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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcrititc Archive: "The Amityville Horror" (2005)

This remake of “The Amityville Horror” has the right idea. Take a mediocre-to- awful movie that had potential and try to make it better. The original film worked on me like a straight shot of Nyquil. True, I was only eight or nine when I first saw it and it also didn’t help that I first saw “Amityville II: The Possession,” my introduction to the Amityville franchise. Let me underscore that by saying “Amityville II” scared the holy crap out of me when I was a kid. I hadn’t yet hit that age where I could handle scenes of incest and a guy blowing away his whole family with a shotgun. It kept me awake for days. The original “Amityville Horror,” with its stiff performances and sticky stairways, didn’t stand a chance of scaring me the way its prequel did. This remake, however, gives it a good try.

Due to my sketchy memory, I’ll have to skip over comparing this remake to its original. This film opens with a prologue about how a nuclear family—the Defeos—fell victim to a mass murder by the seemingly possessed father with a shotgun. Since then, the house has not been inhabited and the town has, according the real estate agent, “moved on.” In come the Lutz family, headed by stepdad George (Ryan Reynolds), and Kathy (Melissa George).

The Lutz family is an almost ideal family, save for the oldest son Billy (Jesse James) being reluctant to accept George as his new father figure. George tries to be supportive and understands Billy’s problem with the drastic change. The two younger kids—Michael (Jimmy Bennett) and Chelsea (Chloe Moretz)—seem okay with it, if not a little confused. It’s a family in transition and the new house only adds to the problems.

Before, George was nice and understanding. Now, he tends to throw a lot of chores at Billy, such has hauling logs across the backyard. Before, he was nice to mommy. Now, he yells at her for trying to maintain peace in the family unit every time George has a hissy fit. “I’ll do the disciplining around here, thank you very much,” he snaps. Before, he would let the kids play with the refrigerator magnets. Now, he’s prone to spelling out his own murderous deeds for his wife to see. Yup, he’s possessed alright.

Nothing helps, either. Not the town priest (Phillip Baker Hall), nor the doctor who prescribes poor George a psychiatrist. Of course, George will have none of that. “This is the American dream and I’m not going to let anyone get in the way of it,” he commands. Right about now, the audience wonders why Kathy doesn’t pack up the kids, throw them in the truck and haul ass out of town. Because, she loves him, that’s why. Never mind that since they moved in, knowing full well of the house’s past, things have gone horribly wrong and everyone who enters it has come seriously close to death.

What’s most surprising is how much of the movie actually works. Never mind the fact that it’s another stupid remake. To me, it may as well be just another haunted house movie that owes too much to “The Shining.” Taken on its own, for the most part, the movie has many well-crafted set pieces and I managed to stay awake. On the other hand, it also falls victim to many of today’s most over-used and tiresome horror clichés, including the creepy ghost child suddenly appearing in the background, sped-up horror sequences accompanied by backward sound loops and the over-use of foreboding music every time someone makes a plot revelation.

On the other hand, it also carries an R rating and therefore has an edge that most horror movies today don’t have. It doesn’t always cut away from all the blood, nor does it try to make the audience more comfortable by having George go from nice guy to mean guy and back again. Once George loses his marbles, we wait a long time to see if he gets them back. Ryan Reynolds does a decent job of going nutzo without going too far over the top and entering the realm of community theater reject.

So, is “The Amityville Horror” actually worth seeing? Almost. I guess it depends on what scale you use. Put against something like "The Others" or the remake of "Dawn of the Dead," it’s not as good. Put against all the other horror movies of the past few months—"Darkness," "Boogeyman," "Cursed," "The Ring Two," "Hide and Seek"—it’s somewhat refreshing. I can honestly say I did not have a bad time sitting through this film and I could see the filmmakers actually making an effort to make a good film. It may not entirely succeed, but it takes steps in the right direction for a film that has the right idea. Almost.

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