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The Amityville Horror (April 12/05)

Unlike some recent horror remakes - ie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - the original Amityville Horror has more than enough flaws to warrant a second go-around. Though it's admittedly far more subtle than this version, The Amityville Horror is plagued with over-the-top acting, subpar special effects, and an almost oppressively slow pace. While this film does have a few problems, calling it an improvement over its predecessor is an extreme understatement.

Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George star as George and Kathy Lutz, a married couple who - along with her three kids - take the plunge and buy an unusually large house (they're able to get a really great deal on the place because, since an entire family was murdered there a year earlier, nobody else wants to buy it). Everything's fine at first, but it's not long before George begins exhibiting some seriously disturbing mood swings (meanwhile, their youngest daughter embarks upon a friendship with the ghost of a dead girl).

The most substantial difference between the two films involves the character of George Lutz, portrayed by James Brolin in the original. One of the pivotal plot points revolves around George's transformation from easy-going family guy to possessed madman, though Brolin played the character as a lout right from the get-go. Reynolds, on the other hand, does a nice job of portraying George's progression from caring husband and father to inconsiderate, abusive jerk. It helps that screenwriter Scott Kosar has included a sequence set in the Lutz's pre-Amityville home to further establish the loving relationship between George and his family, an important moment that was absent in the original. Another new addition involves an actual backstory for the house, which effectively explains its haunted origins (as opposed to just being evil, as in the '70s version).

The Amityville Horror's been directed by Andrew Douglas, a filmmaker who does a nice job of moving the story along at a brisk pace (it doesn't hurt that the movie runs less than 90 minutes). Douglas peppers the film with a variety of overt scares - including ghosts that are quite visible and able to interact with the characters (the original featured doors that could open and close by themselves, but that was about the extent of it) - a choice that effectively ups the creepiness factor, though it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that the Lutz's would stay in this house for more than a few hours.

And, if nothing else, The Amityville Horror deserves kudos for eschewing teenagers and self-referential bits of comedy in favor of ambiance and flat-out horror (the movie is actually scary, something that can't be said of too many contemporary fright flicks).

out of

© David Nusair