AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993)
happened twenty-six years ago, in upstate New York; a place called
Your friend here blew away his whole family: dad, mom, brother and sister...."
Director: John Murlowski
Starring: Ross Partridge, Lala Sloatman, Terry O’Quinn, Julia Nickson-Soul, Jack R. Orend, David Naughton, Barbara Howard, Richard Roundtree, Robert Rusler, Lin Shaye
Screenplay: Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro
Synopsis: In a converted warehouse now housing artists’ studios, the sound of an argument draws photographer Keyes Terry (Ross Partridge) to the studio next to his own, where Suki (Julia Nickson-Soul), a painter, is throwing out her cheating boyfriend, Ray (Robert Rusler). As Ray goes from pleading for forgiveness to shouting threats at Suki, Keyes hovers nearby protectively, making sure that he leaves and then comforting Suki as she berates herself for her terrible judgement of men. Keyes and Suki go for coffee. On the way they meet Dick Cutler (David Naughton), their landlord, and his wife, Jane (Barbara Howard). Inviting Dick to join her and Keyes at the cafe, Suki suggests that they promote both the studio complex and the art of those living there by throwing open the building and holding a joint exhibition of the tenants’ work. Meanwhile, Keyes’ attention is caught by a homeless man (Jack R. Orend) across the road from the cafe, who emerges slowly from the cardboard box in which he spent the night, then seems to plead with some unseen person. Keyes takes a series of photographs of the man, then excuses himself to his companions and goes to speak to his subject. Explaining himself, Keyes gives the man money in exchange for the photographs. As he turns away, the man calls him back, offering Keyes an ornate mirror that he says has been in his family for generations. Keyes examines the object. Before his eyes, his reflection seems to blur and swirl. At the same time, he hears the murmur of voices.... Keyes looks up to find that the homeless man has packed his things into his shopping trolley and is halfway down the block, leaving him with the mirror. Later, at the complex, the artists gather to convince Dick that Suki’s idea of a joint exhibition would be a profitable one all around. Dick finally agrees. The conversation turns to the sculptures of Pauli (Richard Roundtree), which Jane confesses to finding frightening, and from there to the artists’ fears generally. Dick accuses Keyes of always covering up his real feelings and turning everything into a joke. When Suki comments that Keyes can trust those present, as they are a kind of family, Keyes retorts that it is the idea of “family” that he fears most. Suki then confesses to a strange childhood experience, in which, she claims, she could see demonic figures dancing in her bedroom. Keyes’ girlfriend, Llanie (Lala Sloatman), enters, asking about the mirror, which she finds ugly. Suki, however, takes a fancy to it, and Llanie is only too happy to let her borrow it. That night, Ray returns to Suki’s apartment, drunk and brandishing a knife. He breaks in, slashing some of Suki’s paintings, but stops upon noticing the mirror. As he stares into it, the image blurs. For a moment, Ray sees his reflection change, becoming like a rotted corpse. Then he sees his face slashed open. As his reflection cries out in pain, Ray panics and bolts, but runs straight into a window. The glass shatters, slashing open his face. Ray collapses in a bleeding heap as the image in the mirror changes again, this time to that of a house with strange, eye-like windows....
Comments: The yard sale continues. Coming on the heels of the possessed lamp of Amityville: The Evil Escapes and the demonic clock of Amityville 1992: It’s About Time, this particular entry in the ever-more tenuous franchise gives us a string of bloody demises prompted by the machinations of a homicidal mirror, which like the other fixtures was supposedly loosed upon an unsuspecting world carrying with it the evil powers of our old friend, 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. The best thing that can be said of Amityville: A New Generation is that although it certainly tampers with the text, it never declares outright that The House itself isn’t ultimately responsible for the mayhem committed both inside and outside its walls....so at least I don’t have to call SHENANIGANS on it, as I was compelled to do for its predecessor. If that sounds to you like an instance of damned with faint praise, well, bingo.
For all that it ticked me off by its suggestion that a possessed clock was the instigator of all the troubles out on Long Island, with The House simply one in a series over the centuries to provide a setting for the operation of the clock’s powers, It’s About Time proved nevertheless to have a few moderate virtues, offering an interesting take on the old time-loop chestnut, and some well-written and, particularly, well-acted characters – as well as a couple of spectacularly goofy death scenes. Unfortunately, Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro, returning to the fray with A New Generation, don’t really seem to have recognised where the strengths of their previous endeavour lay. Although rescued to an extent by one characterisation in particular, this film offers up too many uninteresting bystanders, while failing to compensate for its shortcomings by giving us anything quite so idiotically entertaining as death-by-nappy-service. There is a kernel of a good idea buried within this film, and a few good moments in its execution, but it’s a struggle to get to them; and in the end I suspect that only real Amityville tragics like me will bother to make the effort.
While it does improve as it goes along, the first half of A New Generation is a real chore to get through. The occupants of the studio complex are equally self-absorbed and dull, on top of which we are left with the problem of deciding if they are actually supposed to be talented or not. As Informed Attributes© go, I suppose that “art” is one of the safer ones, since its success or failure is very much in the eye of the beholder. Either way, the works of the various occupants of the complex are certainly intended to be a revelation of their secret fears, upon which the powers of the mirror will later act. Suki’s description of her literal childhood demons (a disclosure that could hardly be more dragged in) is the catalyst for a painting frenzy that leaves her studio festooned in huge canvases featuring looming, leering creatures, which by means of a rope-and-pulley system she is able to make “dance”, as did the supernatural visitors of her youth.
Keyes, meanwhile, is tagged for us as emotionally damaged via the revelation that his photographs never contain people. His snapping of the homeless man is therefore his own catalyst; and Llanie greets his subsequent announcement that he is “moving into a new phase” by focussing upon human subjects with joy and relief, taking it as a sign that her repressed and wounded boyfriend is finally lowering his defences.
(Actually, I had a good laugh about all this: my own holiday photographs are notorious for never having people in them.)
But is it art?
While A New Generation does a reasonable job in delineating Keyes and the trauma that has shaped his life, it does not do so well with Suki, who we are asked to take far too much on faith. One nice thing, however, is the relationship between these two damaged people: seeing much of himself in his neighbour, Keyes is brotherly and protective towards Suki, but no more; while Llanie, recognising their friendship for what it is, never evinces a flicker of jealousy, even though it is Keyes to whom Suki invariably turns in her frequent moments of crisis. Her character is introduced to us in the midst of just such a moment, as Ray, the latest in a long line of failed boyfriends, pounds on Suki’s door, voicing a disturbingly credible mixture of pleading and threats. Keyes hovers nearby until Ray has staggered off, and then takes Suki for coffee.
On the way, they encounter their landlord, Dick Cutler, inviting him to join them. Suki then pitches her idea of throwing open the studio complex and holding a joint exhibition, both to promote the complex itself, so that Dick might get a few more tenants, and to promote the work of those already living there, so that they might get a few more sales. Dick is immediately against the idea, citing zoning and permits and costs; and it is while he and Suki are arguing that Keyes’ attention is caught by the homeless man camped out on the opposite side of the street from the cafe. He takes a series of photographs of the man as he eases himself out of his cardboard box and then, strangely compelled, crosses the road to speak to him, explaining himself and offering the man some cash in exchange for his unwitting services. The man himself, giving Keyes a long look, then insists upon giving him something: an antique mirror that, he claims, has been in his family for generations.
Keyes resists, but the man insists; and he finds himself holding and gazing into the depths of the mirror, and loses track of time.... Coming to himself with a jerk, Keyes finds that the homeless man has packed up his things in his shopping trolley and walked off, leaving him in possession of the object.
(The mirror that will provoke most of this film’s bloody mayhem is – not to put too fine a point upon it – tacky in the extreme, featuring a demonic face that looks more like a cartoon ghost, with “jewelled” eyes that could hardly be more obviously made of plastic.
The other issue here is Ross Partridge’s hair. Partridge gives a decent performance in this film, but with his floppy-fringy ’do and his designer three-day growth, he looks like he stepped whole and breathing from an eighties music video. It is incredibly distracting.)
"I could do more with that fringe...."
That evening, the tenants of the complex – all three of them – get together and again try to convince Dick Cutler that a joint show would be a good idea. Cutler’s wife, Jane, sides with the artists (it is never quite clear whether she is one as well), and Dick finally gives in – although this is less a matter of conviction or persuasion than the fact that Dick has the hots for Suki, and agrees in the hope that it will help him get into her overalls. It almost does, too, later on, when Suki gives us another demonstration of her lousy taste in men (and Julia Nickson-Soul provides one of the film’s two Gratuitous Boob Shots.)
One thing that A New Generation does have going for it is a surprisingly decent cast; although that said, it is guilty of wasting some of its participants. David Naughton is actually a bit embarrassing as Dick, suffering through coitus interruptus with Suki before getting shoved into an electrical transformer by a very unimaginative supernatural force. Richard Roundtree shows up to collect a paycheque as Pauli, another of the complex’s tenants, but doesn’t even have the decency to keep the promise implied by his contribution to the art show, a sculpture consisting of an armchair, a television, a loaded shotgun and a timer. Lin Shaye does rather better as a nurse at a psychiatric facility, who gives the impression that she may have been working in mental health just a tad too long. The film’s fourth name star is its genuine highlight, and I’ll have more to say about him later. Finally, in a case less of name-star recognition than of “I watch way too many horror movies”, I instantly identified Barbara Howard (Jane) as Sara, the towel-clad victim of Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. (You remember: axe between the breasts, right?)
An assertion by Jane that Pauli’s sculptures scare her provides the segue to the revelation of Suki and Keyes’ personal fears, with Suki describing the dancing demons of her childhood, Dick accusing Keyes of always covering up his feeling with a joke, and Keyes himself speaking bitterly of “family”, which he describes as a “delusionary institution”. Later, Keyes admits to Llanie that Dick was right about him: that he does always hide his true feelings and use joking as a defence. Llanie consoles him by pointing out that he has lowered his defences with her, which is the cue for the other Gratuitous Boob Shot. Meanwhile, Ray has returned to consolidate his credentials as Compleet Asshole, breaking into Suki’s studio and slashing some of her paintings before having his attention caught by the mirror, which Suki has borrowed with Llanie’s blessing.
"I dreamed I was pulled into a comic book....and then
"I dreamed I was pulled into a comic book....and then Rotoscoped!"
The special effects in A New Generation are on the whole pretty poor. The exception to this generalisation is a shotgun blast towards the end, which is all the more effective for being, by that stage of the film, not just good but unexpectedly so. At the other end of the scale is a rotting corpse effect that initiates all of the mirror-based mayhem, and which seems to have been realised using a Halloween mask. We get the first of numerous looks at it here, as a red swirling light within the mirror clears, and Ray sees his reflection change. As he stares in bewilderment, his reflection’s face is slashed open; it shrieks in pain, and so does Ray, before bolting across the studio in a panic and running straight into a window. This leaves Ray with the same kind of slash marks that his reflection displayed; and he slumps to the floor of the studio, where he bleeds to death.
Things pick up with Ray’s death – not just because he is a Compleet Asshole – but because it is this that introduces the character of Inspector Clark, as played by Terry O’Quinn. Here, co-writers Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro display again the same grasp of sensible, likeable characterisation that made It’s About Time a fairly agreeable ride. Instead of being the usual cliché, the hardass cop who takes dislikes and breaks heads and behaves like a jerk for no particular reason, Clark is a level-headed professional who treats the shocked tenants of the complex with politeness and respect, and makes no attempt to interpret Ray’s death as anything more than the tragic accident it certainly appears to be. Terry O’Quinn can be scary as hell, as horror fans would know, but here he projects both authority and kindness; and the fact that his character becomes a major component of the story instead of being one more throwaway cameo is the film’s main strength.
Ray’s death has various repercussions, including triggering in Keyes a series of nightmares in which he is given a subjective view of someone prowling the corridors of a house, emerging in a dining-room where a family – mother, father, two young children – are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. There is also a flash of the rotting corpse mask, which is Keyes’ cue to do the old sit-up-and-gasp routine. At the same time, over at Suki’s studio – where, we observe with dismay, the police have made no effort either to close it off or clean it up – Suki herself is contemplating the shattered glass still lying on her floor: “contemplating it”, that is, in the sense of stabbing herself in the wrist with a piece of it.
to see this!? AHHH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!"
"You paid to see this!? AHHH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!"
It is by exploiting Suki’s supposed suicidal impulses that the mirror makes her its second victim, but really, while we see this, we get no real sense of her as depressed or disturbed to that extent. Late in the film, there is a tossed away remark about the recent death of Suki’s mother, but that is the first and last we hear of it. Be that as it may, Suki’s own death follows her near-seduction by – or rather, of – Dick, which in turn follows a painting frenzy that fills her studio with representations of her demons, and leaves it conveniently peppered with looped ropes – i.e. nooses – which she first uses to make her demons dance, and then to dispose of herself at the mirror’s prompting. Meanwhile, Keyes is woken from another nightmare – this time being given a glimpse of the family at dinner reflected in a certain mirror – by a phone-call from Clark, who asks him to come downtown to identify a body. This prompts a panic attack in Keyes, who runs next door to check on Suki. She does not seem to be there. At least, she does not answer his call....
In a state of extreme trepidation, Keyes waits for the cover to be pulled back from the body at the morgue; although the last thing he expects is to find beneath it the homeless man, who proves to have had Keyes’ name and address on a piece of paper in his pocket, prompting Clark’s call for his help. Keyes cannot explain how the man came to be in possession of his personal details, but on impulse insists upon paying for the man’s funeral, even while continuing to deny that he knew him; a reaction that captures the attention of the increasingly intrigued Clark.
It is finally Dick, sneaking out of his apartment late that night and into Suki’s in the hope of the two of them finishing what they started, who finds her body hanging from the ceiling, hidden by her demonic canvases. The discovery brings Clark back to the complex, where again his interest in Keyes is obvious. In his misery, Keyes does not notice. Sadly reclaiming the mirror, he takes it back to his own studio where, after contemplating himself in it for some time, he finds written upon it the name “Bronner”. Meeting up with Clark at the homeless man’s burial, Keyes learns from the police officer that his full name was Franklin I. Bronner. He infers that Clark knowing this means that the man had a criminal record, a fact that Clark confirms with telling wryness. Rightly deducing from Clark’s tone that there is a story to be told, Keyes insists upon hearing it; and thus he, and we, learn of a tragedy of some twenty-six years earlier: the slaughter of a Long Island family during Thanksgiving dinner....
Suki exercises her demons.
Suki exercises her demons.
It was 1966 when a seventeen-year-old Franklin I. Bronner killed his parents and his two young siblings with a shotgun, as the family sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. With Bronner claiming to have been possessed at the time of the murders, a successful insanity plea on the part of his attorney saw the young man incarcerated in a mental institution, supposedly for life – only to be pronounced “cured” when overcrowding and budget cuts during the late 1980s led authorities to open up more hospital beds by whatever means possible.
While recounting this grim history, Clark watches Keyes intently, looking for some recognition or consciousness on his part. None is forthcoming, however; at least not until the cemetery worker arrives to install an engraved grave-marker by Franklin Bronner’s burial site: a marker that declares, Beloved father of Keyes Terry. His gaze unwavering, Clark assures the furious Keyes that it’s just a mistake, an assumption made because of his payment of burial costs, and nothing to get upset about....
Except that we’ve already heard Keyes’ version of his own past, in which he belatedly explained to Llanie that all he ever knew of his father was that he deserted his pregnant teenage girlfriend. In growing panic, Keyes journeys to Danamore, the institution in which Franklin Bronner served his time, now a near-ruin in the process of being closed down for good; and it is there that the childhood memory so ruthlessly suppressed for so many years, the visit to the hospital and the introduction to his incarcerated father, and his father’s brutal attack upon his mother, erupts and overwhelms the helpless Keyes.
(Possibly unintentionally, the film here offers up a bizarre mixing of tones, with Keyes’ re-living of his childhood trauma, an effective sequence in which Keyes “becomes” his father – meeting his own younger self, and greeting Bronner’s girlfriend as, “Mom” – sitting cheek-by-jowl with the film’s funniest moment, a glimpse of the police report describing the crime scene. It’s doubtful we were really meant to see this – that would have needed its creators to anticipate digital clarity and a really good pause button – but still, the thing is a howl.)
"You say 'fringe'; I say 'overcompensation'."
From this point, A New Generation becomes predominantly a rather interesting two-man character study, with Keyes trying – and failing – to come to terms with his secret past, and the deeply sympathetic Clark, who discovers the truth about Keyes’ identity about the same time that Keyes himself does, attempting to convince him that his life is in his own hands, if only he has the courage and the strength to ride out his current crisis. We learn here that while his professional specialty is psychopathology, and thus cases like Franklin Bronner’s, Clark is equally interested in the survivors of such tragedies. In this group he includes the family of the perpetrator, as well as the family of the victims; and it is from this perspective that Clark warns Keyes that the children of killers, in particular, face two real dangers: either they suppress their memories, as Keyes has done until now, until they explode with violent force; or they fixate upon those memories, sometimes becoming convinced that they are themselves doomed to follow in their parent’s footsteps....as Keyes is doing now.
Running in parallel with these developments is, of course, the tenants’ art show, going ahead in spite of the tragedy of Suki’s death (her work has just skyrocketed in value, of course), for which Keyes begins to plan not a photographic exhibition but a piece of performance art, one that he calls “American Gothic II”, and which just happens to feature a family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner....
While A New Generation, the second half of it in particular, is not without some merit, it should be very evident by now that the film as a whole has precious little to do with Amityville. Even more so than The Amityville Curse, A New Generation feels like an independently-written horror movie that has been twisted and warped until it resembles something that fits within the Amityville mythos, at least tangentially. It is like The Amityville Curse also in that it would have been a much better film without the twisting. There is a sound premise underlying A New Generation, one that offered the opportunity for some psychological horror along with the supernatural kind, but it gets lost in the writers’ determination to turn this film into something it clearly was not intended to be. Indeed, there is some evidence within this franchise entry that it was forcibly turned into an Amityville film mid-production, if not after the event. If we can drag our eyes away from the colourful description of the tragedy in the aforementioned police report, and the writer’s subsequent philosophical musings, we might notice that Franklin Bronner’s home address, presumably the site of the killings, is given as Spring Valley, New York, and not Amityville at all. Moreover, the accompanying photograph of Franklin Bronner bears no resemblance to the Franklin Bronner of this film. Probably we weren’t meant to see any of that clearly, either.
Yeah, family dinners always end like that at my place, too.
Yeah, family dinners always end like that at my place, too.
As with all of the stories penned or prompted by John G. Jones – he is credited as co-producer here – while The House is indirectly posited as the source of all the horror and death, the action of the film takes place at a significant distance from it. Likewise, there is no direct mention of the DeFeos themselves, but rather an assumption that everyone who watches this film is familiar with the details anyway, so there’s really no need to attract criticism – or a lawsuit – by naming names. In fact, there is an unpleasant echo here of the disingenuousness of Amityville II: The Possession, inasmuch as A New Generation all but reproduces the circumstances of the DeFeo killings, while simultaneously pretending that it’s talking about another group of people altogether. It is an interesting touch, though, that this film places its catalytic tragedy as occurring eight years before the real-life events that would eventually set this franchise in motion.
As I have said, the film does not deny that The House is responsible for the Bronner killings and for the subsequent deaths, but its actual contribution is depressingly peripheral. It seems that the mirror, which was present in the room where the Bronner family was slain, is capable of acting as a conduit for The House’s evil powers. The House first puts in an appearance after Ray’s death, emerging from behind the swirling red mist that occupies the mirror and looking on in approval, or so it seems. It next appears as a flash in Keyes’ first subjective nightmare, at which point we also get a look at its internal layout – which bears no resemblance whatsoever to anything we’ve seen in the preceding six films. Both of these brief glimpses are recycled through Suki’s death and Keyes’ next nightmare; while we get a photographic reproduction of The House in the newspaper clippings that Clark uses to describe the Bronner killings to Keyes. Those of us who love that old Dutch-Colonial should treasure that last moment, as it is the only point in the film where The House is not represented by that same night-time shot of the place, that one single frame, which originated in Amityville: The Evil Escapes and has been working steadily ever since. (That one piece of film and the word “Amityville” seems to be all that John G. Jones got in the custody dispute.)
While most of it is played with a straight face, as A New Generation moves towards its climax Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro succumb to the temptation of resorting to a little ghoulish humour. Thus, when a storm puts the lights out – you just knew there’d be a storm, right? – Dick ventures down to the basement to check the fuse-box, where he is greeted by a vision of Suki that turns rotting-corpse before his eyes and propels him to an electrifying death....which has the side-effect of turning the lights back on upstairs; everyone, including Jane, coos and claps. A cocky art critic accepts the inherent challenge of Paul’s shotgun-with-a-timer sculpture, before – rats – thinking the better of it; while the culmination of Keyes’ work gives us another instance of that beloved filmic situation in which grim reality is mistaken for “art” by the so-called cognoscenti. When Clark arrives in response to a frantic call from Keyes, who can feel his mind crumbling, he finds him holding a shotgun on his friends, who have unknowingly taken the places of the doomed Bronners around the Thanksgiving table. As Llanie tries desperately to talk Keyes down, and while Clark works on keeping everyone else still and quiet, as well as dissuading his own gun-toting offsider from making good on his threats to shoot, the gathered guests and critics begin to applaud enthusiastically....
Yes, that night-time shot.
(If nothing else, A New Generation did have the effect of making me want to watch Vampyros Lesbos again, which contains one of my favourite examples of this particular kind of scenario.)
In the end, A New Generation puts me rather in mind of Jason Goes To Hell: as a franchise entry, it’s a pretty piss-poor effort; but judged on its own merits, it does have a couple of minor virtues. Don’t come to it looking for either a decent supernatural thriller or a decent body count film, because it fails dismally on both counts; but if you’re one of those sick individuals like me who enjoys a horror movie more for actually caring whether anyone gets out alive or not, you might find it worth a look. It is only justice to say that by the end, we do care whether Keyes makes it out with his life and/or his sanity....although truthfully, I think we care chiefly because Inspector Clark cares. It really is Terry O’Quinn’s performance that holds the film together, his interpretation of a cop with a heart of gold hidden under a patina of cynicism comprising a pleasing anomaly in a career spent too often playing psychopaths, weasels and assholes. Ross Partridge grows on us as Keyes (but oh, that hair!), while Lala Sloatman is rather likeable as surely the world’s most supportive girlfriend, hardly batting an eye through trips to the morgue, revelations of psychotic parents, and pump-action shotguns at the dinner table. The rest of them, however, are just taking up space.
Taking up space is also a phrase that by now applies rather well to the Amityville franchise as a whole, which will, I suppose, compel me to take a reluctant second look at the re-make in preparation for – or so mind-boggling rumour would have it – another re-boot of the series. Heaven help us. Before that, however, I imagine that my OCD will compel me to tackle the final entry in the original series, yet another direct-to-video effort that marks the departure of Christopher DeFaria, Antonio Toro and John G. Jones from the franchise. This change in personnel didn’t stop the new crew from using essentially the same premise as three of the four previous franchise entries, though, with a random object becoming imbued with eee-vil emanating from The House, despite being about as geographically distant from Amityville as it could possibly be.
Now, after a lamp, a clock and a mirror, you might be asking yourself what’s next? – a dangerously unbalanced frying-pan? – a haunted draft-stopper?? – a murderous kitty litter tray??? (Actually, I think I’ve got one of those.) No, it’s none of these. As for what it is--- Well....you’ll just have to stop by in the New Year and find out, won’t you...?
|Now THAT'S a police report.|