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Amityville Karen – Is This Amityville Horror Movie Worth Your Time?

Twice a month Joe Lipsett will dissect a new Amityville Horror film to explore how the “franchise” has evolved in increasingly ludicrous directions. This is “The Amityville IP.”

A bizarre recurring issue with the Amityville “franchise” is that the films tend to be needlessly complicated. Back in the day, the first sequels moved away from the original film’s religious-themed haunted house storyline in favor of streamlined, easily digestible concepts such as “haunted lamp” or “haunted mirror.”

As the budgets plummeted and indie filmmakers capitalized on the brand’s notoriety, it seems the wrong lessons were learned. Runtimes have ballooned past the 90-minute mark and the narratives are often saggy and unfocused.

Both issues are clearly on display in Amityville Karen (2022), a film that starts off rough, but promising, and ends with a confused whimper.

The promise is embodied by the tinge of self-awareness in Julie Anne Prescott (The Amityville Harvest)’s screenplay, namely the nods to John Waters’ classic 1994 satire, Serial Mom. In that film, Beverly Sutphin (an iconic Kathleen Turner) is a bored, white suburban woman who punished individuals who didn’t adhere to her rigid definition of social norms. What is “Karen” but a contemporary equivalent?

In director/actor Shawn C. Phillips’ film, Karen (Lauren Francesca) is perpetually outraged. In her introductory scenes, she makes derogatory comments about immigrants, calls a female neighbor a whore, and nearly runs over a family blocking her driveway. She’s a broad, albeit familiar persona; in many ways, she’s less of a character than a caricature (the living embodiment of the name/meme).

These early scenes also establish a fairly straightforward plot. Karen is a code enforcement officer with plans to shut down a local winery she has deemed disgusting. They’re preparing for a big wine tasting event, which Karen plans to ruin, but when she steals a bottle of cursed Amityville wine, it activates her murderous rage and goes on a killing spree.

Simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, Amityville Karen spins out of control almost immediately. At nearly every opportunity, Prescott’s screenplay eschews narrative cohesion and simplicity in favour of overly complicated developments and extraneous characters.

Take, for example, the wine tasting event. The film spends an entire day at the winery: first during the day as a band plays, then at a beer tasting (???) that night. Neither of these events are the much touted wine-tasting, however; that is actually a private party happening later at server Troy (James Duval)’s house.

Weirdly though, following Troy’s death, the party’s location is inexplicably moved to Karen’s house for the climax of the film, but the whole event plays like an afterthought and features a litany of characters we have never met before.

This is a recurring issue throughout Amityville Karen, which frequently introduces random characters for a scene or two. Karen is typically absent from these scenes, which makes them feel superfluous and unimportant. When the actress is on screen, the film has an anchor and a narrative drive. The scenes without her, on the other hand, feel bloated and directionless (blame editor Will Collazo Jr., who allows these moments to play out interminably).

Compounding the issue is that the majority of the actors are non-professionals and these scenes play like poorly performed improv. The result is long, dull stretches that features bad actors talking over each other, repeating the same dialogue, and generally doing nothing to advance the narrative or develop the characters.

While Karen is one-note and histrionic throughout the film, at least there’s a game willingness to Francesca’s performance. It feels appropriately campy, though as the film progresses, it becomes less and less clear if Amityville Karen is actually in on the joke.

Like Amityville Cop before it, there are legit moments of self-awareness (the Serial Mom references), but it’s never certain how much of this is intentional. Take, for example, Karen’s glaringly obvious wig: it unconvincingly fails to conceal Francesca’s dark hair in the back, but is that on purpose or is it a technical error?

Ultimately there’s very little to recommend about Amityville Karen. Despite the game performance by its lead and the gentle homages to Serial Mom’s prank call and white shoes after Labor Day jokes, the never-ending improv scenes by non-professional actors, the bloated screenplay, and the jittery direction by Phillips doom the production.

Clocking in at an insufferable 100 minutes, Amityville Karen ranks among the worst of the “franchise,” coming in just above Phillips’ other entry, Amityville Hex.

Amityville Karen

The Amityville IP Awards go to…

  • Favorite Subplot: In the afternoon event, there’s a self-proclaimed “hot boy summer” band consisting of burly, bare-chested men who play instruments that don’t make sound (for real, there’s no audio of their music). There’s also a scheming manager who is skimming money off the top, but that’s not as funny.
  • Least Favorite Subplot: For reasons that don’t make any sense, the winery is also hosting a beer tasting which means there are multiple scenes of bartender Alex (Phillips) hoping to bring in women, mistakenly conflating a pint of beer with a “flight,” and goading never before seen characters to chug. One of them describes the beer as such: “It looks like a vampire menstruating in a cup” (it’s a gold-colored IPA for the record, so…no).
  • Amityville Connection: The rationale for Karen’s killing spree is attributed to Amityville wine, whose crop was planted on cursed land. This is explained by vino groupie Annie (Jennifer Nangle) to band groupie Bianca (Lilith Stabs). It’s a lot of nonsense, but it is kind of fun when Annie claims to “taste the damnation in every sip.”
  • Neverending Story: The film ends with an exhaustive FIVE MINUTE montage of Phillips’ friends posing as reporters in front of terrible green screen discussing the “killer Karen” story. My kingdom for Amityville’s regular reporter Peter Sommers (John R. Walker) to return!
  • Best Line 1: Winery owner Dallas (Derek K. Long), describing Karen: “She’s like a walking constipation with a hemorrhoid”
  • Best Line 2: Karen, when a half-naked, bleeding woman emerges from her closet: “Is this a dream? This dream is offensive! Stop being naked!”
  • Best Line 3: Troy, upset that Karen may cancel the wine tasting at his house: “I sanded that deck for days. You don’t just sand a deck for days and then let someone shit on it!”
  • Worst Death: Karen kills a Pool Boy (Dustin Clingan) after pushing his head under water for literally 1 second, then screeches “This is for putting leaves on my plants!”
  • Least Clear Death(s): The bodies of a phone salesman and a barista are seen in Karen’s closet and bathroom, though how she killed them are completely unclear
  • Best Death: Troy is stabbed in the back of the neck with a bottle opener, which Karen proceeds to crank
  • Wannabe Lynch: After drinking the wine, Karen is confronted in her home by Barnaby (Carl Solomon) who makes her sign a crude, hand drawn blood contract and informs her that her belly is “pregnant from the juices of his grapes.” Phillips films Barnaby like a cross between the unhoused man in Mulholland Drive and the Mystery Man in Lost Highway. It’s interesting, even if the character makes absolutely no sense.
  • Single Image Summary: At one point, a random man emerges from the shower in a towel and excitedly poops himself. This sequence perfectly encapsulates the experience of watching Amityville Karen.
  • Pray for Joe: Many of these folks will be back in Amityville Shark House and Amityville Webcam, so we’re not out of the woods yet…

Next time: let’s hope Christmas comes early with 2022’s Amityville Christmas Vacation. It was the winner of Fangoria’s Best Amityville award, after all!

Amityville Karen movie

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