Robin CliffordIn November of 1974, Ron Defeo (Brendon Donaldson) heard voices telling him that his family were demons, so he shot his parents and four siblings in the middle of the night. A year later, a newly married contractor, George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds, "Van Wilder"), agreed to buy the Defeo house to make a home for his wife Kathy (Melissa George, "Down with Love") and her three children. Twenty-eight days later, they fled and the Dutch Colonial at 112 Ocean Ave. has become known as "The Amityville Horror."
From the team that decided it was a good idea to remake "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" comes this unpleasant, exploitative and stupid film. Like its 1979 predecessor, the tag line for 2005's "The Amityville Horror" boasts 'based on a true story,' but while the Defeo murders really happened, the Lutz's claims have been debunked over and over again. (Click here or here to read about the Lutz hoax.)
The 1979 version may have been cheesy, but at least it had a gradual, structured build with, if memory serves, somewhat subtly handled creeps. Making his feature debut, director Andrew Douglas substitutes shock effects that come on like a pile driver and frequently make little sense in the context of the story.
Screenwriter Scott Kosar (2004's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre") goes back to Jay Anson's novel about the 'everything-but-the-kitchen-sink' Amityville haunting and tarts it up. This version recreates the Defeo murders, from Ronnie's madness in the basement through his execution of family members with youngest sister Jodie (Isabel Connor) cowering in her closet saved for last (the exploitation of this child throughout the film for entertainment's sake is particularly off putting).
The Lutz kids, especially eldest Billy (Jesse James, "The Butterfly Effect"), are adjusting to the idea of a new dad. George seems ideal, if a little concerned about taking on the huge financial burden of the waterfront Dutch Colonial (nothing a little hoax couldn't fix in the end). 'Day 1' is home movie joy of moving in, but before you can say 'Here's Johnny!,' George is dragging an ax around with a demented look in his bloodshot eyes.
Indeed, at times, this seems more like a remake of many other films, "The Shining" being the most obvious source with its aerial shots and counting of days (in fact, the house used here isn't even a Dutch Colonial, but a sprawling Victorian with the infamous half-moon windows added). Many of the special and makeup effects are cribbed from Asian horror ("The Grudge's" ghosts, "The Ring's" eerie photographs) and a scene where young Michael (Jimmy Bennett, "Hostage") visits the bathroom in the middle of the night parallels a scene in "The Sixth Sense."
But this lame remake cannot be compared to any of these films. Douglas relies on a closed shower curtain to build suspense, but the only thing encountered in that bathroom is a ghoul-like creature who suddenly appears behind Michael at the sink. A babysitter (Rachel Nichols, "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd") whose only missing accessory is a stripper's pole struts in and announces that it's creepy being back in the Defeo house (her encounter with Jodie in a locked closet is one of the film's most extreme lapses into bad taste). We're shown a vision of an underwater creature swimming up towards the interior of the boat house, but after it has emerged it proves just to be George's hallucinatory vision of the family dog - just whose point of view was underwater then? Things are so disturbing at 112 Ocean Avenue and George's behavior is so threatening that Kathy races to the library two whole minutes before it opens (!) to research the Defeo story, then returns to the house in pitch darkness (that was a heck of a lot of research!). The original's story's 'red room' is transformed into a full blown torture chamber annex. Father Callaway's (Philip Baker Hall, "In Good Company") panicked getaway from his own house blessing is positively comical.
There are exactly two good bits in this "Horror." This first is an addition to a new mini-genre - the comedic evil realtor who first appeared in the "Stepford Wives" remake and again to even better effect in the recent "Ring Two." "Amityville's" (Annabel Armour, "Stolen Summer") steadfastly ignores the small ghost bulleting down a hallway as she smells a commission coming her way. The second is a truly tense scene where young Chloe Grace Moretz (as Chelsea Lutz) performs the incredible stunt of walking along a six inch beam across the house's 42-foot high peaked rooftop.
Not contented with having beaten a dead horse, "Amityville's" makers add a "Carrie" coda that uses poor Jodie Defeo one more time. Pity the current owners of Amityville's notorious house, the other real people sure to be negatively impacted by this unnecessary film.
In 1979, helmer Stuart Rosenberg headed the making of the first big screen version of the frightening tale of the Lutz family and their 28 days in a malevolently haunted house. The effort was mediocre, at best. Now, a quarter century later, sophomore director Andrew Douglas and company think that they can improve on the first with “The Amityville Horror.”
The Amityville Horrible” would be a more apt title for this hunk of stale cheese. In cheap cookie cutter fashion, helmer Douglas, working with a script by Scott Kosar, loosely builds the Lutz’s story but fails to tell THE story of George and Kathy Lutz and their kids. Instead of gradually building up the suspense by showing the growing evil that pervades their house, the filmmakers start the scares right off the bat with the shocking glimpse, the first day, of horribly abused child hanging from a noose – the little girl, Jodie, was shot by her crazy brother in a massacre of the DeFeo family the year before, so I didn’t get the reason for the hangman’s noose. After this, it’s a series of disjointed shock scenes that are strung together for a laborious 90 minutes.
The 1979 version had, at least, some middling level actors like Rod Steiger and Margot Kidder to build the characters. The latest version has Ryan Reynolds (“Van Wilder”) as George Lutz, a man most possessed by the house as it keeps telling him to “Ketch ‘em and kill em.” The actor accomplishes this possession with poorly applied bloodshot eye contacts and ripping off Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.” This isn’t the only time that film is borrowed from, either.
Melissa George (“Sugar & Spice”) plays the anxious Kathy Lutz without the angry protectiveness that the mother of three should have. Instead, she reacts rather than acts and doesn’t appear to realize anything is wrong – her husband goes from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde and is an obvious menace to her and her children but does she see the early warning signs of demonic possession? NOOOOO! To the actress’s defense, George is tied to plain bad writing.
Veteran Philip Baker Hall tries to fill the shoes of the several priest character from the ’79 film (Steiger, in over acting mode, Don Stroud and Murray Hamilton) but is given nothing to work with but a face full of houseflies. The Lutz kids, eldest Billy (Jesse James), Michael (Jimmy Bennett) and Chelsea (Chloe Moritz), are casting call adequate but they aren’t Dakota Fanning. Rachel Nichols, as sexy babysitter vixen Lisa, is an uncaring, selfish character that is so bad girl that, when she gets her comeuppance, I was rooting for the house. This is not a good thing when the chateau is supposed to be the bad guy. The only shining member of the cast is Annabel Armour as the realtor lady who sells the Lutz’s the evil manse – her use of body language shows she knows malevolence resides there but getting the place off of her books is more important than telling the Lutzes the truth.
Techs are of the murky, dark quality used in cheesy horror movies for “atmosphere” and couples them with a suspense score that kicks in every time a scare sequence is about to begin and increases in volume until the scene’s climax moment, where it ends abruptly and the film goes to the next scary moment. Unfortunately, the scares are listless and there is no sense of horror. I found “The Simpson’s” version more horrific. It is all very tedious and the 90-minute runtime seem impossibly long.
The new “The Amityville Horror” makes its predecessor feel like high art. And, I’ll never get the time back except when I vent my feelings about the movie here. If the crowd that attended the screening are any indication, this is going to have a huge opening weekend. If my warnings convince just one person to save their money or see something better, then I’ll be satisfied. I give it a D.
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