21 April 2005 | filmbuff-36
Take it from me -- root for the ghosts
In terms of cinematic legacy, the original "The Amityville Horror" managed to foreshadow both "The Shining" and "Poltergeist" while swiping a few nods from "The Exorcist." But time has not been kind to the hit 1979 horror film, once considered spooky but now considered at best a camp classic.
The remake opens in the late 1970s, with George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) and his new wife Kathy (Melissa George) getting what appears to be the deal of a lifetime. A colonial era Long Island home that is within their price range has just come up for sale, and the two decide the place would be perfect to raise their children, all from Kathy's previous marriage.
Little do they know that the house comes with loads of supernatural baggage. The previous owner had killed his entire family within 28 days of moving in, claiming there was a demonic presence in the home that drove him to do so. It's not long before strange things start to happen with the new family as well.
Chelsea (Chloë Grace Moretz) starts seeing the ghost of the previous little girl who occupied the house, Billy (Jesse James) and Michael (Jimmy Bennett) see supernatural activity while also being blamed for the trouble it causes, and George begins to go mad, taking increasingly drastic steps to maintain order and discipline the children. It's not long before Kathy begins to suspect that all is not right in their quaint little home.
"The Amityville Horror" is such a mediocre film, you can't help but wonder what was once considered so shocking about the original story. In truth, with all the negative reviews the original movie received, it's obvious that that film (and its numerous sequels) is merely famous for being famous. The thing that most people seem to remember is the front of the house itself, which actually is scary looking. It's just a shame there's never been a horror movie filmed in the house to do its spooky appearance justice.
The other thing to note is that the remake still claims to be based on a true story, which is partially true. The real life Lutz's account was eventually proved to be a hoax to cover up the fact that the family couldn't pay their mortgage, but not before the family made millions on everything from talk show appearances to the movie rights.
The movie never really lets you into the horror that is occurring, and director Andrew Douglas does a very workman-like job directing the story, never really doing anything to interest us in the characters or situation. Special effects run amok, like walls that ooze blood and jack-in-the-box scares like decomposing ghosts jumping out at you, but it's all for naught. The movie can only scream "boo!" at you so many times before you start booing back.
Acting-wise, the movie is decent but not terribly inspired. Just like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining," Reynolds seems to lose his sanity just a tad too early for the rest of the story to be believable. As Kathy, George manages to be the emotional anchor holding the film together and does a good job, however her character puts up with far too much stress before she finally acts. The child actors all do okay, but they merely exist to be put in danger.
So, what was the purpose of remaking a horror movie that hasn't aged very well over the last quarter of a century? The main reason I can think of is the house itself, which still manages to scare people. Other than that, there's a big market for remaking classic horror films right now, though hardly any of been able to justify their own existence, including last year's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," also produced and written by the same team behind this film. "The Amityville Horror" is likely to join that undistinguished canon, ultimately being a horror movie about a group of people too dumb to leave a house just because the script requires them to stay. It's movies like this that make you want to root for the ghosts.
5 out of 10 stars. It's hard to feel sympathetic for characters in a movie who have to stay in a stupid situation just because the script says so.