The famous story of the Lutz family, and how they unwarily entered a hotbed of supernatural (and evil) powers when they purchased their old Dutch Colonial home in the quiet suburb of Amityville, has been told over 9 times now, if you count the 7 “Amityville” sequels, prequels, and just plain retardquels, between 1979’s cult classic and the 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. Now a new take on a remake is here; the “modern” remake. Rather than make a sequel, producers now feel its time to take everything good from the original and then, do it again. But updated. You know, more gore, more violence, and let’s not forget- a few one-liners. Even when a film is set in the same time period, Hollywood never fails to erase the past and spare its increasingly younger audiences the pain of having to reconcile the look, and feel, of a film from over 20 years ago.
From Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, who single-handedly rearranged time and space in order to remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, “The Amityville Horror” deserves to be taken seriously on its own level, without comparison to the first film, starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin, that revived Haunted Houses in American culture. But it won’t be. For the same reasons that the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake will never be judged on its own as long as there are horror fans who still remember the original, “The Amityville Horror” will always be compared, contrasted, and scrutinized based on its predecessor.
The 2005 version stars Ryan Reynolds (Blade:Trinity) as George Lutz and Melissa George (“Alias”) as his waifish blond wife Kathy. With Kathy’s three children from a pervious marriage, George and Kathy try to build a new home by settling into the lovely community of Amityville and living the American Dream. Unfortunately, because of some very Lovecraftian lore about a man named Ketcham who tortured Native Americans on his land (which now has become the Lutz’s land) way back in the 1600’s, the house, and all the land around it, seems to be cursed. It appears that for centuries the house was fine, until a family called the Defeos moved in shortly before the Lutz’s did. The Defeos had a son named Ronald, who one night shot and killed his parents and four siblings in their beds at night (including his younger sister Jodie) in a fit of insanity that included him hearing voices. Strange? Yes. AND it would be easy to chalk it up to the fact that Ronald was insane. Until George starts hearing voices, too…
As the days move on, the new family dynamic begins to deteriorate. George becomes withdrawn, cruel, and increasingly angry. Kathy seems unable to defend her children against him and his oddities. The Lutz’s youngest daughter Chelsea begins to have conversations with someone named “Jodie”. It seems that George is cracking under the pressure of having to care for a new family. Or is it that the house carries with it an evil presence that hearkens back to colonial times?
Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George make a striking couple. Both young and extremely attractive, no one ever seems to mention that they are too young to have a 12-year-old child. Kathy Lutz, if she looks her age, would have to have started at age 13 to pull that off. Yet again, Hollywood concentrates on beautifying the people in order to dazzle the eyes of filmgoers from seeing the deficiencies. No matter how hard they try, Melissa George and Ryan Reynolds are too gorgeous to play “ordinary” people, with no one ever noticing their enormous good looks. In reality, if they looked like that, they’d be…actors.
Though Ryan Reynolds hasn’t done much serious acting before (he usually is reserved for wisecracks), he’s certainly come a long way in Amityville. Taking on emotions he’s never had to define before on film like rage, terror, and psychosis, he does a decent job of portraying a man in a downward spiral against his mental and emotional state of mind. However, the scenes of extreme weakness and crying come off as foreign to him. He can’t get the tone right. Melissa George does an impeccable American accent (she’s Australian), but otherwise she is unremarkable as Kathy Lutz. Her physical beauty is sometimes distracting, but not enough to keep the audience awed by her acting. The best actor in the entire film is Jesse James as Billy Lutz. Though barely a teenager, he’s got a solid and determined talent that allows him to compete strongly with Ryan and Melissa in scenes where he shares his screen time with them.
The problem with “The Amityville Horror” is that it takes the same route that most paranormal remakes do: that of neat CGI. Though slightly more influenced by Japanese cinematography in horror than recent American horror releases, the basic jist of the film follows much of the same visual path as the remakes of 13 Ghosts, The Haunting, and House on Haunted Hill did. By “updating” the storyline and adding in some cool effects, the filmmakers created an entire series of horror movies devoted mainly to showing off special effects and playing down traditional, Hitchockian, suspense.
Because its based on reportedly “true” events, the “Amityville” saga has spawned it’s own cult following. Theories vary from the demonic possession of all those who enter the house, to the story that the Lutz’s were hired by the Defeo’s attorney to solidify Ronald’s insanity defense. Andrew Douglas, the director, claims that he never watched the original film before directing his version. So, that being true, why did he or writer Scott Kosar feel the need to create a film based on the book and on the original film, when so many other, more original, ideas were available to them? Neither “Amityville” film is true in all ways to the book, and “The Amityville” remake only does a mediocre job of improving on flaws, if any, in the first version.
The recent influxes in modern horror remakes all have one thing in common; they never take too many risks. So that they don’t alienate the die-hard fans of the original, while still appeasing their newer, increasingly younger Freddy Vs. Jason recruits with gore and flashy shots, filmmakers usually stick somewhere in-between, the only real sacrifice being character development and plot. “Amityville” is a safe film. There are some definite scares and thrillingly beautiful cinematography, and even some great new choices on the part of Andrew Douglas. But in the long run, “Amityville” doesn’t add anything to the story of the Lutz’s, the Defeos, or the creepy old house in Amityville. “The Amityville Horror” is just another decidedly bland, but mildly entertaining, horror film churned out in the rush to cash in on the reemergence of horror in Hollywood.