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!