A group of college students rent rooms in the infamous Lizzie Borden Murder House in Fall River, Massachusetts or California in this confusing, less-than-horrifying horror film.
American Poltergeist starts ominously with the following phrase:
‘Over the course of 5 days, a group of friends experienced one of the deadliest poltergeists in American history. After a full investigation by authorities, there were no suspects.’
What does this ominously Criswellian word salad mean? I’m intrigued by it, but thinking too hard about it results in more questions. Have there beenee a rash of poltergeist murders in US history? Why don’t we don’t know about them? How would the police go about hunting for poltergeist suspects? Would there be a Usual Suspects-style line up? Would anyone be able to see any distinguishing features to identify them? Would those Top Ten Most Wanted fliers featuring poltergeist murder suspects just be a blank sheet of paper? I’m not sure I really want to know.
Back to the film. Five nondescript college students rent rooms in an enormous mansion filled with tacky antiques, china dolls, and cliches from a blonde somnambulant Vampira wearing an aqua tank top. Blonde Vampira makes a salad, a uniformed policeman strolls by the house repeatedly in a residential neighborhood because it’s in the script, and a china doll is inexplicably stolen, which is absurd because no one really wants china dolls and it’s quickly abandoned as a plot point anyway. After some suspicious noises in the night and awkward sleeping arrangements, one of the students walks around the relatively well lit house with a flashlight because it’s in the script, which justifies the obvious jump scare in the basement.
This brings up another question. Why would a college student pay $325 a month to rent a room in a poltergeist-infested mansion to sleep in a twin bed foot-to-face with someone? Again, don’t tell me, I don’t think I want to know. The college students eat meals together, go to bed at the same time, and don’t seem to attend classes, and it’s almost like the filmmakers have never seen college students before.
At the 33;21 mark, a window opens paranormally, causing the wind and a visible string to weakly blow some curtains eerily humorously, as a light and clamp are reflected in the window.
One of the characters investigates a tool box filled with mementos because why not, and discovers she’s a relative of Lizzie Borden because of course she is. Then, as if on cue, a boom shadow appears.
Suddenly, none of the students’ cars with California license plates will start (don’t worry, she tries them all to stretch for time), stranding the poor girl in a busy residential area with no possible escape except maybe by fleeing to the intersection down the street from the house. She could possibly catch a bus there, but the characters never realize this because I guess no one knows how to use public transportation in California. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters prepare for a birthday party by dubiously fiddling with a handful of decorations which don’t seem to make an appearance later at the party.
Another nondescript group of disposable characters show up for the birthday party, and they get to stay in the spacious guest house by the murky pool even though the main characters are crammed into the smallest rooms in the haunted mansion. It’s either abundant hospitality or a ham-fisted plot device, neither of which is a satisfactory answer.
The disposable characters start getting bumped off at breakneck speed by being paranormally dragged off camera by Blonde Vampira and the ghost of Lizzie Borden in a Grudge-like fashion at the 50 minute mark. It’s not very interesting. After a tiny bit of continuity-defying blood appears on a light switch, someone gets locked in a sauna. I just want to take a moment to remind you this is supposed to be taking place in a New England home built during the 1800s by an alleged miser, which it isn’t. I’ve been to the actual Lizzie Borden House in Fall River, Massachusetts, and the sprawling colonial with the palm trees and the algae-green pool featured in this film ain’t it. Seriously, I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but I can’t believe I’m watching this film. Anyway, when they aren’t being trapped in an anachronistic sauna, poltergeist attack victims mysteriously bleed from the eyes, which is nearly 100% fatal in alleged poltergeist attacks.
In order to make sense of this mess, a convoluted backstory is recounted involving adoption and demons and exorcisms, and someone unconvincingly attacks a window with an axe to no effect. Speaking of ineffectual things, someone else unconvincingly tries to open a paranormally locked door by simultaneously pushing and pulling on it.
Blonde Vampira is captured and taken to the basement, where she is bound by duct tape. She easily escapes due to poltergeist-enhanced strength, so I guess duct tape can’t fix everything.
Stagey, slow-moving, and lacking in gore or scares, American Poltergeist doesn’t seem to have much to do with poltergeists. The definition for poltergeist is ‘noisy ghost’, and Lizzie doesn’t seem to make any noise, she just sort of stands around holding an ax in a somewhat threatening manner. I’m unsure if these tepidly frightening events are supposed to take place in California or Massachusetts, but it isn’t taking place in the real Lizzie Borden House. The simple fix for this problem with the entire plot could be by merely abandoning the Borden aspect and writing a story about a completely different ax-murdering Californian ghost, and having the ghost actually ax-murder someone onscreen, or in other words, starting completely from scratch with an interesting, original concept. American Poltergeist is ridiculous, and it’s recommended in you like stuff that sucks.