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You are here: Home - - - > Rants - - - > Amityville Horror (2005) Theatrical Review

Editorial - Thursday, 12 May, 2005
"The Amityville Annoyance"

So, just so you're aware going into this particular rant, I didn't like the new remake of The Amityville Horror. Nope. Didn't like it very much at all. None of this is, of course, to say that it was a particularly bad film. It wasn't. It was just, well...flat.

First, a bit of history...
The original Amityville Horror, unleashed in 1979 (during a summer that also saw the releases of Dawn of the Dead and Alien, among other classic and highly-regarded horror films), was a breakout success; financially and with audiences if not so much critically. Stephen King, in his excellent nonfiction treatise "Danse Macabre", said something to the effect that The Amityville Horror was terrifying, if only because it represented the ultimate insurance nightmare. He recounted overhearing a young married couple talking as the movie let out, and the woman looked at the man and said, "Just think of the repair bills!" No matter how you slice it, The Amityville Horror was (and is) one of the most effective haunted house stories ever committed to film. As a side note, can you believe there was a time in this country when Margot Kidder was considered to be a "hottie"? Sheesh. Anyway, there were certain indelible elements of that original film that made it so effective. First, the house itself. 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, New York is one of the most famous addresses ever, and the house that sits on that lot became a fully-integrated character in Stuart Rosenberg's film, much like the Hill House was an omnipresent character in Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House" (and Robert Wise's filmed version The Haunting...but not the dumbass remake. So powerful an image was that house, with its eye-like windows flanking the chimney on the "face" of the house, that one truly got the impression that this house was watching poor George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder) Lutz. Another element that worked quite well was the justifiably famous score by Lalo Schifrin, with its childlike main theme and spooky overtones. What the film lacked in incredibly flashy special effects was more than made up for in sheer tone and mood, and The Amityville Horror managed to provoke some realy jolts as a result. Based on (and surprisingly faithful to) Jay Anson's bestseller of the same name, the film also had the dubious distinction of being "based on a true story" (a story that I won't repeat here, for the sake of brevity). Roll all of those elements up and you get a tight little shocker that had audiences all over the world peeing in their pants and covering their eyes. I remember...I was there.

Nostalgia aside, The Amityville Horror was not a perfect film. Upon viewing it later in life, I found that the film is mess, structurally. It jumps around as if it's not quite sure where to focus its attention at any given moment. As such, it ends up playing like a string of set pieces strung together with a fairly thin thread of a story. The problem is that any book that is based on an ostensibly "true" book that very neatly shuffles the reader from one scare to another along a very specific timeline simply cannot be translated into film as effectively as it should. But, this is no major complaint, as horror fans are used to having their films move them from one set piece to the next as effeciently as possible, so this is easy to forgive. Now, twenty-six years later, we have Andrew Douglas' remake...or rather..."re-thinking" of the original material. To be fair, this film is supposed to be less a remake of the original film than another fresh stab at turning Jay Anson's book into a movie. Unfortunately, someone forgot to fill in hot-shot overzealous producer Michael Bay on that note, as the new Amityville Horror plays like a pained, not-very-effective rehash of the original movie, and it strays even further from the source book than did the first flick. Maybe it's indicative of something important. Perhaps, even though the concepts behind Jay Anson's book are still frightening, any filmed version of those concepts is doomed to failure out of the gate, if only because the themes presented have been done so many times before...and frequently with much better results.

That's not for lack of trying, of course...Andrew Douglas is clearly a gifted young filmmaker, and he knows how to handle frightening imagery...if only there was some frightening imagery to be had here. He seems to recognize this lack of actual "scary stuff", and instead focuses on George Lutz (now played by too-buff Ryan Reynolds) and his descent into madness, and ostensibly, "possession" by the same spirit that caused Ronald DeFeo to slaughter his family in their beds with a hunting rifle. So, what ends up happening is more akin to Stanley Kubrick's "rethinking" of "The Shining"...this becomes a story about a man who goes nuts in a strange place and threatens his family. I guess Bay and Douglas decided that unseen forces and disembodied voices were not scary enough, so they decided to make George Lutz the "bad guy" in the movie. It's a shame, because they really could have gone with the elements that made the first film so effective. Nope. They dispense with all of that and what we're left with is, in principle, a mad-slasher movie in which no one gets slashed. Unlike the original, we never get the distinct impression that these new Lutz's are ever in any real danger, except at the hands of George. Sure, there are elements of the first film that (mistakenly, I'm sure) found their way into this new version. There's the menacing and incessant wood-chopping by George, the "invisible friend" Jodi (who becomes far too visible in several moments that seem to rip off The Ring...they've just got to put in a little girl with long black hair, don't they?) But, some of the really good stuff gets short-shrifted. In the book and original movie, Father Delaney (played with scene-chewing verve by Rod Steiger) played a much larger role, thus giving weight and a very real sense of urgency to the proceedings. Father Delaney was the penultimate concerned family priest, and his unceasing struggle to warn the Lutz family about the literal hell-hole their living in were a source of much needed tension. Not so in the remake. The part has been reduced to little more than a cameo by Philip Baker Hall. Here, Father Callaway (as he's been renamed) enters the house, sees some flies, and heeding the none-too-scary disembodied demonic voice, get's right the fuck out of there, never to be seen again. Now, it could be said that this was an intentional tactic on the part of the filmmakers. The quick introduction of the priest and his o'er-hasty departure should have been a way to demonstrate how the Lutz family was spiritually defenseless in their ultimate time of need, seeing as how their home was filled up with demonic forces and all. Nope, it plays like the Church abandoning its flock, and I don't know if this was a subtle stab at Catholocism (not that I would be offended, as I'm agnostic), but it just didn't work. This is just one example of the rich veins that were not mined by the current production, and it's downright maddening.

That's not to say that The Amityville Horror "redux" is all bad. The cinematography is quite nice, and despite their best efforts, the filmmakers do manage to generate some tension, though it's mostly misplaced tension involving George and his ever-handy axe. There is some humor, too...something that was woefully missing from the original film. The most effective gag in the remake involves the most wildly underdressed babysitter (Rachel Nichols) in cinema history, and the fact that she lights up a bong in the bathroom! Very funny stuff. Also, there is a pretty nice family dynamic, and Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George play the newlywed couple pretty damned well. Unfortunately, it's all too insignificant to make up for the nagging feeling that this remake was completely pointless. Sure, they gave it the old college try, but ultimately, The Amityville Horror's failures far outweigh its successes. It even has one of those annoying, postscript shock-endings that feels completely tacked on...but it remains the single best shot in the film. And that, my friends, is kind of sad.

If you're an "Amityville" completionist, or if you like seeing Ryan Reynolds stomp around trying to look mean while flexing his pectoral muscles, or if you want to get any nostalgic satisfaction with the Amityville legacy repeatedly pissed on, then you might very well love the new movie. If, however, you were hoping for something that does right by the source material, and actually tries to tell the same story, or if you just want to see a good ol' fashioned scary movie, then you're bound to be disappointed. When you do finally hear that famous "get out", you'll want to make a bee-line for the theater door, and go catch a rare screening of Old Boy instead. It's not a terrible movie, it's just extremely diappointing, and more than a little annoying. Meh...too bad...
- Matthew Dean Hill




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