Amityville Horror, The
OK, I admit it: movies about demonic houses scare me a little. I mean, we've all, at one time or another, stared long and hard at the attic and/or basement door, haven't we? The original 1979 Amityville Horror, based on a true story, fits this bill sufficiently. But the remake of the cult favorite ups the ante, cutting out the cheesiness of the original and going straight for the jugular. For the most part, anyway.
Here's the real-life story: On Nov. 13, 1974, inside a large Dutch Colonial house in Amityville, Long Island, the police discovered a horrific crime scene: The entire DeFeos family living there were slaughtered by the prodigal son Ronald DeFeo Jr. He confessed to methodologically shooting his parents and four siblings with a rifle while they slept, claiming the ''voices'' in the house drove him to commit the grisly murders. Riiight. One year later, happy couple George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) and their children move into said house, thinking they had found their dream home. But soon bizarre and unexplainable events began to occur, thus speculating on the house's inner demons. A ghostly little girl-- with a gunshot wound in her head--wanders around talking only to the Lutz's daughter, Chelsea (Chloe Moretz). Haunting evil voices keep telling George to ''Katch 'em and Kill 'em.'' And yes, there are flies involved. Lovely. While the confused and frightened Kathy struggles to hold her family together, George's behavior, oddly enough, becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous. Hmmm. Time to pack up the stuff, honey, we're moving out!
Horror films never really procure deep, meaningful performances. The actors mostly react to the terrifying events unfolding around them, which is pretty much what George (Mulholland Drive) and the rest of the supporting cast end up doing in The Amityville Horror. On the other hand, Reynolds--who was so funny in Van Wilder and was the only reason to see Blade: Trinity--actually shows off some genuine skills, especially by spouting off sarcastic quips in his trademark delivery while at the same time turning into the bad guy, red eyes and all. After one particularly harrowing scene, in which Chelsea nearly falls off the roof of the house and Kathy tries to console her after getting her down, George mutters, ''What is wrong with you people? God, this family is screwed up.'' If Reynolds plays his cards right, he could be on his way up.
Whenever The Amityville Horror is mentioned, I'm reminded of an old Richard Pryor routine, in which the comedian questions why you would stay in a house if it tells you leave. He says he'd just get the heck out. ''Oh, baby, what a lovely house, what a great house, we can live here forever, aren't we lucky? [in a satanic voice] GET OUT OK, well, gotta go! Been nice but we're outta here!'' The original Amityville did suffer a little from that stupidity, as well as listening to lame dialogue from a cast who tended to overact. Fortunately, the remake, guided by commercial director Andrew Douglas, cuts right to the chase and surprisingly uses little to no special effects to achieve the chill factor. Of course, the scares aren't really anything you haven't seen before: getting locked in a closet with a dead person, nearly drowning in a bathtub as ghostly arms hold you down, apparitions appearing in the mirror behind you, stuff like that. But like The Shining, the sinister atmosphere comes from watching a seemingly normal, happy man transformed into a crazed homicidal maniac, urged on by a place with a malevolent history. Especially if it really was suppose to have happened. Shiver.
As far as good haunted house movies go, The Amityville Horror remake actually surpasses the original and delivers the hide-behind-the-hands effects with aplomb.