Not so much a remake as a redo, The Amityville Horror is content to be nothing more than a carbon copy of the original. Considering that first picture was dreadful just as it was, we’re offered more evidence that Hollywood will modernize pretty much anything if they think it’ll make a few bucks.
In this case they’ve taken a critically pummeled 1979 horror flick – that’s only vaguely remembered in the first place – and pumped it out as a brand new weekend scare for moviegoers. Amityville itself is probably best known for the seemingly endless run of garbage sequels it spawned, a string of no-budget and no-scare pictures that switched over from theaters to television back in the late 80s.
But when a film as terrible as The Grudge can make $40 million in its first weekend, I guess it’s conceivable any horror film warrants a newfangled theatrical translation. However, what’s so confounding about this updated version of Amityville is that it’s NOT updated at all.
Say what you will about recent interpretations of films like The Italian Job or Assault on Precinct 13 but at least they were trying to dress up a stale idea in new clothes. Amityville on the other hand simply regurgitates the storyline of the original, duds and all.
Yeah that’s right, this film STILL takes place in the seventies. Apparently realizing that to place this tale in the present would make the whole ‘unknown’ history of this haunted house accessible in about 15 minutes of web surfing, someone named Scott Kosar actually got paid to write a screenplay telling the same story we heard over 25 years ago.
All that being said, it really isn’t that bad. It’s just very average.
Director Andrew Douglas, making his feature film debut, is noticeably unfamiliar with setting a terrifying mood or producing scares. Most of his technique revolves around the use of fading to black and those cheap jump-out-at-you jolts. Douglas’ limitations are likely to be a let down to fans of the original novel, which I’m told is genuinely creepy. Nevertheless, the film remains surprisingly watchable.
Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder) offers the only recognizable face as George Lutz. George is a normal, interchangeable everyman. He films home movies, loves his wife, and tries to befriend her three kids. That is, till the family moves into the house in Amityville, when he turns into a crazed madman and probable homicidal killer.
The site of a previous murderous rampage (that we get to see as the opening of the film), the Lutz’s are offered their dream house at a bargain rate. After a brief debate that culminates in the philosophical conclusion that “houses don’t kill people,” they decide to take the deal and move in.
Over the next 28 days there’s some genuinely odd behavior and unprovoked bouts of rage emanating from George. On top of that, there are also random sightings of ghosts, who usually spend their time haunting closets and boathouses or standing directly behind the children.
Reynolds spends the entire 90-minute running time trying to prove he can act and he does so in part. Sure he has his moments where he looks like he’s trying too hard, but at the same time he has scenes in which he looks perfectly comfortable in the role. Unfortunately his performance too often brings to mind Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson’s infamous Shining character) and Reynolds can’t compete with Nicholson’s ghost.
A previously indistinguishable Melissa George offers a strong supporting performance as Kathy Lutz. She’s usually not called on for more than a terrified look or two, but she does it much better than Sarah Michelle Gellar ever has.
It’s a familiar story but not altogether a waste of time to watch it again. And at the very least, it’s better than those previous ‘possessed house’ remakes House on Haunted Hill and The Haunting.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at email@example.com.