AMITYVILLE CLOWNHOUSE (2017)

Amityville Clownhouse.jpg

Studio:      Wild Eye Releasing
Director:    Dustin Ferguson
Writer:      Dustin Ferguson
Producer:  Matthew DiGirolamo, Jason Bracht, Jason Harlow
Stars:     Ben Gothier, Michelle Muir-Lewis, Mark Patton, Helene Udy, Dawna Lee Heising, Julia Farrell

Review Score:

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Summary:

Paranormal activity possesses a married couple after they purchase an antique monkey toy connected to a grisly mass murder.


Synopsis:     

NOTE: In the 24 hours between writing this review and publishing it, the respective IMDb pages were cleaned up to clarify that ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± is a retitling of 2017¡¯s ¡°Amityville: Evil Never Dies¡± while ¡°Amityville Toybox¡± is a rerelease of 2016¡¯s ¡°The Amityville Legacy.¡± Maybe this movie was originally supposed to be titled ¡°Toybox¡± and became ¡°Clownhouse¡± after the prologue was added?  Then ¡°Toybox¡± was transferred to ¡°The Amityville Legacy¡± and that¡¯s how ¡°Clownhouse¡± and ¡°Toybox¡± became confused as the same movie? The only thing I can say for certain is I rented something called ¡°Amityville Clownhouse.¡±

Review:

Amityville film fans, if such a collective exists anywhere other than in a shadow of shameful secrets, have long known to be wary of any indie horror movie with the word ¡°Amityville¡± in its title. As mentioned every time I momentarily lose my mind and decide to review another one of these no-budget freak shows, there¡¯s no such thing as a single Amityville franchise. Any confederacy of dunces willing to play backyard make-believe for an afternoon can record a cellphone video called ¡°Amityville Claptrap,¡± dump it on Amazon, and get a little lift from whatever meager value still exists in the Amityville name.

But did you know there¡¯s another scheme to watch out for too? Unscrupulous distributors don¡¯t even need to collect Ocean Avenue¡¯s fresh curbside trash anymore. Now they repackage old product with new titles, sometimes making an Amityville movie out of something that never had any such association to begin with. That¡¯s how ¡°Against the Night¡± (review here) saw a second life as ¡°Amityville Prison.¡± It¡¯s also how 2015 slasher ¡°Sickle¡± became 2017¡¯s ¡°Amityville: The Final Chapter.¡±

So maybe you came here looking for coverage of a 2020 film named ¡°Amityville Clownhouse.¡± Or maybe ¡°Amityville Toybox¡± brought you here. Guess what? According to IMDb they seem to be the same thing (see updated note above), confusingly released only months apart in different packages despite containing presumably identical content.

Wait, there¡¯s more! ¡°Amityville Clownhouse/Toybox¡± is and isn¡¯t both of those titles because it¡¯s actually a 2017 film called ¡°Amityville: Evil Never Dies.¡± Yes, with just this one release you can dab several squares at once on your ¡®I¡¯m in Amityville Indie Hell¡¯ bingo card!

Still not done yet. ¡°Amityville: Evil Never Dies,¡± aka ¡°Clownhouse¡± aka ¡°Who Cares,¡± is also a sequel to 2016 DTV¡¯er ¡°The Amityville Legacy.¡± That movie doesn¡¯t appear in my archives, so apparently I haven¡¯t seen it. Unless I did under a different title, which might be the case given the game of Amityville real estate nowadays. Whether I forgot ¡°The Amityville Legacy¡± or never saw it, I can¡¯t imagine how it would matter. Continuity is so non-critical in VOD Amityville, even half-open eyes connected to a comatose brain are fully capable of keeping up.

¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± causes me to weirdly wonder if ¡°Amityville Toybox¡± might have started as a separate thing and a prologue got tacked on to earn the ¡°Clownhouse¡± qualifier. I¡¯m sure as sh*t not going to pay another $2 to rent the other one to find out if they¡¯re exactly the same, but let me explain my suspicion:

The only clown to be found in ¡°Amityville Clownhouse,¡± other than me for willingly giving the movie my money, comes in the first few minutes. A man becomes possessed by a clown painting seemingly made with children¡¯s chalk for a grade school fundraiser. He then dresses as a creepily kooky Bozo before murdering his wife, two children, and himself. One week later, three thieves break into the house to steal the painting to sell to a serial killer memorabilia collector. Quick hits of supernatural activity separately slaughter all three thieves.

Now, this scene isn¡¯t good. The amateur actors playing the two children appear to be twice whatever age they¡¯re supposed to portray. A severed head looks like it was carved from wood using a spoon before being colored with house paint. But I noted that a modicum of work went into the sequence. Not much, but some. For instance, most of these movies haphazardly point and shoot whatever is in front of the camera. Yet ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± actually used a real motion picture light and some colored gels. Maybe the movie will at least have that much effort going for it, I thought.

Once ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± gets in full swing following opening credits, you¡¯ll sacrifice your first born to return to the comparative ¡°Citizen Kane¡± of this choppy prelude. More on that misery in a moment. In the meantime, just know that absolutely nothing about the killer clown or the painting connects at all to anything else in the movie. The actors/characters from this sequence aren¡¯t even listed in end credits. Not only does it look like completely different filmmakers created this piece, it looks like this segment belongs to a completely different film. That¡¯s why I wonder if it isn¡¯t exactly that, and someone simply tacked this clip on top of ¡°Amityville: Evil Never Dies¡± to validate the ¡°Clownhouse¡± double dip.

I briefly perused director Dustin Ferguson¡¯s IMDb credits to see if something stood out as a possible project where this prologue was pulled from. But with 91 titles already to his name, over 15 for 2020 alone, I¡¯m not willing to put in the legwork to play gumshoe by getting to the bottom of whatever repurposed footage trick might be in play.

Suffice to say, ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± abruptly switches gears on the fiction and technical fronts. The core story concerns a cursed monkey toy, a carryover from ¡°The Amityville Legacy,¡± and the trouble it causes the new people who become its caretakers.

I¡¯d recount more specifics about the story except the film¡¯s audio is so poor, dialogue is unintelligible to the point where some scenes seem silent even though mouths still move. Hilariously, obtrusive music often mixes in to try covering up the horrendous sound quality, only to make the nonsensical garble even harder to hear. I would tar and feather anyone who tried telling me ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± used a real boom mic. Audio was clearly recorded at the camera, complete with all the ambient noise and echoes that go with that distance.

I can only guess what the hell Dawna Lee Heising is supposed to be in the movie. Credited as ¡®Nosey Neighbor,¡¯ she¡¯s outfitted like billboard idol Angelyne clubbing on Sunset Boulevard circa 1995, dressed in a fur coat and sparkling heels that would be booted off RuPaul¡¯s runway. She shows up three or four times carrying or walking her dog, mutters some words that are impossible to make out, then disappears faster than a viewer¡¯s interest in this movie.

Mark Patton of ¡°A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy¡¯s Revenge¡± and ¡°Scream Queen¡± (review here) fame cameos as ¡®Antique Dealer,¡¯ which is what ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± calls a guy who runs a comic book shop. Patton¡¯s three brief bits barely total 60 seconds. He still gets treated better than Helene Udy, who ends up beaten and raped during her thankless task of playing ¡®Prostitute.¡¯

Udy¡¯s character isn¡¯t the only woman on the maligned end of misogyny. Possessed by the cursed monkey toy, the movie¡¯s main man does the same thing to his wife too. ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± isn¡¯t a comedy in any intentional sense. Yet it seems to somewhat understand its limitations as a lo-fi production and doesn¡¯t regard itself with strict seriousness. However, it¡¯s impossible to have fun with Three Stooges sound effects accompanying punches when they¡¯re placed within sleazy depictions of sexual assault.

As for the footage, it¡¯s a lot of excessive B-roll spliced together to pad the film to feature length. The camera might follow a woman through a park, down a staircase, up a second set of steps, then back through the park. Or it might feature random cutaways to Lily Munster action figures and Stargate playsets in Mark Patton¡¯s ¡°antique¡± store, which is at least cheekily named ¡®Jesse¡¯s Junk Drawer.¡¯

If Amazon Prime had a variable playback setting, I would have set ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡¯s¡± speed to 1.5x or 2x and been better off for it. You can¡¯t hear the voices anyway, so how would anyone notice a difference? While searching for such a feature I checked the progress bar and thought, ¡°Holy sh*t! How are there still 38 more minutes left in this?¡±

And that¡¯s how ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± or ¡°Evil Never Dies¡± or whatever becomes multiple titles I can completely forget about. If someone pointed a gun at my head and threatened to shoot unless I could remember the names of every one of these messes I¡¯ve misspent my time on, there¡¯d be a bullet in my brain right now. Honestly, that might be a preferable alternative over having to watch something like ¡°Amityville Clownhouse¡± ever again.

Review Score: 15