Retro Review: Amityville Dollhouse (1996)

Okay, for this to work, you have to completely ignore the first half of this movie’s title. If Amityville Dollhouse was just called Dollhouse, things would make so much more sense. Because I just finished the damned thing, and aside from, yes, a dollhouse that looks like the Amityville house, I don’t understand what makes this an Amityville movie at all. But if you cut out the spurious Amityville connection, you’re left with a made-for-TV-esque movie that’s reasonably enjoyable, if not particularly memorable.

A man named Bill and his wife Claire, both of whom have children from previous marriages, move into their brand-spanking-new house, which Bill built himself. Meat-head teenager Todd & sister Jessica are Bill’s, while impossibly nerdy and unbearably annoying Jimmy is Claire’s. So you’ve got your requisite family issues. There’s a shed out back where Bill finds the eponymous dollhouse, which he gives his daughter Jessica as a last-minute birthday gift after his car mysteriously crushes the bicycle he’d planned to give her. And the dollhouse is eeeeevil.

I don’t know what possessed (hey-o!) the Amityville filmmakers to return to the haunted/possessed object thing for four films, but they did it again. You’ll notice that I didn’t cram this one in with the previous three entries, though. Unlike those others, it’s watchable, though like most horror films it falls apart toward the end. You got your escalating weird stuff, your stepmom who starts lusting after her stepson, your bitchin’ ’90s haircuts, and your stupid inanimate object villain that hurts people in convoluted ways. There’s also a series of visits from Jimmy’s deceased dad, who appears in increasingly advanced states of decomposition (but cracks wise endlessly, robbing the character of any scariness he may have otherwise managed).

Don't mind me, kids. I'm just a wasted opportunity.

Don’t mind me, kids. I’m just a wasted opportunity.

The actors do their best and mostly deliver, with the exception of Tobias, Bill’s mystical hippie brother-in-law who somehow, with his wife Maria, figures out the true nature of the dollhouse and does some generic mystical pentagrammy crap to try to combat the demons or whatever. He sucked.

Despite the predictably ludicrous nature of the narrative, and the equally predictable first this scary thing, then this scary thing, then this other scary thing formula (none of which things, by the way, were ever scary), I enjoyed this movie on a certain level–though I’m very willing to admit it might just seem bearable in comparison with the previous films in the franchise. There’s nothing really new, but it has just enough of a mid-90’s gloss to make it digestible.

One sticking point, though, is that there’s no real explanation of why this stuff is happening. We learn that Bill built their house on the site of an older one that burned down, and to save money he used the original chimney. So I guess the implication is that the new house was built over the old Amityville house, but that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Most importantly, where the hell did the damned dollhouse come from? Was it really necessary? And if this is supposed to be Long Island, why does it look like a California desert?

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a good movie. And it is in no appreciable way an Amityville movie (not that I’m particularly loyal to that franchise, mind). But it has its moments and is at least mostly coherent. It isn’t a success as a film, but it would have made a decent season finale for one of those TV horror serials that had a brief resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s.


9 thoughts on “Retro Review: Amityville Dollhouse (1996)

  1. I don’t know why you keep torturing yourself with these Amityville flicks, but we as your readers are certainly reaping the benefits of your suffering. Hilarious! I don’t even what to watch the movies. Not just because they’re bad, but your reviews are far more enjoyable than the movies would ever be.

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