Horror Of Horrors

The really scary thing about `Amityville is that it's back.


April 15, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Does the world really need a remake of The Amityville Horror? Is Hollywood so hard up for material, so desperate for movies that go bump in the night, that we need to revisit mediocre 1970s horror flicks?

No, we really don't need it, but yes, the level of creative bankruptcy has apparently risen high enough to justify a second visit - actually a ninth, if you count all the sequels - to Long Island's most notorious haunted house.

Amityville 2005 puts a few scares onscreen, but all are strictly of the let's-see-how-often-we-can-goose-the-audience variety. No real atmosphere of horror is established - aside from one memorable scene where a young child finds herself perched atop the house, seemingly a hundred feet above the ground. The characters don't make much of an impression, except when they're being unintentionally funny. And the film itself alternates between seeming not so much a remake of the original Amityville but rather of either The Shining (dad goes slowly insane and wields an ax) or The Exorcist (a priest is called in, disgusting stuff oozes everywhere).

Based on a "true" story - and that "true" label has been hotly debated for years - Amityville is the story of a 300-year-old house that has some serious issues with its own history. In 1974 - and this part is undeniably true - 23-year-old Ron DeFeo took a rifle and shot to death his parents and four siblings. DeFeo would claim that voices persuaded him to do the killings, but that didn't stop him from being sentenced to 150 years in prison. He would later insist that he killed only his 18-year-old sister, Dawn - after she had killed everyone else in the house; apparently, she was angry mom and dad wouldn't let her run away with her boyfriend.

So here we are, a few years later. George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George) are looking for a bigger house for them and their brood - three kids by Kathy's earlier marriage - when they're taken to this Long Island mansion that's available for a suspiciously low price. The Realtor fesses up, telling the Lutzes about the murders, but Kathy is unswayed. She persuades a reluctant George to buy it anyway.

Bad move. Within the first couple of days, George is turning from first-class stepdad to world-class jerk, the youngest child is talking to an imaginary playmate, refrigerator magnets are rearranging themselves into murderous entreaties and the dog is barking at things that aren't there (shudder!).

All this is out of the Haunted House 101 textbook, and director Andrew Douglas, a music-video veteran, brings nothing new to the endeavor save a shakier camera and lots of quick cuts. The child actors seem especially lost, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Reynolds, buff beyond all reason (doubtless a leftover from his appearance in Blade: Trinity), seems a little too happy to go over to the dark side, while George stresses too hard to appear overwrought. And poor Philip Baker Hall, as the priest called in to do his thing: Last seen fleeing the ghostly scene, here's betting he's running from the movie as much as the house.

The bottom line for this year's Amityville model is that too many people have done this stuff much better in recent years (The Grudge was far more effective in squeezing horror out of the idea of a house possessed) to justify another visit to Long Island. What's next, a remake of The Stepford Wives? What, they've done that already? Heaven help us, where will it all end? Next, they'll be remaking Bewitched.

The Amityville Horror

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George

Directed by Andrew Douglas

Released by MGM

Rated R (violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use)

Time 89 minutes

Sun Score *1/2

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