Horror Reviews

Saturday, February 28, 2009

DVD Review: The Amityville Horror (Remake)

Review by Kristin Battestella

I’m always weary of remakes. Until recently, I avoided the 2005 update of The Amityville Horror-I just liked the original too much to see it butchered into some new flash in the pan screamfest. Based on an actual Long Island murder and book controversy, director Andrew Douglas’ retelling deserves a chance from old school audiences.

Waiting alum Ryan Reynolds stars with Melissa George (Alias) as newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz. The couple pays a hefty sum for a to die for home in peaceful Amityville. Unfortunately, their dream home was the site of a gruesome murder the year before. The longer the family lives in the home, the more difficult their strained relationships become. Ghosts appear to Kathy’s daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) and George moves into the basement-where voices tell him to harm his new wife and step son Michael (Jimmy Bennett).

I was impressed with Ryan Reynolds’ performance. After mostly hit or miss comedy roles such as Van Wilder and Just Friends, Reynolds toned up and grew a beard to enhance the creepy corruption of his character. Several key scenes with Jimmy Bennett are very near abuse and torture; Reynolds’ crazy demeanor and unkempt Manson look are absolutely believable. You have no doubt he means what he says and is physically capable of doing what the evil forces in the house want him to do.

After seeing Melissa George on the DVD extras, I was surprised to hear her natural Australian accent. Her American portrayal is spot on, and she is totally believable as the young wife and mother protecting her children. The behind the scenes features also detail a very complex scene involving little Chelsea on the rooftop. All the acting from the children is on form-not a whiny deterrence or humorous point as can happen in these modern horror flicks. They don’t look hokey, and in some scenes the kids genuinely look scared.

The setting, location, and the house itself are beautifully recreated here. This house is bigger than the original Amityville Horror sets, but this adds to Douglas’ spacious, encompassing, ominous feeling. Although one strike against the new production is the time period. The new script from screenwriter Scott Kosar (The Machinist) takes place in 1976, but several times I had to ask myself: this is the seventies, right? The hair, clothing, and props are more like the nineties revival of seventies style; the in vogue fashion for That 70’s Show. I am glad, however, that Douglas didn’t try and completely move the story and update everything to the present day. Forcing cell phones and computers into the mix takes away from the real spooky story.

Rookie director Douglas is quite fine. I could do without some of the herky jerky twisted evil imagery, but he answers the questions raised more with swift acting, tight action, and suspense that production tricks. In a lot of slasher flicks today, most of the boo moments can really be anticipated. Part of the fun in watching horror is predicting who will get axed when they go into the basement. Scream capitalized on this tongue in cheek aspect, but this Amityville gives you realistic scares where you least expect them. Most horror films are cut from the same cloth, but Douglas smartly uses that big house, chopping firewood, and lakeside location as the core of his emotional rollercoaster.

I liked The Amityville Horror, sure, but if Douglas and company try for a zillion other sequels, prequels, and remakes like the original franchise destroyed itself, I’d worry. Come one: Amityville 2: The Possession, Amityville 3D, Amityville: The Evil Escapes, The Amityville Curse, Amityville: It’s About Time, Amityville: A New Generation, and Amityville Dollhouse all mar the original film’s horrific visions. These downright bad sequels resorted to kinky gore and weak story connections. I hope that doesn’t happen to this psychological Amityville Horror. Douglas has a few essentially bloody scenes, but never loses sight that the plot is a family caught within a house’s evil.

The back story of the house’s possession is explained better here than in the Amityville 2: The Possession. Unfortunately it’s the documentary on the DVD that leaves me cold. Instead of a factual History Channel discussion or scientific analysis, the short fronts that old Sightings feeling. Old people saying “Oh! The house!”, a policeman contesting the family was crazy-they want you to decide the level of real haunt. At least the making of features and cast interviews are worthy.

The Amityville Horror probably shouldn’t take home any awards, and fans of the original might feel guilty or unable to let go of the 1979 classic. I do, however, urge those horror buffs to reconsider. Almost a homage instead of a disastrously cut remake, The Amityville Horror is an affordable DVD for your spooky movie night. Not recommended for children or the prudish, of course!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

DVD Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Review by Kristin Battestella

Yes, sure we all know of Freddy Krueger and the dozen of Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher classic has spawned countless spoofs and imitation cut ‘em ups, but when was the last time you saw the original that started it all? Younger folks may not appreciate A Nightmare on Elm Street but there’s no time like the present for a horror introduction.

Robert Englund stars as Fred Krueger, a child killer who has returned from the grave by stalking teen’s dreams. Tina (Amanda Wyss) dreams she will die, and soon her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) also dreams of death from Freddy. Their boyfriends Rod (Nick Corri) and Glen (Johnny Depp) are also on sleepless vigils, fearful of Freddy Krueger killing them in their sleep.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it is unusual and tough to explain without spoiling everything. At the time, Craven’s idea hadn’t been played to death. The thought of sleep, rest, dreams-the exact necessities for fighting evil- would be where our horrors come from gives the original Nightmare its edge. Even if you aren’t scared out of bed like you may have been twenty five years ago, the idea of sleep being the enemy is enough food for thought to keep you from dozing.

Writer and director Craven also confuses the viewer by blurring the line between dreams and reality in A Nightmare on Elm Street. A few transitions are obvious with time and repeated viewings, but you’re on the edge of your seat if you don’t know when Freddy may appear. Some of the boiler room sequences can still offer a jump or two. Again Craven uses smart sets like a dirty, dark, hot boiler room where numerous pains and dangers can come into play-contrasted with our teens’ upscale houses and cozy bedrooms. Where Freddy is concerned, all can be used to his advantage. Several eerie scenes will stay with you long after viewing, ad that creepy rhyming song still echoes in my mind decades after first hearing it. Whenever you want to be funny, spooky, morbid-just sing the first phrase: One, Two. Freddy’s coming for you….

Some of the effects for A Nightmare on Elm Street have not stood the test of time. On the other hand, some are still being copied today; the blood flow on the ceiling, that quicksand bed. The sequels had much to top, some areas they did, and others they didn’t. Technically Kruger isn’t the star of the film, Heather Langenkamp is. Craven smartly delays the introduction of Krueger and instead scares the teens with his creepy dream voice and nails on a chalkboard claw. The excellent early dream sequences twist and turn around the girls. ‘Tis better to show a person in fear than a monster of which we may or may not be afraid. Psychological impact far outweighs effects. Nancy’s parents take her to a doctor for tests. Is she crazy? All she wants is for someone to believe that Freddy is real. Langenkamp fits the role of the smart fighter teen perfectly. Not a bombshell, but not a nerd. Former fifties teen idol John Saxon has made a second career in slasher flicks like Hellmaster and From Dusk Till Dawn. The cast may seem unstellar or unimportant, but they help sell the idea that this clique could be yours. These could be your friends or honeys that Freddy’s after.

Two stand outs are of course Johnny Depp and Robert Englund. I still think of Englund as good lizard Willie in V before Elm, but look in stores now that it’s nearing Halloween. You still find Freddy masks, knives gloves, and even that ugly striped shirt. The tongue in cheek nature of his performance helps Englund keep Freddy scary. He enjoys what he’s doing-especially with girls who make the mistake of having sex in a horror movie. Englund actually has little onscreen time, but the seed is planted here for further developed throughout the film series. Likewise Johnny Depp shows his talent in his first movie. Sardonic lines, aloof yet precise looks, and a still cool final scene ensured Depp’s cult status before his recent macabre and Pirate work.

Subsequent films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series-namely Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors, Freddy’s Dead, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare have moments that touch the original, but none is as complete. Series fans and horror buffs will eat up every minute of course, but casual fans might not want to invest in the pricey collector’s set. A Nightmare on Elm Street and all its sequels are also available individually for an affordable price. I picked up the original for my honey, but thought he would find it dated and hokey. Not so! I wouldn’t say A Nightmare on Elm Street will be around as long as people have dreams, just nightmares.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

DVD Review: The Exorcist

Review by Kristin Battestella

I was born in 1981, so I missed the initial fear fest brought on by the 1973 thriller The Exorcist. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, film going audiences were terrorized in their seats, vomiting in the aisles, and fainting before the theater screens. Since then, The Exorcist has frightened a whole new generation-and then some.

The Exorcist stars Linda Blair as young Regan, a 13 year old girl who begins to act strangely after her and her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) move to Washington DC for a film shoot. Psychiatrists, other doctors, and specialists have no answer for Regan’s unrest. Freaky accidents, violence, and more disturbing behavior from Regan lead Chris to Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Even the troubled Priest is baffled by Regan’s ability to speak in ancient languages; the physical abuse on her body-including etchings from the inside of her stomach that says ‘Help me’; and of course the infamous, horrifying, and despicable masturbation with a crucifix.

Father Damien Brings in Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an elderly Priest who has fought this kind of evil before. Two prequels were even made detailing Merrin’s first encounter with the devil, but both miss the mark and cannot compare to the ultimate battle here. The Priests tie Regan to the bed and begin the Rites of Exorcism. Before the devil is contained, however, he pulls out all the stops, including taunting Father Damien With his dead mother’s words and the now oft parodied projectile vomit.

Despite our society’s desensitization, The Exorcist remains one of the most disturbing films ever made. I was a teenager when I saw the re-released edition with the additional footage. It was the middle of the day and clear as a bell outside, yet I was spooked for weeks afterward. The extra scenes on the DVD ‘The Version You’ve Never Seen’ include a creepy spiderwalk and more scenes of Father Merrin in Africa. Even after the numerous parodies and spoofs, the initial experience of viewing The Exorcist is tough to beat. After 4 sequels and prequels, several video releases and re-releases, how is it The Exorcist still scares the split pea soup out of us?

The effects are cool, but nothing spectacular. The chills presented by director William Friedkin come from the psychological and sociological themes shown. Many of the early audiences had never heard foul language in a wide release, much less F-bombs from a 13 year old girl. Both the religious and demonic imagery presented are unique and frightening. Shocking as it is to see such blasphemous uses of Christian symbols, Friedkin showcases the devil as a living breathing evil force. This is both engrossing and terrifying. The Exorcist is enough to scare anyone straight from their malignant ways. Here a young, innocent little girl was possessed. Imagine the torment the devil could bring to those who deserve it. Exceptional makeup and an impressive performance from Blair solidify the movie’s insistence that the devil is real.

This is how horror films should be. Realistic in the scarys they portray-no matter how fantastic. If art imitates life, then The Exorcist is a photographic reminder of good versus evil and how careful we should be in our temptations. None of The Exorcist films are suitable for children, and I only recommend viewing for the most mature teens, otherwise the between the lines material is lost. The latest DVD release of The Exorcist has a few extras, but the film speaks for itself. Some of the sequels are worthy interpretations, especially The Exorcist III, based on Blatty’s own book sequel, Legion. If you’re seeking one of the best films ever made-not just thee most exceptional horror movie-The Exorcist is unbeatable.