I honestly couldn’t feel for any one in this film besides Father Kibbler [the only one with a real story arc], which made all the weird stuff happening around these people the more entertaining and laughable. 

The film also didn’t have the guts to hurt any of the main cast really, relying on bringing in random people [plumbers, electricians, etc.] to build the film’s body count. These characters die or get hurt in silly ways - like getting a hand mutilated by a possessed garbage disposal or a pipe bursting in cartoonish effect to leak this black goo that drowns a trapped plumber. The only character of note that bites the dust is the housekeeper, who almost gets murdered by a possessed chainsaw handled by the family’s son, but unfortunately meets her fate by being strangled by the possessed lamp’s plug wire in the attic.

Speaking of this lamp, am I [or anyone else] supposed to be afraid of this thing? It’s an ugly lamp that belongs on the set of 1985’s RETURN TO OZ. When the demon shows his face on the lamp’s huge bulb, it’s more hilarious than frightening. And this lamp can do a whole lot without being plugged in - like hiding telegrams for the rest of the film, making electronically equipment and utilities go crazy, and even telepathically driving an empty car away from the property for some unexplained reason. It also kills people with tetanus, which is a rare way to murder someone in a horror film I guess. At least with a haunted house, you can have the walls bleed and flies appear on windows and stuff. When it shouts “Get out!” at you, being trapped inside is the last thing you want. A lamp is a lesser evil, even if it can do similar things since it came from the possessed house to begin [which wasn’t destroyed, negating the events of AMITYVILLE 3-D]. I feel like this type of story would have lended itself better to an hour-long television series, like a Friday the 13th: The Series or Tales From the Darkside. The story would have moved faster and gotten to the point quicker. Even the film’s conclusion is kind of lame, as things get resolved way too quickly considering everything that happened before the final act. Ninety minutes doesn’t do a whole lot for me, since a lot of it is just uninteresting family drama and filler.

The direction by Sandor Stern, who was a writer on the original 1979 film, is passable. Stern doesn’t provide a ton of style in terms of visuals. AMITYVILLE 4 looks like a TV movie. It feels like a TV movie. You can tell where ad breaks were probably edited in during its presentation on NBC at the time. The only thing flashy about the film are the cheap effects when it comes to the lamp and its powers. You get the standard blood on the walls and floor, flies buzzing around, and usual demonic activity presented in the first film - but on a cheaper budget. From what I read, Stern didn’t shoot the gorier scenes in the home video release, as NBC wouldn’t allow that stuff at the time. It’s funny because those moments actually help AMITYVILLE 4 be more entertaining than it has any right to. So thanks for the secret NBC Studios director who added those scenes in! It was appreciated. But there’s nothing terrible about Stern’s direction, but it’s not spectacular either. It’s exactly what you would expect.

The acting isn’t spectacular either. Patty Duke is an odd choice to star in an AMITYVILLE film. She’s in a horror film but she’s acting as if she’s in a dramatic Lifetime movie. Jane Wyatt seems to be having a bit more fun as a snooty grandmother who plays it passive aggressively against her on-screen daughter Duke. Brandy Gold just screams, sulks and tries to act evil as youngest daughter Jessica. Zoe Trilling and Aron Eisenberg don’t get to do a whole lot but play confused and concerned children. Fredric Lehne is the only one who gets the real good dialogue and handles it better than he should, considering the ridiculous things he has to say. It’s not the worst cast and they all have memorable things in the film worth a laugh or two during the movie’s runtime. A better script would have brought out more, but I’m not expecting that from an AMITYVILLE sequel. 


AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES is the first sequel in the series to go straight to television and it shows. The film doesn’t hide it budgetary limitations, looking and feeling like a TV movie with cheap special effects that are more funny than scary. The story is nothing original, pretty much rehashing elements of the previous installments with the only difference is that a lamp is possessing people and causing havoc rather than a haunted house. Sandor Stern, a writer for the original THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, does a passable job visualizing and directing the narrative within a made-for-TV format, while the actors [led by Patty Duke and Jane Wyman] do the best they can with the material they’re given. To be honest, this story would have lent itself better to a television anthology format - like a Friday the 13th: The Series, Tales From the Darkside or something like that. All in all, it’s not a good film but it had unintentionally funny moments that entertained me more than I thought it would. Definitely more fun to watch than AMITYVILLE 3-D, but nowhere the level of AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. I’ll continue through this series to see if there are any surprise gems within, or to be possessed by masochism if they just go downhill from here.


2 Howls Outta 4


Absentia (2011)

Mike Flanagan 


Katie Parker - Callie Russel

Courtney Bell - Tricia Riley

Dave Levine - Det. Ryan Mallory

Justin Gordon - Det. Lonergan

Morgan Peter Brown - Daniel Riley

Doug Jones - Walter Lambert

Genre - Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Running Time - 92 Minutes


Tricia’s (Courtney Bell) husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie (Katie Parker) comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia’. As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, it becomes clear that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ The ancient force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia - and Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death in its grasp.


While he had directed some independent films prior to this film, 2011’s ABSENTIA was Mike Flanagan’s breakthrough film into the mainstream success he has now. I’ve known about this film for a while, but never took the chance to sit down and actually watch it despite all the praise it has received the past 10 years. In fact, I haven’t watched much Flanagan stuff at all besides 2013’s OCULUS [good] and 2019’s DOCTOR SLEEP [loved] - as well as his 2016 Haunting of Hill House Netflix series that I enjoyed. So it was cool to see where the director started from before given a real budget to really showcase his vision that he’s known for now.

ABSENTIA is a real slow burn of a film, taking its time to build a supernatural psychological thriller that honestly presents more questions than answers by the film’s final second. The slow pace obviously lets the two lead characters, pregnant and mourning wife Tricia and her addict sister Callie, carry the film with emotional and dramatic beats as they deal with the events of the narrative. Both try to use religion to deal with their grief and demons, which doesn’t exactly work all that much by the end. Tricia tries to move on from the fact that her missing husband has been gone 7 years and can be declared legally dead by getting involved with the lead detective for the case, even getting pregnant by him. Callie also comes across strange, malnourished people inside a tunnel minutes by Tricia’s home, leading to strange happenings inside of Tricia’s home. Things take a turn when Tricia finally has a first date with her detective lover, only for her missing husband to return the moment she leaves the house. This should be a joyous occasion, except that the husband is malnourished, confused and acting weird to the point that he doesn’t seem himself anymore. Things just get weird after that, but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched.

While the slow burn and ride from beginning to end is never boring and actually contains some creepy moments, I feel like the film never really tells you anything. Yes, we see people grieve over their missing loved ones, struggling to move on thinking they’ll never return after so many years. We also see people sacrifice their own well-being to help another person who is struggling, only for it to bite them in the butt when past demons are used against them. There are a lot of human elements here that work and the drama is well written and presented nicely. But we never really learn why people in this particular area of town have gone missing for decades. We see glimpses of the culprits but never really learn who, or what, they are. And while the ending is a bit sad and unsettling, it doesn’t really answer anything either. I guess sometimes it’s good not knowing what the real deal is, but an audience should be given something tangible to chew on in a standalone feature. A film or a story shouldn’t leave one with more questions than answers.

I also thought the characters weren’t the most interesting or deep. Considering there are only a handful of main characters in the film, I would know or even care more about them. Tricia mourned her missing husband, but when there’s nothing about their relationship that makes me want to invest in this subplot beyond the mystery behind it, that’s kind of an issue. There are other moments where opportunities arise for more depth to happen, but the film would rather keep things on the surface than to get any deeper than that. Maybe it was a budgetary issue. Maybe it was just average writing. But mysteries should be explored and I feel ABSENTIA didn’t do that enough for me.

As for Flanagan’s directing, the first thing that should be said is that ABSENTIA is not a pretty film to look at. Considering the film was only made for $70,000 from Kickstarter funding, you’re not expecting a polished, studio looking film that will wow audiences with its cinematography. The film is very muted and has editing issues at times. But then you get flashes of what Flanagan does really well, such as the use of monsters hiding in the background, smart choices of sound design, and a great use of shadow and light. Considering the budget, the malnourishment look for the missing people look pretty damn good, even presented as kind of creepy at appropriate times. Not all the jump scares work, but the camera tricks accomplish more than they don’t. It’s easy to see how Flanagan became a bigger name in the genre because he definitely has a style that stands out.

The acting is good for the most part. ABSENTIA is carried by the two lead actresses - Courtney Bell and Katie Parker. Parker, in particular, is really good as Callie. She’s the film’s guide in figuring out what’s going on and believably deals with aspects of the mystery, while Bell is doing more of the emotional beats but doesn’t get to do as much as Parker. But the two actresses share nice sibling chemistry and play off of each other very well. The other actors are decent-to-good, while frequent Flanagan collaborator Justin Gordon probably hams it up a bit too much as a skeptical detective who feels like he should be in another movie. And it was a nice coup to get Doug Jones to appear in a short role, considering Flanagan wasn’t a huge director yet. 


ABSENTIA is the film that got Hollywood in noticing director Mike Flanagan, making him a force in the horror scene today. The film itself, done with a $70,000 budget, is a good piece of moody and atmospheric mystery-drama with those horror flourishes that Flanagan has made a staple in his direction for the past decade. It has a nice use of shadows and light, creepy people hiding in the background when you least expect it, and camera tricks that succeed more than they don’t. The narrative itself is bleak - dealing with loss, addiction, and the struggle to move on from the demons that continue to haunt. It’s too bad that the mystery is never really solved or explained in a way that’s satisfying by the film’s end, leaving one with more questions than answers. Also, while the characters are relatable on the surface due to the premise, there’s not much to them depth wise which makes it harder to care about what happens to them in the long run. Thankfully, lead actresses Courtney Bell and Katie Parker bring their “A” games to their roles, carrying the film as best as they can. And the film’s slow burn keeps one invested, rather than turned off, as new things are always presented. It won’t be for everyone, but ABSENTIA is worth a look if you’re in the mood for something downbeat and thought-provoking for 90 minutes.


3 Howls Outta 4

Related Posts with Thumbnails