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The Amityville Horror
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Andrew Douglas (director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   April 15, 2005
Review Date:   May 03, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated R
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Your house frightens me. — Father Callaway

According to the Internet Movie Database, before the most recent debut there were eight previous movies about the spooky events endured by families who moved into the scary house with creepy windows in Long Island. Considering that the last of them was The Amityville Dollhouse, the bottom of the barrel had not only been scraped, it had been broken though to get at the dirt underneath.

Whether or not the house in Amityville really was haunted has been argued ever since the Lutz family first told their story back in 1976. True or not, it made for a gripping tale. The book based on their accounts of life in the lakeside home was a best seller, and it was only a matter of time before it became a movie, first starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder.

The Lutz’s, and others, claim that the movie exaggerated some events, invented others, and was not a straight telling of their story. While the movie might not have been a faithful telling, it did become a horror touchstone. I haven’t seen the original in years, but I do remember being scared during the intense scenes and bored in the “slow parts,” AKA the character bits (please don’t hold that against me, I was only ten at the time).

That house, with its eye-like windows, became the archetypical haunted house. The ghosts threatening“Get OUT!” has become the cliché battle cry of almost all house-haunters from Poltergeist to Beetlejuice. This movie, along with Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, is the framework upon which almost all “ghost in the house” films are built. It also made enough money to inspire the following seven flicks, most of which are pretty darn bad.

So, how do you make another follow up to a decent movie that has been run into the ground with sub-par sequels, but the bones of the structure still hold up? You get a writer to renovate the house, Bob Vila style. The controversy over the “authenticity” of the original film gave producer Michael (The Rock) Bay, who seems to like producing horror remakes (see “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” from two years ago). You go back to the beginning and tell the “true, unexaggerated” story.

The Lutz family includes stepdad contractor George (Ryan “best thing in Blade 3 Reynolds), mom Kathy (Melissa “Alias” George), and kids Billy, Michael and Chelsea. George is trying to fit into the family and faces resentment from young Mike. But the Lutz family is pretty happy. They just need to buy a house to complete the American Dream.

They find the perfect home in the pricey Long Island community of Amityville (which has to love the reputation it has now). It’s a huge place, right on a lake with plenty of space, a boathouse, and a price they could afford. The catch is that the previous owners were all slaughtered in their beds by a wacked-out family member who claims voices drove him to murder. After observing“Houses don’t kill people,” the Lutz’s move in, and creepiness ensues.

Is the new film more faithful to the “true” story of the Lutz family? No idea. But it’s a good movie. It has some well-executed scares. Some are subtle, some are the “boo!” type, others are the “hallucination/psych!” variety, and some are over-the-top fun.

The film shares its brooding tone with Bay’s Texas Chainsaw redo, as well as understated cinematography and a direct approach to telling the “true” story.

The performances are also satisfactory, aside from the fact that George seems to wig out just a little on the quickly. It’s clearly the house that’s driving him crazy, and Ryan goes nuts wonderfully. In or near the house, George is very intense, his eyes all creepy and bloodshot. As soon as he’s away, the eyes go back to normal and the nice guy we met at the beginning of the flick returns. Melissa doesn’t have much to do aside from being either distraught or “traditional mom,” but she does both well. The kids are not annoying.

The Amityville Horror could have been better; the score was just kind of there, the film is very quick, and there aren’t any real new twists to the ghost story. But it’s a solid and much-needed renovation of a classic old (haunted) house. Bob Vila would be proud.

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