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Amityville Horror, The (2005)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/09/05 23:40:29

"Not great, but it works - just like the original."
3 stars (Just Average)

A secret: I love the original “Amityville Horror.” It’s trash, I know, but it holds a fond place in my heart (the first horror movie I ever got to see), and good memories allow the film’s niftier pieces - the chilling theme music, the freaky closet sequence, the flies bit - to overcome its lesser moments - James Brolin’s “I’m coming apart!!!” being just one of them.

That said, I always felt there was room for improvement with the 1979 film, so I wasn’t as concerned as others when a remake was announced. Here’s one, unlike, say, “House of Wax,” that comfortably felt remakable. And yes, this retelling, starring Ryan Reynolds as James Brolin as George Lutz and Melissa George as Margot Kidder as Kathy Lutz, actually manages to fix many of the broken parts of the original film. That said, it also manages to screw up many of the things that went right the first time, so all in all, I’ll call this one a wash.

If the original was a haunted house movie played out as the new homeowner’s nightmare, this new “Amityville” is a haunted house movie played out as a parable of abusive relationships. Remember how Brolin went all psycho? That’s nothing compared to what Reynolds is asked to do. While the blame-it-all-on-the-evil-spirits line ultimately lets Reynolds’ George character off the hook, it also allows screenwriter Scott Kosar (the “Texas Chainsaw” remake) and director Andrew Douglas (making his feature debut) to play with the warning signs of domestic violence. Pass it off as a ghost yarn, but there’s far more horror in the realities of a new couple that slowly starts to fall apart as one of them lets loose with the nasty behavior.

It’s an interesting twist, and between the clever scripting and an unexpectedly sharp performance by Reynolds (I knew he’d be good, but he puts a lot more into this role than the usual star slumming in a cheap horror flick), it works - thus saving the picture. It’s Reynolds and his descent into madness that we keep watching.

As for the rest, well, it’s hit and miss all over the place. The basics of the haunted house genre, so important to the original film, are replaced here with mandatory reruns of modern horror trends: Creepy Ghost Girl, shaky heads, everything really wanting to look like it came out of a Japanese shocker. The existence of the Creepy Ghost Girl, the fact that we not only see her, but see her over and over and over again, informs us that the filmmakers are not at all interested in the haunted house genre, which is odd, since “Amityville” is the first name in haunted house stories. Here, the filmmakers would rather remix stuff they saw in “Ringu” and “Ju-On” and whatever else in that cycle they saw the week before they started filming.

There’s also plenty of nonsense added in as to the history of the house, which offers nothing other than a chance to once again give us that other important modern horror trend: the heroine who uncovers a deep dark secret. This new Kathy Lutz pokes around like she’s investigating the Ring and stumbles across a deep dark secret that’s so dopey and pointless that it almost derails the entire picture.

Fortunately, the script doesn’t bother with it too long. Here’s a film with an extremely short attention span, so any idiocies dumped on us can easily be overlooked, since we’re so busy plowing ahead to the next good scream. And while “Amityville” offers little new (and, worse, relies too much on a cheap music score to pump up the jump-frights), most of the scares still manage to work just fine. If you’re to judge “Amityville” merely by asking the question, is it scary enough?, then yeah, it works.

I’m still convinced that there’s a great movie to be found in the basic “Amityville” story, but for now, we’ll just have to settle with two good ones. The remake, like the original, is riddled with problems, but, like the original, it’s effective enough to work despite them. Yeah, I could wish that the cleverness put into the Reynolds character could have been granted to the rest of the story as well, but still, for a cheap horror ride, this new “Amityville” will do the trick for now.

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