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
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
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.