THE AMITYVILLE HORROR

Rated R

-By Ethan Alter


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As a horror fan, I know that I should have hated the Michael Bay-produced remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that arrived in the fall of 2003. To be honest, I enjoyed that film in all its slick, overly glossy glory. In fact, it's probably the only picture Bay has been associated with that I can genuinely say I liked (with the possible exception of the Sean Connery scenes in The Rock). That's why I walked into his new version of The Amityville Horror with an open mind. For one thing, it's not like he was remaking a classic picture. Although the original Amityville was a huge hit upon its release-thanks largely to the media frenzy surrounding the real-life incident-it's not a particularly good or, for that matter, scary film. Today, it's mainly notable for Rod Steiger's hilariously overblown performance and James Brolin's impressive late-'70s 'fro. Still, the basic premise remains ripe for a fun fright-fest-you've got a haunted house, a naive family and, best of all, the "based on a true story" hook to grab the audience's attention. Sadly, the filmmakers miss the boat once again. While this Amityville is far more technically sophisticated than the original, it's torpedoed by poor acting and a convoluted (not to mention completely unnecessary) new backstory.

Ryan Reynolds assumes Brolin's mantle as George Lutz, a genial contractor who moves with his new wife Kathy (Melissa George) and her three children into a lovely old house in Long Island. The place seems too good to be true and the couple soon learns why they were able to purchase it for a song-the family that used to live there was murdered one year ago by the eldest son. As George sagely remarks, though, "Houses don't kill people-people kill people," and the Lutzes decide to stay. They come to regret that decision when eerie occurrences start happening; for one thing, George keeps having visions where he kills his family. Meanwhile, Kathy's daughter Chelsea befriends an imaginary pal named Jodie who asks her to do strange things, like climbing out onto the roof. Eventually, Kathy learns that her home once belonged to a mad doctor who performed gruesome experiments on the local Indian tribes way back in the 1700s. His spirit still haunts the place and plans to make the Lutz family his next set of victims.
Why screenwriter Scott Kosar felt the need to introduce this element to the story is beyond comprehension. There's no real reason to give the evil that haunts the house a face, particularly when it's treated as such a minor part of the film. Perhaps the original cut dealt with this plot point in a more coherent fashion; the version released in theatres certainly feels like it's been sliced to ribbons. The pacing is jagged and rushed, especially in the final act when George turns on his family. Hiding behind a scruffy beard and red contact lenses, Reynolds performs the least convincing mental breakdown since...well, since James Brolin. The rest of the cast is equally bland, including the normally reliable character actor Philip Baker Hall, who wanders through a handful of scenes as the local priest.

Unlike Marcus Nispel, who helmed the Texas Chainsaw remake, director Andrew Douglas displays little visual flair. The movie is frankly boring to look at and one gets the sense that Douglas is just going through the motions. It's true that Stuart Rosenberg didn't exactly do a bang-up job directing the original, but at least he staged a few creepy moments (such as Steiger's memorable encounter with hundreds of flies). This one contains almost no scares, largely because Douglas never lingers long enough to establish the proper atmosphere. Against the odds, the remake rivals the original for sheer mediocrity. In that way, at least, the new Amityville is kind of shocking.
-Ethan Alter



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