Okay, I confess. I watched Amityville 3-D. One of the standard features of horror, you see, is the sequel. As a rule the members of the franchise degenerate until they don’t earn enough money to keep Hollywood’s attention. In the case of The Amityville Horror, the story only made it three deep. I’m no film critic, but with missteps at almost every turn, Amityville 3-D almost made a farce of itself and horror fans take that as an insult. (Good horror comedy is an exception, of course.) The original story is well known: the Lutz family moved into the DeFeo murder house and moved out again just over a month and a half later. The tale has been considered both a hoax and a legitimate haunting, but subsequent families haven’t reported supernatural happenings on the property.
I had some hopes for this installment, as it was also known as Amityville III: The Demon. The second feature film was part of my viewing late last year, and it was okay. I never thought the original was that good, in any case. As I watched III I realized something was missing. Religion. Any sign of it. No priests were involved—this was the fear vector for the first two films of the series. Although John Baxter moves into the house knowing the history, he’s a skeptic and seems not even to believe as the house blows up in a silly finale before his very eyes. When the flies start buzzing around everywhere he thinks they’re just pests, not making the connection with the original account. The entire series is, of course, an extension of the Beelzebub—“Lord of the flies”—myth. That’s what gives it its demonic thrust.
When it finally comes time to wrap things up, and no priest has been called, and no religious imagery has been shown, there’s nothing here to scare but cheap startles. Eliot West, the leader of the cadre of paranormal investigators, attempts to free Baxter’s drowned daughter from the turquoise, boiling well that was dubbed “the gate to Hell,” a demon pops up and grabs him. There’s no explanation of who or what the demon is. Like everything else here it’s secular to a fault. And though it may startle, it can’t scare.
Not all horror uses religion, of course. Even some movies about demons avoid it and manage to be scary. If the premise, however, rests on religion gone awry—as in the first two films of the franchise—exorcising it completely is asking for trouble. Even if the telephone number for the realtor at the start of the film does begin with a secular 666.