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Amityville: The Awakening, Revisiting the Messy 2017 Attempt to Reboot a Horror Classic
Now streaming on Peacock, the 10th Amityville movie is an interesting premise in theory.
A casual fan of scary movies certainly knows about The Amityville Horror, the 1979 film adaptation of a (dubiously true) story of a haunted, demonic New Jersey house. But, such a casual fan might not know just how many sequels there have been, including the 10th canonical installment in the franchise, 2017’s Amityville: The Awakening (now streaming on Peacock!), a meta reboot of sorts that tried — and, some would likely argue, failed — to offer a new spin on the horror staple.
Amityville: The Awakening’s central conceit is that the nine films in the franchise that came before it were movies, but The Awakening is real. Bella Thorne stars as Belle, a teenager whose family moves into the real-life house that inspired the series, where in Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his family in 1974, a horrible crime that spurred the supposed hauntings. At one point, Belle even watches the original 1979 Amityville Horror film while inside the very house.
Jennifer Jason Leigh co-stars as Belle's mother, Joan Walker, and future Ghostbusters: Afterlife star Mckenna Grace plays her sister, Juliet. Rounding out the family is Gotham's Cameron Monaghan, who plays Belle’s brain-dead twin brother, James. Upon moving into 112 Ocean Avenue, though, James seems to be showing improvements — but is he actually getting better, or is the “very real” evil of the house using him as a vessel?
How Amityville: The Awakening fits into the Amityville Horror series
It’s not a terrible premise for a haunted house movie, but while Amityville: The Awakening has some execution problems, the bigger issue might be the strange meta premise. Reboots or sequels that tidy up unwieldy continuity are common in long-running horror franchises. Look at the recent Halloween trilogy, which ignores all the Halloween movies that came after John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher masterpiece. Knowing that a new movie comes after such outings like The Return of Michael Myers, The Revenge of Michael Myers, the Curse of Michael Myers, H20, and Resurrection, has the potential to undermine the stakes of a new entry, assuming it's not loaded with so much presumed baggage that nobody bothers to watch.
After nine Amityville movies of dubious quality, you can see why the makers of The Awakening wanted to make their movie something other than just the tenth film. But the awkward attempt to let all the other movies still exist (as movies) while the new film is its own, “real” thing doesn’t quite merit the mental gymnastics necessary for it to effectively work.
Any chances Amityville: The Awakening had to reawaken the franchise despite its quirks and failings were further hamstrung by the circumstances of its release. Originally slated for a 2015 release, it was delayed and delayed again until The Weinstein Company, the production company behind the movie, was shut down in the wake of the sexual assault allegations against co-founder Harvey Weinstein. Ultimately, it received a meager theatrical release in October 2017 and was made available to stream on Google Play for free.
All that said, Amityville: The Awakening isn’t without its merits, despite the messiness of the premise and unfortunate circumstances of its release. If you're a franchise completionist, it's certainly a unique installment. For horror fans of anything scary, it takes some big swings, even if it misses on plenty of them.
Now streaming on Peacock, Amityville: The Awakening is an interesting watch, if only to see how they tried to do something new with an old haunted house of a franchise.