April 16, 2011

The Amityville Horror (2005)

"A family is terrorized by demonic forces after moving into a home that was the site of a grisly mass-murder."

I tried rewatching this remake of "The Amityville Horror" earlier today and, although I made it through to the end, I only just managed it. Part of the problem is that I read Jay Anson's book at a really young age and it scared the piss out of me. When I saw the original version of "The Amityville Horror" (1979) several years later, I was slightly underwhelmed and disappointed. Watching a remake that has even less to do with the literary subject matter, especially now that I know it was all fake apart from the Defeo murders, just made me want to "switch it off and go and do something more interesting instead" as the lyrics to the theme song of the appropriately '70s kids TV show "Why Don't You?" sprang into my head.

Now, since everybody knows that I've been a fan of Melissa George ever since she was in the Aussie soap "Home and Away" which I watched religiously (sometimes twice a day) as a student, there is no way that I'm going to dismiss a film outright if she is in it. Similarly, although I'm not the world's biggest fan of Ryan Reynolds, he is a good actor too and I'll also watch just about anything that he gets himself involved in. You would think that having the two of them together in a horror movie would make it really good especially as they create enough eye-candy between them for all genders but you'd be wrong. They have no chemistry together at all and what makes that far worse is that they are supposed to a newly married couple.

Apart from the absolutely horrible MTV-style filming techniques which I'd tried to forget about in the many years since they were in vogue, the messy pacing and complete lack of atmosphere are more nails in this movie's coffin. I know that I seem to be skipping over the details about exactly how and where it all goes wrong but really it's from the start of the movie until the end.

Only one section of the film interested me at all and that was the stuff with Lisa the hot babysitter (played by Rachel Nichols). After that it was all about George Lutz getting crazier and more unkempt just like the original. And, just like the original movie, you don't get to know any of the characters that well while things are normal to even care about what happens to them later. I don't want to say too much about any of that at the moment though since I'm going to rewatch and review the 1979 version next.

I'll just throw a small spoiler into this instead. In the remake, Jodie is no longer a pig! Now that threw me completely out of the movie. In the book and the original movie, Jodie is a pig. In this remake, Jodie is just an ugly little girl who shakes her head like something out of "Jacob's Ladder" (1990) and invites people to stick their finger into the bullet hole in her forehead. All this reeks of trying to recreate this film in a kind of Japanese horror format which, of course, didn't even exist when Jay Anson and the Lutzes invented their story. It's all just wrong.

I have to give the filmmaker's a lot of credit for the make-up effects though. Not only did the pale scary ghost girl with black hair look like a corpse but both Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George looked really haggard throughout as well. I don't think that anyone apart from Rachel Nichols was glammed-up and it made a change from watching yet another horror movie full of unrealistically pretty people. The kids were particularly ugly as far as I could tell but then I don't like most kids in movies anyway. Without giving too much away with another spoiler, Ryan Reynold's character isn't exactly thrilled by them either which is a major (and slanderous) addition to the original story.

Although "The Amityville Horror" is supposed to be set in the mid-1970s, I really didn't get that feeling about it at all. The iconic Dutch Colonial house wasn't suitably dressed with enough '70s props and the eldest son being into the rock band "KISS" with all his posters and t-shirt was the only attempt that I could see to make it look like a period piece at all. I was a child myself in the '70s and so I know how things were supposed to be. All this was a long way from the grooviness and flared jeans of "Starsky and Hutch". Dressing Melissa George like a frumpy old woman should make whoever was responsible ashamed of themselves.

The culmination of all these inept technical atrocities which created "The Amityille Horror" remake is, of course, that the film wasn't scary. We've all seen people get haunted and go really mad in films before but it's never that scary unless it's Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" (1980). Ryan Reynolds may be a pretty good actor with awesome abs but his George Lutz is no Jack Torrance. I'm not going to compare my uber hot, angelic Melissa George in any other favourable way to Shelley Duvall either. But, yes, basically, the remake of "The Amityville Horror" tries to use a very watered down version of the characters from "The Shining" and doesn't do the greatest job of it either.

The obvious difference between "The Amityville Horror" and "The Shining" is that the former has a slightly more pleasant ending. If you go back to the books themselves, this is less so especially as the sequels and spinoffs to "The Amityville Horror" novel inspired just about every ghostie film from the "Poltergeist" franchise to this year's highly overrated "Insidious".

Once "The Amityville Horror" ended, I went through the special features on the DVD and watched most of the documentary about the Defeo murders. I've seen a more recent documentary about Ronald Defeo on one of the cable channels so I didn't make it to the end. It was a solid piece but a bit boring and certainly didn't sensationalise any of it the way that the late Dr. Hans Holzer, author of "Murder in Amityville", did. But, again, I'm back to the books.

As much as I wanted to be able to recommend "The Amityville Horror" to you, I can't. It strayed too far from the original source material and, in my opinion, probably would have worked much better as a haunted house movie if it hadn't tried to cash in on the "Amityville" name at all.

I'll be reviewing the original version of "The Amityville Horror" later even though I know that it isn't the greatest horror movie either. Some scenes in the original just work a lot better though and at least it looks the part. It probably would have been easier for me to review the original version first but I like a challenge and this remake was certainly that.

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