Wednesday, 24 June 2015



I have a rather nice Yamaha keyboard, and every so often I like to mess about on it. Adapting the preset rhythms and sounds, pairing unlikely instruments, putting in peculiar key changes and deliberately wrong notes: I can quite happily spend an hour or more making all kinds of cheerfully horrible noises. One of my favourite bits is a tune for detuned accordion (with distorted violins providing harmony) set against a techno accompaniment that's been slowed down to about 40 bpm with all the voices changed to saxophone and honky-tonk piano. Yet I wouldn't actually describe myself as a Musician or a Composer even though, on a technical level, that's what I am, any more than I'd call myself a proper Film Critic for doing this blog. I do these things for fun because I enjoy them, and if (IF) other people like my efforts then that's great. If they don't....well, it's not like I'm charging for my services.

If there's more to being a Musician than just noodling around on a keyboard for fun, then surely there's more to being a Film Director than the mere act of directing a film. Boring, I know, but to my old-fashioned mind there has to be a basic level of professional competence before "it's what I do" transmutes to "it's who I am" and you can put it on your business cards and start asking for money. Technically John R Walker is a film director, technically his cast are actors and technically his script has been written by a writer, but only on the same level that I'm a keyboards player and a movie critic: I'm not. I'm no Keith Emerson or Mark Kermode, and John R Walker is no Steven Spielberg. Hell, he's no Al Adamson.

Amityville Playhouse has nothing to do with any of the other entries in the official Amityville franchise (eight at last count, plus a remake of the first film), but is instead a standalone offering with the word Amityville slapped on it in a shameless and shameful attempt to dupe uninformed punters in Sainsburys' budget DVD aisle. A teenage girl inherits a rundown theatre and decides to take a look around it, taking her homophobic dolt of a boyfriend, his brother and a couple of other hangers-on. But they get trapped inside by mysterious forces, they start seeing things: maybe it has something to do with the homeless runaway they've found camping out in the foyer? Meanwhile her geography teacher (played by Walker) is looking into Amityville's history and discovers the terrible demonic secret the locals have kept for decades....

It doesn't help that individually the six teens are all monumental bellowing cretins, and when brought together their combined idiocy is concentrated enough to generate its own gravitational black hole of stupidity powerful enough to pull the planet out of orbit. (Case in point: having been creeped out by wandering around the dark and empty theatre, they suddenly decide to play with a ouija board that one of them just happened to bring with him.) It doesn't help that they're all incredibly poorly acted - even given the illiterate swill they're called upon to utter, which the likes of McKellen and Dench couldn't bring to life, either they're incapable of even giving it a stab or their director couldn't drag it out of them. And it doesn't help that the film abruptly leaps to Walker's meaningless flashbacks to his days in the pub in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, when he discussed science and religion with a vicar, a paleontologist and a barmaid.

To describe Amityville Playhouse as amateur is to physically insult the last few hundred village hall productions of The Mikado and South Pacific: it's just not in that league. The potential of a haunted theatre setting is completely thrown away, with nondescript video photography and music (both by the same guy, who's also one of the producers), terrible pacing (nothing of the faintest interest happens to these disposable halfwits and bellends for 78 minutes of a 98 minute film) and that sense of "it'll do" - it's not that they've failed, it's that they haven't even bothered to try. The end result is a hopelessly inadequate and unprofessional bore that couldn't be more of an insult if it just upped and called you a worthless tosser. Call yourself an actual film director? Call yourselves actual filmmakers? How dare you?


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