The Amityville Horror

3 stars


10th May 2005

Michael Bay's at it again, plucking another horror movie from the 1970's and giving it a 21st Century makeover. Following on from the passable reworking of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror gets the remake treatment. But Amityville is a very different type of movie to Chainsaw - it's a slow-burner and a more psychological type of horror, but the buckets of blood and loud bang approach just about works.

There are two ways to look at this movie. It's either a remake of a 70's horror movie, based upon a 1978 novel, which is supposedly based on real events itself. Or you can take it as a stand-alone horror movie without the baggage. I've not read the novel, and saw the original movie over a decade ago - the only thing I remember about it is that the male lead had a beard. Check Ryan Reynolds with facial hair. For those unfamiliar with the source material, it tells of George Lutz (Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (former Aussie soap-star Melissa George) who, along with Kathy's three children from a previous marriage, find their dream home at a hugely discounted price. With such things there's always a catch, and said catch would be that the house has a grizzly history. A teenage boy, Ronny Defeo, murdered his entire family with a shotgun (which we see in the very effective opening), claiming the house told him to do so. With a throw away remark - "houses don't kill people, people kill people" - they ignore the past and move in, before the house tries to prove them wrong.

It doesn't take long for things to start getting weird. The young girl befriends the ghost of one of the previous victims. Bloody corpses appear in mirrors and a girl with her head in a noose pops up at the worst possible time. It's only George that we see directly affected by this, he begins changing almost as soon as they're in, becoming short-tempered and being plagued by nightmares. This is most apparent in his relationship with his eldest step-son, Billy. The twelve year old isn't too fond of the idea of having a new step-father anyway, and when George starts to go cuckoo he suffers the most (the wood-chopping scene is a particularly notable example). It is perhaps unfortunate that the changes in the husband wife relationship aren't developed further. Whilst George takes to spending most of his time in the creepy basement (the only room in the house that isn't cold) we don't really see the effect of this on Kathy until she turns Murder She Wrote and looks up the history of the house.

Ryan Reynolds turns in a great performance as George. For an actor best known for his comic appearances he does a decent job in convincing us that he's losing his mind. He's no Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but it's a fine attempt nonetheless. Whilst we do get a couple of brief scenes featuring Philip Baker Hall (old guy, baggy eyes, you know him when you see him) as Father Callaway, the religious aspect of the story is not really explored to any great extent. Given that this character is a link between the two families that have lived in the house, it seemed that there was something missing here. One tie to the previous family that is used well is that of a babysitter that worked for the first family. Spilling the beans to the kids about what happened there before with expected results, she initially offers some comic relief at the right point in the movie.

For a remake it was really an opportunity for first time director Andrew Douglas to do something different with the story, and whilst he has made a fine job of upping the gore and putting the characters at more risk, we never really get inside the heads of the characters. However, as a stand-alone scary movie, it does an admirable job. There are plenty of scares, mostly in the nightmares and visions that affect George. These are fairly intense from the beginning, which makes you wonder how the hell he lasted 28 days. The tension builds as he is affected more deeply by the house, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder whether they'll suffer the same fate of the previous occupants, and it ends with a bang rather than a whimper.

After this the Michael Bay horror remake wagon is to move onto The Hitcher and then - sacrilege! - Hitchcock's The Birds, so while the formula has proved to be fairly successful thus far, maybe it's gone far enough.

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