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‘Amityville’ lacks real horror

The recent remake of 1979’s The Amityville Horror has all the components of a pee-your-pants-scary horror flick. The story is based on actual events and can even back up the claims that haunted demonic spirits reside in the Long Island house in which the story is set. However, the remake fails to capitalize on the true chilling details, instead relying special effects to make a flashy, gory, run-of-the-mill film.

Before delving into the details of the newest Amityville’s mediocrity, here is a refresher on the original. The Amityville Horror is still considered one of the best films of its genre from the 1970s. James Brolin and Margot Kidder play the happy newlyweds in search of a fresh start. Their search brings them to Amityville and a lovely historic house that should be out of their price range but is surprisingly listed significantly below its value. When the couple inquire about the low price, they are informed that all members of the family who lived there previouswere murdered in the house.

George (Brolin) and Kathy (Kidder) Lutz believe that the house has nothing to do with the murders and that it would be a wonderful place to raise Kathy’s kids from her previous marriage. They purchase what they believe is their dream home, and the trouble begins.

The film is chronicled by the days they live in the house. The first few days are slightly disorganized and tempers flair, but the tension is assumed to be caused by the big move. Yet this assumption of normalcy fades as the house begins to control the Lutz family.

The first major attack is on a priest who comes to bless the house. Amidst his usual routine, Father Delaney is swarmed by an angry group of flies and is unable to bless such a demonic place. The house eventually drives the virtuous man to the brink of insanity.

Something in the house causes George’s usually pleasant attitude to switch to anger and impatience. Kathy’s daughter Amy (Natasha Ryan) finds an imaginary playmate she calls Jodi in the house. She and Jodi play a little too often to be considered anywhere near the realm of ordinary.

The film climaxes on day 28 of the family’s occupancy of the haunted homestead, the anniversary of the day the previous family was killed, and George’s rage turns toward his own family. He struggles between his benevolent convictions and the evil spirits that possess him.

While maintaining a ’70s level of cheesy goodness, the original Amityville has some truly frightening images. The walls ooze thick, red blood, and the back view of the house seems to have a menacing grin. The images do not, however, sustain the slow-moving plot.

While the new Amityville makes several improvements on the original, it still falls short of its potential. The film follows the original closely but manages to fill a few plot holes and sequence scenes together more fluidly. Also, while the story remains set in the ’70s, the modern version adds punch and impact with better effects and sharper clarity.

The effects in the film are a source of praise, and, at the same time, criticism. The opening scenes of the film are gritty, eerily shaded red and illuminated mostly by a lightning storm outside the house’s windows. The immediate effect is perfectly bone chilling. The effects continue to do their job until about halfway through the movie. At this point, the same creepy, dead little girl and images of brutally mutilated bodies have less impact.

The effects are also a disappointment due to the film’s heavy reliance on the “screech” factor. Most of the scares are temporary — the make-you-jump-in-your-seat and not truly daunting kind. Amityville has great source material to make a stick-with-you horror film, but it chooses to go the easy route.

Another disappointment of the film is the lack of creativity in the appearance of the corpses. Jodi’s image appears to be stolen straight from The Ring‘s well-inhabiting girl. George’s television-watching habits also seem to be a copycat of that film. The new Amityville feels familiar because it is a remake, and it is almost comfortable. Comfort is the one thing a true horror movie should never provide.

The redux Amityville does a far superior job in the acting department than its predecessor. Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz with a psychotic passion that Brolin failed to capture. He also adds his usual comic charm to appropriate scenes. The new Amityville‘s Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) is thankfully not as sappy or as helpless as the original. The young supporting actors were more involved and vocal in the remake, and they expertly deliver their lines.

A pitfall with both films is the soundtrack. Scary films can be defined by the perfect creepy music. Think of films such as Halloween, Jaws and Psycho. They managed to get the pitch-perfect sound to intensify those ultra-creepy moments. Both Amityvilles have way-too-intense music for not-so-intense scenes. Plus, the tunes just don’t stick to memory.

Overall, both films get the job done. They’ll make you a little apprehensive to walk around alone in a dark house, but they are a good scare that won’t haunt you too long after viewing. Enjoy the new or the old because you’ll get the same feeling from either. For the non-horror movie enthusiasts, save a couple bucks and Blockbuster it for cheap thrills.

The Amityville Horror (1979)
Grade: C

The Amityville Horror (2005)
Grade: C+