AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989)
[aka Amityville IV: The Evil Escapes aka The Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, Part 4]

"A dozen years ago I would have thought that what you saw in that lamp was an hallucination brought on by fear. Now I believe that the evil in that house could transmigrate into that lamp…."

Director: Sandor Stern
Starring: Patty Duke, Jane Wyatt, Fredric Lehne, Geri Betzler, Aron Eisenberg, Brandy Gold, Norman Lloyd, Lou Hancock, Peggy McCay, Gloria Cromwell
Screenplay: Sandor Stern, based upon the novel by John G. Jones

Synopsis: A team of priests led by Father Manfred (Norman Lloyd) enters the notorious Amityville house to perform an exorcism. Father Dennis Kibbler (Fredric Lehne) enters a room containing a bizarre, man-sized lamp. As the young priest performs the ritual, the lamp glows, and a strange force enters it by travelling through its power cord. For a moment, a demonic face is visible within the lamp; then something throws Father Kibbler across the room, and he is knocked unconscious…. The next day, Father Manfred inspects the house, and feels that the evil has departed. A yard sale is held to dispose of the furniture. Helen Royce (Peggy McCay) decides to buy the lamp as a joke present for her sister in California. Inspecting it more closely, Helen cuts her finger on it. Her friend, Rhona (Gloria Cromwell), warns her to get a tetanus shot, but Helen laughs the incident off. The lamp arrives at Alice Leacock’s (Jane Wyatt) house at the same time as Alice’s newly-widowed daughter, Nancy Evans (Patty Duke), and her three children, Amanda (Geri Betzler), Brian (Aron Eisenberg) and Jessica (Brandy Gold). After greeting her family, Alice opens the gift from her sister and assembles the lamp. Nancy is appalled by its ugliness. At that moment, Alice’s cat starts to howl, and scratches Amanda. Jessica stares fixedly at the lamp…. That night, Nancy apologises to her mother for "invading" her home, promising that they will leave as soon as she gets her qualifications and secures a teaching job. She then confesses to being very worried about Jessica, who has regressed emotionally since her father’s death, and keeps insisting that he is still alive. In the living-room, the lamp begins to glow. The mysterious force leaves it, entering a power point. All over the house, the lights flicker; in the kitchen, the electric kettle and the radio switch themselves on. Alice burns her hand on the kettle. Preparing for bed, Nancy is shocked to see her dead husband’s reflection in her mirror, She spins around but there is no-one there. Jessica asks her mother if she can sleep with her. Nancy says yes, but just this once. As she sleeps, Nancy feels an arm tighten around her: a man’s arm…. Jerking awake, Nancy finds that Jessica isn’t there. Following her daughter’s voice, she finds her sitting before the lamp. Jessica accuses Nancy of "scaring him", insisting that her father was there. The next morning, the family is horrified when Brian finds Alice’s pet parrot dead in the toaster oven. Meanwhile, in New York, Father Kibbler is released from hospital. Visiting the house, he is appalled to learn that the furniture has been sold, and gets Helen Royce’s name from the caretaker. That night, Father Manfred warns Father Kibbler that evil can and will transmigrate into people or objects. In California, Brian is inspecting the chainsaw he finds in Alice’s basement when it switches itself on, demolishing much of the basement and almost injuring Alice. Peggy (Lou Hancock), insists that they call an electrician, as the house’s wiring must be faulty. Father Kibbler goes to Helen Royce’s house. Rhona sees him, and tells him that Helen is in hospital. Hearing how Helen contracted tetanus, Father Kibbler demands to know where the lamp is now. The son of the local electrician comes to Alice’s house to collect the kettle and chainsaw for his father. Peggy asks him to help move the lamp into the attic. Left alone, the lamp starts to glow, although it is not plugged in. Downstairs, Amanda asks the boy to inspect the garbage disposal unit, which seems to be blocked….

Comments: You know, every now and then, when you’re in the bad movie review business, there comes a moment when you suddenly wonder: What am I doing with my life? For my friend and colleague, Mr Ken Begg, for instance, such a moment occurred while he was reviewing From Hell It Came, when upon writing, She warns Maranka that the Tabanga has made an appearance, he was moved to add parenthetically, There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write! For myself, my moment of introspection occurred at approximately 3.45 pm, July 28th, as I found myself typing, As the young priest performs the ritual, the lamp glows, and a strange force enters it by travelling through its power cord.

That’s right: I’m spending my Saturday afternoon reviewing a movie about an evil, terrifying, demonic….lamp.

Granted, it’s a horrible, dark, wet and windy Saturday, so I probably wouldn’t be doing anything more constructive anyway; but still….

Amityville: The Evil Escapes (or, as I prefer to think of it, The Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, Part 4; a film this clumsy deserves a title that clumsy) is a franchise film in the very worst sense of the expression. Not only is it built around one of the dumbest concepts ever to grace a bad movie, it was [*shudder*] made-for-TV, which means that any time anything remotely scary or gruesome threatens to happen (which isn’t often), we get a discrete fade to black. What’s left is a mix of soap opera histrionics and unintentional comedy, punctuated by long stretches of outright dullness. Unlike its predecessors, this film doesn’t even have the redeeming ongoing presence of The House, which merely by being there managed to add a few frissons to the otherwise hilarious Amityville 3-D. Of course, a reasonable person might argue that The House couldn’t be in this film since, as those of you who have been paying attention (i.e. not the people who made this film) might remember, it blew itself up at the end of the previous installment. Not to worry, though: here (albeit briefly) it’s back, hale and hearty. Tragically, however, we get only two fleeting glimpses of it, one by night, one by day; and then it’s gone….gone forever…. [*sob*] (Oh, sure, they try to photograph Alice Leacock’s place so it looks like The House, but it’s just not the same….) Following glimpse #1, a group of priests (what is the collective term for priests? a cassock? a confessional?) pours through the front doors and starts going whupass with the holy water. The House responds in a manner somewhat less than terrifying, shaking its chandeliers, opening and closing its doors, and turning the gas on all by itself. One priest gets clobbered with a little wooden rocking-chair. Spooky! Father Dennis Kibbler, the youngest of the holy crew, gets the toughest job: he enters the room, wherein lies – the lamp. And an evil-looking thing it is too, with a twisted, tree-like stand, and creepy arm-like projections. (Actually, what this thing looks like more than anything else in the world is the Evil Tree in Tales That Witness Madness!) Kibbler goes manfully about his task, and succeeds so well that Evil is flushed from its hiding place and forced to find a new refuge – which it accomplishes by scuttling up the lamp’s power cord in a suspiciously cartoon-like manner. For one brief moment a demonic face is visible within the glass globe, and then Father Kibbler is blown off his feet and across the room, where he slides down the wall in a manner that is also suspiciously cartoon-like. The next day, senior exorcist Father Manfred re-visits the house and declares that The Evil has gone – he can feel it. And he’s right. The Evil is no longer in the house – it’s out on the lawn. With a price-tag attached to it….

In on of the film’s more puzzling scenes, we see that all the furniture from The House is being disposed of in a yard sale ("All items freshly exorcised!"), and the locals, who have been crossing the road to avoid The House for years, or speaking of it in hushed voices, are now pawing through the goods like raccoons through garbage. Now, who, exactly, does this furniture belong to? I guess the answer would depend upon when in the whole chain of events this story is supposed to occur (and the time-line here is a little odd; more on that later). In any case, the one person it doesn’t belong to is the caretaker type who is clearly reaping the profits from flogging it. (This guy could have made a tidy profit over the years: after all, not one person who moved their furniture into The House ever stopped to take it out again, did they?) Amongst the pawers is Helen Royce, who takes one look at the lamp, declares it to be the most hideous thing she’s ever seen in her life, and announces that she’s buying it as a present for her sister.

Well, what can I say? Sisters are like that. Trust me. I know.

Still chuckling over her "joke" (the expression "more money than sense" comes to mind), Helen manages to cut herself on the lamp. Her friend, Rhona, suggests that she get a tetanus shot, but Helen waves the advice away. (Later on, Helen will of course be punished for her arrogance, being struck down in a manner so natural, it will completely fail to terrify the audience.)

And so the Evil Lamp is sent on its way to the West Coast. Coincidentally, another source of horror is also wending its way towards Alice Leacocks’s house: Alice’s somewhat estranged daughter, Nancy, and her three "adorable" children. (Nancy is played by Patty Duke, who by this stage of her career could legitimately be referred to as "genre veteran Patty Duke".) Nancy and her kids have been thrown upon the cold, cruel world by the sudden death of their husband and father – and sole breadwinner – and are forced to move in with Alice until Nancy finishes teachers’ college. Alice, it turns out, is less than thrilled by this development. Still, like they say, "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in"; and as it happens, the carload of Evanses arrives at Alice’s front door at the very same moment that Helen Royce’s "joke" is being unloaded from the back of the delivery van. And so, all unknowing, Alice Leacock allows The Source Of All Evil into her home. Oh, yeah – and she has The Lamp carried in, too. No sooner has The Lamp entered the house than it begins to exert its evil on the youngest Evans child, Jessica, who is suffering from various psychological disorders because of her father’s death. Proving that (as if anyone doubted it) animals are much smarter than your average horror movie character, as soon as The Lamp is fully assembled, Alice’s parrot, Fred, goes nuts; while her cat, Pepper, yowls and hisses and scratches Amanda, the oldest kid. (Fred, BTW, is an Australian Eastern rosella. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: way to encourage illegal bird trafficking!) Amanda and Brian immediately start squabbling (provoking me into an agonised cry of, "NO!! Not another crappy horror film filled with sulky, bratty teenagers!!" As it turned out later, my fears were largely unjustified, since Amanda and Brian are unusually well-behaved. A pair of doofuses [doofi?], yes, but not totally objectionable), while Jessica stares at The Lamp in an Ominous, Foreshadowing Manner.

That night, Alice and Nancy have a D & M in the kitchen, in which Nancy apologises for their "invasion", and Alice (not arguing with Nancy’s choice of word) displays her sensitivity by dissing the recently deceased Frank Evans. Meanwhile, The Lamp glows into eerie life, as Three Centuries Of Evil (as it is later called) chugs its way along the power cord and hops into the power point. We are immediately tipped off that this is going to be yet another "electrical devices come to life" movie, just what the world needed. (Hey, if I enjoyed that sort of thing, I’d watch Maximum Overdrive again, right? Well – maybe not….) The lights flicker all over the house, and appliances start turning themselves on, including [dum-dum-duumm] the kettle! Nancy and Alice barely notice, as Nancy is making a fairly unavailing effort to confide in her mother, expressing her concerns about her borderline psychotic youngest child. Alice, however, waves this aside and continues to focus on something much more disturbing: her grandson’s appearance. "I mean, what kind of haircut do you call that?" she demands. (She’s got a point. Let’s put it this way: if you were playing Pictionary and the clue was "mid-eighties", a quick sketch of Aron Eisenberg would fit the bill nicely. Think Andrew Ridgely circa "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". Hey, whaddya mean you don’t know who Andrew Ridgely is!?….). Perhaps feeling that the conversation is not going well, Alice gets up to make more tea, and burns her hand on the now-demonic kettle - a scene suggesting, not that The Source Of All Evil is on the loose so much as that Alice bought a shoddily designed kettle. Booga-booga!

After a couple more equally false "scares", we get the one scene in this whole film that really does work. In a moment somewhat reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Shock, while Nancy lies sleeping a man’s arm suddenly slides around her and holds her tight. Nancy smiles in her sleep….only to jerk awake with a terrified gasp as her conscious mind realises that this really shouldn’t be happening. But of course, there’s no-one there – not even Jessica, who was sharing her mother’s bed. Nancy hears her daughter’s voice and follows it into the living-room, where Jessica is holding a conversation with – someone. (Although the youngest child in the original Amityville Horror interacted with "an invisible friend", this aspect of the film does not reference that, but instead is written and filmed so as to blatantly rip off Poltergeist.) Nancy is, not surprisingly, rather taken aback when Jessica insists that she’s been talking to Daddy; and tries unavailingly to convince the girl that it was "all a dream". The next morning, Jessica has a fever, allowing the diagnosis to switch to "all an hallucination". Downstairs, Nancy starts breakfast, telling Brian to heat up the toaster oven, which he does. However, when he goes to put the rolls in, he finds the oven already occupied – by the unfortunate Fred. Finding Fred’s cage open, Alice blames herself for his tragic demise, not once stopping to inquire how a one hundred gram bird managed to open the oven door, hop inside, and then close it again! (I guess he really wanted out of this film!)

Fred’s death is the best this film can do by way of bothering its audience. Although "Three Centuries Of Evil" are supposed to be lurking in The Lamp, its manifestations become more and more gigglesome as the film progresses. To be blunt (and again to use an expression I heartily despise), Evil hits like a girl. Its next effort at "terrorising" occurs when Brian follows Pepper, the cat, into the basement, and discovers a chainsaw lying on a bench. Acting as if never realised that anything so miraculous even existed, Brian immediately picks it up (obviously seeing what’s coming, Pepper beats a hasty retreat at this point) and starts waving it about making "Vroom-vroom!" noises. (Like I said – doofus!) Of course, the chainsaw then starts itself, and in the course of a hugely entertaining minute, Brian manages to demolish the entire basement. Alice and her housekeeper, Peggy, come running to see what the noise is and nearly end up kindling themselves. Peggy, however, leaps somewhat improbably to the rescue, slamming a metal bar against the saw, which then decides to turn itself off. Brian pleads innocence, of course ("I’m stoopid, not homicidal!"), and incredibly, both his mother and his older sister believe him implicitly. Nancy insists that faulty wring is to blame, and calls an electrician. However, it is the electrician’s teenage son who answers the call. After helping Peggy shift The Lamp into the attic, the kid wanders into the kitchen to find Amanda trying to clear a blockage in the garbage disposal unit by sticking her hand down there. (Doofus!) Telling her that she should have taped the on-off switch off first, he does so, and then sticks his hand down the unit. No prizes for guessing what happens next: this is one of the movie’s Discreet Fade To Black moments. The following morning, the boy’s astonishingly unperturbed father comes to inspect the site of the accident. His verdict? "My son’s a doofus!" Well, he doesn’t say that – instead, he decides with a shrug that the kid must have taped the unit on, not off. Nancy announces sternly that until the problem is solved, no-one should touch any electrical appliances. This edict lasts approximately two minutes, until Nancy finds Jessica in the attic chatting with "Daddy". As she hauls the girl out, kicking and screaming, Nancy yells at Amanda to "get up there and unplug that lamp!" Looking understandably apprehensive, Amanda obeys, but of course, it isn’t plugged in…. For its next manifestation, The Source Of All Evil goes for one of the classics and causes black goop to run out of all the taps. Despite the fact that everyone agrees it "smells like a sewer", Amanda fails to notice anything wrong and brushes her teeth with it (doofus!). Both Nancy and Alice have to go out, leaving Jessica alone with Peggy. The housekeeper reacts to the fact that raw sewage is running out of the water pipes by doing a load of washing. Meanwhile, the summoned plumber crawls in under the house (obviously not having bothered to shut off the water!), and tries to unscrew the end of the main pipe. Suddenly, the pipe swells up, knocking down a crossbeam and pinning the unfortunate plumber to the ground. Evil Black Goop then explodes from the pipe (if you look carefully, you’ll also see a remarkably intact hand!), and the plumber – an audience identification figure if ever there was one – can do nothing but lie there, trapped, and drowning in shit.

Meanwhile, Good has been marshalling its forces – such as they are. Father Manfred and Father Kibbler discuss the latter’s encounter with Evil, and it is here that we get a rather odd potted history of The Amityville House, which according to Father Manfred has been exerting its Evil influence for over three hundred years. He goes on to remark that "a dozen years ago", he would not have believed what he does now, but that "as recently as 1974" a boy was driven by "voices" to murder his entire family. We wait, but no further evidence of the House’s power – the possession of a priest, the tormenting of the Lutz family, the attacks on the sceptical John Baxter – is so much as glanced at. Instead, the screenplay simply ignores the events of two and a half of the preceding Amityville films! (This is particularly odd since writer-director Sandor Stern wrote #1 as well!) Crusading Father Kibbler tracks down the whereabouts of The Lamp From Hell, and decides to travel to California for a final showdown. Father Manfred warns him that the church hierarchy probably won’t let him go, and suggests they ask the police to call on Alice Leacock instead – at which point, the film comes perilously close to acknowledging its own idiocy, as Kibbler retorts, "And tell them what? A satanic force has taken possession of a lamp!?" Unable to argue, Manfred promises to "speak to the Monsignor". His intervention is successful, and Father Kibbler arrives at Alice Leacock’s in minimum time. Since Peggy has just had a fatal encounter with The Lamp, the door of the house is opened by Jessica, who repeatedly – and rather creepily – insists on the priest coming in and sitting down. Father Kibbler, however, is overcome by nausea (know the feeling!), and dashes away from the house to throw up. (YES!! A puking priest scene!! How gratifying to see the franchise finally get back to its roots!) Unable to quell his fear completely, Kibbler writes a note to Alice and drops it into her mailbox, where Amanda later finds it. Meanwhile, Nancy is disturbed to find Peggy missing, and even more so when Jessica contends that she "went home". The search is soon on, and once again it is the luckless Brian – who also found Fred in the toaster oven – who discovers Peggy’s body. (The verdict is "heart attack", even though we saw her being strangled by The Lamp’s power cord.) Moreover, Jessica’s room has been completely trashed, a clear sign of demonic possession. Or hyperactivity. Re-reading the note from Father Kibbler, Nancy decides to meet with him. She tells Amanda to stay with Jessica at all times, Brian to lock the attic and hide the key, reassures them that she "won’t be long", and takes off, leaving her eldest children to stare at one another in dismay.

In the bar at his hotel, Father Kibbler explains to Nancy all about the "Evil Lamp" thing, warning her that the Evil will attack the most vulnerable person in its environment. Realising that this means that Jessica’s problems probably can’t be solved with Ritalin, Nancy invites Kibbler back to her place for coffee and a quick exorcism. Meanwhile, Amanda decides to break up the monotony of babysitting a satanically possessed child by looking for the cat. It turns out to be on the roof, giving Amanda the opportunity to lean out the window – which promptly whacks her on the back of the head and knocks her out. (Doofus!) Jessica evades her brother and grandmother to make a dash for the attic. Nancy arrives with Father Kibbler. The latter immediately charges up to the attic, but can’t get the door open. Amanda staggers in rubbing her head, and Kibbler yells at her to bring an axe. Nancy intervenes, sensibly ordering both Amanda and Brian out of the house. Kibbler fetches the axe himself (I was hoping for the chainsaw, but never mind) and bashes his way through the suspiciously flimsy door to where The Lamp is exerting about 100 watts of Evil. What follows is one of the most pathetic "exorcisms" I’ve ever seen, and believe me, I’ve sat through some doozies! First, Kibbler starts with the holy water, but is stopped when Jessica levitates towards him shrieking "Don’t hurt my Daddy!" and brandishing a knife. She succeeds in stabbing Kibbler in the shoulder before he and Nancy can subdue her and toss the knife away. Kibbler then moves in with the crucifix, only have it jerked from his hand as The Demonic Power Cord wraps itself around his arm. Nancy is distracted from her ongoing struggle with Jessica when the demonic face within the lamp briefly becomes that of the late Frank Evans, and Jessica reclaims the knife. She goes to stab Nancy, but is stopped by the power of Mother Love (yecchh!). Meanwhile, Alice has had enough, and she starts in with the holy water, shouting, "Leave us alone, you son of a bitch!" – which frankly works better than any of Kibbler’s ritual chants. The Lamp recoils (leaving a trail of black goop, rather comically suggesting that The Source Of All Evil has had an accident), and Alice presses her advantage, finally lifting The Lamp and tossing it through the window. Unfortunately for Father Kibbler, he is still enmeshed in The Demonic Power Cord. However, The Cord proves to have grown about a hundred yards, and therefore Nancy has time to snatch up the axe and sever it, freeing Kibbler and allowing The Lamp to plunge to its destruction on the rocks below the cliff. The film then dissolves into a scene of mass hugging and kissing as the family celebrates its new-found ability to express love. "All this sweetness is bad for my blood suger," remarks Alice, who seems remarkably cheerful considering she’s on her way to her sister’s funeral. Oh, right – that lamp business…. Alice then departs with Father Kibbler, the Evanses do a bit more hugging, and everything seems to be sunshine and lollipops. But wait! – would you be astonished to learn that It Isn’t Over After All?? Well, frankly, neither was I – although the way in which we learn it is a jaw-dropping experience. The film ends with – surprise! – a pan across the smashed lamp, and lurking beside it is Pepper, the cat; and as he yowls and turns towards the camera, we see that----

----the film-makers could think of no better way of closing this pathetic excuse for a horror movie than by ripping off another pathetic excuse for a horror movie, Zoltan, Hound Of Dracula. And if you don’t know what I mean, shame on you!

It’s always kind of sad watching the deterioration that sets in over the course of a horror movie franchise, although I guess that in the case of the Amityville stories, there wasn’t all that great a height to fall from. Still, the three previous films did manage a few shivers, even if it was simply by keeping that damn creepy house in front of the cameras. This fourth effort is simply ludicrous – but then, how could it be otherwise, given its basic premise? I mean, didn’t anyone, at any stage of the film’s production, stop and wonder whether focussing their story on a possessed lamp was really a good idea!? In any case, the film’s supernatural manifestations are rarely other than risible. What credibility the film has comes not from the alleged scare scenes, but in the depiction of the tensions between Alice Leacock and her unwanted houseguests. The dysfunctional family is at the heart of many horror films, of course, and this one is no different, except that it rather refreshingly acknowledges that a "family" can sometimes be a bunch of people with little in common who probably shouldn’t be forced to live together. In fact (and you can hardly blame her, given events), Alice goes through the entire film with the look on her face suggesting that she wishes she’d had her tubes tied about forty-five years earlier. Jane Wyatt’s performance (using the term loosely) is probably the film’s low point; "disinterested" would be a polite way of describing it. Her expression throughout the climactic exorcism scene is priceless, though, being chiefly indicative of extreme boredom. Patty Duke and Fredric Lehne at least put a bit of effort into their performances; while Aron Eisenberg and Geri Betzler manage to be less irritating than many of their cinematic brethren (even if the latter does suffer from an extremely distracting case of chipmunk-cheeks: every time she opens her mouth, you wait for her to spit out whatever it is she’s got in there; that, or go into her Marlon Brando impression). Overall, Amityville 4 is clear evidence that the bottom of the barrel had not just been scraped, but licked clean; but I’m sure that no-one will be surprised to hear that to date, another five alleged "Amityville" films have been made. And there are those who say that "evil" doesn’t exist….

Footnote: The estimable (if power-crazed) gentlemen of Stomp Tokyo have also reviewed this film, and have provided for their readers’ delectation screen shots of The Evil Lamp and The Positively Demonic Power Cord. Oh, and Aron Eisenberg’s haircut. THE HORROR!! THE HORROR!!