Saturday, April 16, 2005

REVIEW: The Amityville Horror (2005)

I'm not the type of movie geek who's automatically opposed to any remake of a "genre classic." I thought the (theoretically) heretical remake of "Dawn of the Dead" had merit. "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Mummy" were both worthwhile. However, I'm also not the type of person who's prone to denying their gut instinct. Sometimes, certain remake ideas just give me a bad feeling.

This, you might've guessed, is one of those times... though not for the usual reasons. Most times, when one is confronted with a remake and reflexively driven to ask, "What's the point?," it's because the original is some kind of enshrined, important classic (think "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"). Here, the "what's the point" also applies retroactively to the original itself: The astounding financial success of the original "Amityville" is recalled today largely as one of those moments of pop-culture mass hysteria... many cannot readily identify a "point" to having made it the first time, let alone a remake (to say nothing of the SEVEN cheap sequels that occured in between.)

As with the original, the film takes place over a period of 28 days which the trailers have assured us are "BASED ON A TRUE STORY!" In most of the trailers, which is true. that declaration is followed by further assurance that what occured over those 28 days "HAS NEVER BEEN EXPLAINED!" That's significantly less than true.

Reader's Digest Version: In the mid-1970s, writer Jay Anson was provided with tape-recorded testimony from the Lutz family, who claimed to have fled their recently-purchased Dutch Colonial home due to hauntings possibly connected to the slaughter of the home's former residents, the DeFeos. Anson punched up the story into novel form and the resulting "Amityville Horror" became a huge cult success by coasting on the "true story" hook, or more precisely the way that this story that "really happened!!!" was so similar to the happenings of popular 70s horror films (for reasons that would soon become apparent.)

The flash stayed in the pan long enough for an American International Pictures B-movie based on the book with James Brolin and Margot Kidder as the Lutzes to premier and become a runaway success in it's own right despite being a defiantly routine haunted house pic. Eventually, after being sued by subsequent house-owners who were aggravated by the the Lutzes stepped up and admitted that much of their story had been exaggerated or invented outright as a publicity scheme with Roland DeFeo's (the eldest child and killer of the prior owners) attorney as a partner, though they still claim that "unexplained" coldness and bad-vibes proved to them that the house was legitimately haunted. George Lutz is currently lashing out at this new remake for refusing to hire him as a consultant of some sort, as well.

Ryan Reynolds, still awkwardly showing off his "Blade 3" physique, plays George this time around, a contractor who picks up the Amityville house for a baragain (cue theremin) and moves in with his new wife and her three kids from a previous marriage. Almost immediately, just as in the original, bad stuff starts happening: The house is full of cold spots, the windows keep opening, doors slam, the dog won't shut up, something evil is lurking in the cellar and George is suddenly suffering nightmares, nausea and a compulsion to behave abusively to his stepchildren. Also just as in the original, Kathy Lutz sticks around waaaaaaaaaay past the point where any reasonable person would stick around even in a horror film just so that everyone can be together for the big "All Hell Breaks Loose" (or, more accurately, "A Neglibile Amount Of Hell Trickles In") finale. Somewhere in the middle, Philip Baker Hall pops up to throw some sizzling Holy Water around, get accosted by flies and depart.

The meager memorable keypoints of the original are dutifully trotted out: bleeding walls, cryptic voices and Reynolds sporting a Brolinesque beard. As for the rest of the film, it doesn't so much add anything new so much as blend as many stylistic steals from other recent horror films as in can into the mix: creepy religious symbolism, grain film stock, blender-editing CGI facial morphs all make their obligatory cameos; and for reasons that eventually don't even make movie-sense the ghost of little Jodie DeFeo is drifting around causing trouble in an attempt to replicate the Japanese "hair scare" spectres of "The Ring" and "The Grudge." Even the central character of George plays less like a being in his own right (or even a semblance of Brolin in the original) and more like a direct lift from Jack Nicholson's in "The Shining" (The iconic Stanely Kubrick film, not the lackluster early Stephen King book it was based on). The bottom of the barrel is even scraped so cleanly as to yield a rip from, of all things, "Poltergeist II."

Bottom line: Nothing more than the latest off the assembly line of recent cash-grab "horror" entries, lacking anything new or worthy in it's own right along with the original film's curious-footnote stature. Not awful, but worth skipping.



Scott said...

Seven sequels? Really? Wow. I remember seeing "Amityville 3-D" in the theatre when I was a kid, but I had no idea there were another four sequels after it. Crazy.

That said, I'll probably see the remake when it hits DVD, if only 'cuz I have a thing for cheesy horror flicks.

Bob said...

It looks like I had my numbers wrong and the sequel count thus far was closer to five,; but yeah, the "Amityville" name had a modicum of horror genre street-cred well into the early 90s, so they just kept knocking out sequels.

After "Amityville 3-D" there was "Amityville: The Evil Escapes" in 1989, in which someone buys a lamp from the Amityville house thus causing the "evil presence" to spread to a new locale. Really. Then in 1996 we got "Amitville Dollhouse" about an evil REPLICA of the original house.

I'm also told that any number of low-end haunted house cheapies have been released overseas or into limited release retitled into unofficial "Amityville" tie-ins, as well. (the same thing happened to the "House" and "Curse" franchises.)