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The Amityville Curse

1989, Starring Kim Coates, Dawna Wightman, Helen Hughes, David Stein, Anthony Dean Rubes, Cassandra Gava. Directed by Tom Berry.

There have been several Canadian films that have taken on established characters and series before, including Dr. Frankenstein on Campus and Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia. None of these, however, spun off an existing franchise as poorly as The Amityville Curse, a misguided horror flick produced and directed by Tom Berry under his own Allegro films banner. Most of the straight to video films that Allegro made in the late 1980s and early 1990s were in the thriller vein, such as The Paperboy and Mindfield. Although a few horror titles appear in Allegro's catalogue, the company's apparent preference for murder mysteries may explain why The Amityville Curse emphasizes suspense over spectres. Unfortunately, it doesn't make the grade in either area.

Twelve years after an Amityville priest is mysteriously murdered in his confessional booth, his house is purchased by Marvin (David Stein) and his marginally psychic wife Debbie (Dawna Wightman). Marvin wants to buy the house, fix it up, and turn a big profit in the resale, so he enlists friends Frank (Kim Coates), Abigail (Cassandra Gava) and Bill (Anthony Dean Rubes) to help.

As they begin to fix up the building, strange ghostly things begin happening. Doors close, candles extinguish by themselves, and Frank finds a package of pictures that once belonged to the priest. Debbie keeps having nightmares about things that are about to happen, and she writes them down in her notebook. When chief plot expositor Mrs. Moriarty (Helen Hughes) shows up, she explains what everyone already knows by now, that the house is haunted. Over a pitcher of distinctly American Coors Light(?!) at a distinctly American country and western bar, Marvin tells everyone that he doesn't believe in ghosts.

Of course, that's just before a bunch of ghostly things occur. First, Frank almost drowns in the bathtub, and then a local townie hangs himself on a tree outside the house. A tarantula attacks Marvin while he is in bed, and Debbie can't stop writing "Forgive Me" in her nightmare diary. When Mrs. Moriarty stops by again only to fall down a flight of stairs to her death, the police are called in. They find a videotape that seems to suggest the house is haunted by an entity much more alive than Mrs. Moriarty previously thought.

As one might expect, this Canadian "sequel" bears little relation to the rest of the Amityville series it only feeds off the popularity of the original films by recycling the name of the infamous town where the first "true" story took place. Although based (very loosely) on an Amityville novel, there's little in The Amityville Curse to connect it with the franchise, as everything occurs in a completely different house, and the presence of an actual ghost is continuously up for debate.

To make matters worse, this is a downright terrible film. The Amityville Curse falls victim to the oft-seen Canadian trap of extremely slow pacing. Long scenes of conversations and very little action make this film much too boring to warrant any sort of recommendation. Despite the film's pretensions towards suspense and mystery, it fails to offer any red herrings, all but giving away the identity of the murderer in the first fifteen minutes. The characters, none of whom appear under 30, are unlikable stuffed shirts not likely to appeal to younger fans of the Amityville series, and the facile "mystery" at the centre of the film is easily solvable by adults. The only real puzzle seems to be exactly who the intended audience was for this "horror" flick.

Despite the fact that it is one of the most unendurable Canadian genre films ever made, The Amityville Curse is remarkable for a couple of reasons, the first being that it was made at one of the most uncertain times for horror films in Canada. After the tax shelters officially came to an end in 1987, the horror genre was almost entirely abandoned by Canadian filmmakers for almost a full decade. It's may be an unworthy torch-bearer, but The Amityville Curse remains interesting at least for its staunch choice in unpopular genres.

More curious is the sober tone that The Amityville Curse takes. As with American horror. Canadian horror had become progressively more tongue-in-cheek throughout the 1980s. The other films that finished off the late 80s horror boom, The Carpenter and Prom Night III were cheeky riffs on the conventions of the horror/slasher genres, making this film stick out all the more. In fact, with its house renovation plot, The Amityville Curse often seems like the kind of film that The Carpenter spoofs--in the conclusion, Debbie even arms herself with tools like a circular saw blade, a nail gun and a pitchfork. Instead, this film seems like an outdated throwback to the Cineplex films of the early 1980s, when Canadian horror like The Changeling was setting spooky standards.

An inability to appeal to any audience combined with a plodding pace and a lack of a real mystery sink The Amityville Curse even before it can get started. Berry seems to have moved on better things, thankfully, and has recently been clued in as the producer behind one of the newest Canadian horror franchises, Decoys. This early effort is recommended only for the hardcore Canuxploitation enthusiast.

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