Campy haunted-house mess traps Amanda Seyfried, James Norton and F. Murray Abraham.
The tagline for the 1979 stupid-scary movie “The Amityville Horror” was, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, GET OUT!” which could be the slogan for just about every horror film in which a family moves into a large and usually remote property that has a mysterious and haunted history, and yet continue to stay in the home long after anyone with a brain would realize they should cut their losses and run for their lives.
“The Amityville Horror” was on cable the other night and it’s as campy and bad and overwrought as I remembered — and that brings us to the Netflix original film “Things Heard & Seen,” which is also campy and bad and overwrought, though there’s an undeniably entertaining element that veers close to the comedic as we watch an amazingly talented cast of familiar names somehow keeping straight faces while slogging through the cartoonishly bad material.
This is the kind of movie where someone kills a loved one in their bed with an ax and all signs point to only one suspect, but the local authorities are seriously considering a theory it was a robbery gone bad. An ax robbery gone bad.
What a cast we have in this period-piece tale, set in 1980. We’ll start with recent Oscar nominee Amanda Seyfried and Brit heartthrob James Norton as Catherine and George, respectively, the couple who move into the obligatory farmhouse in the country where bad things have transpired in the past. And isn’t that Karen Allen from “Animal House” and “Indiana Jones” as the agent who sells them the house? Oh and hey, it’s Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as the department head at the small, private college where George has been hired as an Art History professor! And there’s Rhea Seehorn from “Better Call Saul” as a new friend for Catherine, who breeds alpacas with her husband (what!) and instantly distrusts George and with good reason, and Natalia Dyer from “Stranger Things” as a horse trainer at “Crow Hill Stables” who says to George, “You’re a presumptuous f—–, aren’t you?” before she invites him into her bed as we hear the suggestive whinnying of one of her horsies. There’s so much drama in this little out-of-the-way village!
Oh, and by the way, that new home is seriously haunted by at least one ghost, so it’s a good thing Professor Murray F. Abraham and quite a few other locals are firm believers in the supernatural and are thrilled to conduct a séance so Catherine can make contact with the spirits who are terrorizing her daughter, who has a giant clown nightlight in her bedroom and a really creepy horror-movie doll as a companion, oh boy.
Based on the novel “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage and written and directed by the talented duo of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (“American Splendor,” “Girl Most Likely”), “Things Heard & Seen” has the requisite horror-movie look (deep shades of brown and orange, low camera angles, repeated glimpses of effectively creepy paintings and haunting photographs, religious symbolism everywhere) and Norton in particular is a hoot as just the worst person in the world — but still, “Things Heard & Seen” should be neither of those things.