The Amityville Horror (2005) [Blu-Ray]
Director : Andrew Douglas
Screenplay : Scott Kosar (based on a by Sandor Stern, based on the book by Jay Douglas)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Ryan Reynolds (George Lutz), Melissa George (Kathy Lutz), Jesse James (Billy Lutz), Jimmy Bennett (Michael Lutz), Chloë Grace Moretz (Chelsea Lutz), Rachel Nichols (Lisa), Philip Baker Hall (Father Callaway), Isabel Conner (Jodie DeFeo), Brendan Donaldson (Ronald DeFeo), Annabel Armour (Realtor)
The influence of J-horror is all over Andrew Douglas’ highly stylized remake of The Amityville Horror, but in typical American-filmmaking-borrowing-from-foreign-filmmaking fashion, he wants to have it both ways. The film’s best moments are the ones that tap into terrors that are deeply irrational and, therefore, inexplicable--which is J-horror’s bread and butter. Yet, there is so much effort to explain everything, to supply reasons for things that don’t need them and therefore cannot sustain them, that the film folds in on itself.
Right up until the gooey climax of the original 1979 film, screenwriter Sandor Stern had hemmed fairly closely to Jay Douglas’ supposedly nonfictional account of a young family terrorized for 28 days inside their spacious Long Island house. Scott Kosar, who also penned the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is more liberal with his adaptation, taking the basic structure of the month-long descent into terror, but refashioning the events to fit more contemporary ghost-story sensibilities.
The events in the book were plenty sensational: green slime oozing from the walls, swarms of flies, noxious odors, the sounds of a marching band blaring in the living room, levitation, unseen hands, a secret red-walled room in the basement, and, most memorably, fleeting glimpses of a demonic pig with glowing red eyes that the youngest member of the Lutz family befriended and called “Jodie.” However, none of this is sensational enough for the filmmakers, who are less interested in fidelity to Anson’s account of the events than they are with delivering what they think audiences expect from a ghost story. Pigs are out. Creepy little ghost girls are in. A small hidden room in the basement isn’t enough. Now we need an entire hidden maze of rooms, complete with torture instruments and twisted, rotting ghosts, one of which bears a remarkable resemblance to Gollum.
For those who don’t know, The Amityville Horror tells of how, in the winter of 1975, George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George) purchased a large Dutch Colonial house in the small burg of Amityville on Long Island. They got the house for a song because, a year earlier, a young man named Ronald DeFeo had slaughtered his entire family--mother, father, and four siblings--because, as he claimed, voices from inside the house told him to. George and Kathy, along with Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage, moved into the house and, after a terrifying ordeal that lasted a month, left the house and never came back, even to pick up their belongings. Basically, it’s “Mr. Blandings Goes to Hell.”
As with both the 1977 book and the 1979 movie, this version of the story boldly claims it to be true, although even a small amount of research will unveil numerous experts, both scientific and parapsychological, who will argue that the whole thing is a hoax. But, hoax or not, the book is a crackling good read, and the 1979 movie, while not terribly good, has its chilling moments. In this sense, director Andrew Douglas is in a better position than the directors of the other horror remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead: He’s remaking a fundamentally mediocre horror hit from the 1970s, rather than a cherished classic.
The new Amityville Horror is certainly a step up visually from Stuart Rosenberg’s original film, which frequently looked like a made-for-TV movie. Douglas began his career as a commercial photographer, and it shows in his catchy visuals. He has a good sense of visual structure, and he elicits a great deal of tension by carefully framing his scenes, leaving empty space that’s just begging to be filled by something scary. Granted, the film’s biggest “boo” moments rely incessantly on something suddenly appearing in the frame accompanied by crashing music, but it’s done with optimal efficiency.
The real strength of The Amityville Horror is the way it taps into familial anxieties -the American dream gone terribly, horribly wrong--which was a crucial aspect of horror in the 1970s. While the ghosts and demons that plague the house are supernatural, the real danger ultimately comes from their effect on family members, causing them to hurt each other emotionally and physically. While the Lutzes are often described as “the perfect family,” they are actually a classic case of the post-1960s fluidity of the American family. George is not the children’s biological father, thus when he starts becoming violent as the house’s demons get to him, his interloper status is heightened.
Had the film stuck more closely to this theme, it could have been a truly disturbing experience (Ryan Reynolds, despite his frequent appearances in gross comedies, does a nice dramatic turn here, although his overly chiseled muscles, a remnant of his role in Blade: Trinity, are a bit much for the role). Unfortunately, Douglas and Kosar are ultimately more interested in goosey scares and gross imagery than plumbing the depths of psychological terror, and the film gets overloaded with quick-cut flashes, meandering dream sequences, and illogical events such as the Lutzes’ youngest daughter being led out onto the roof by Jodie, who instead of being a demonic pig is the ghost of the youngest of the murdered DeFeoes. This results in a chillingly vertiginous action sequence, but it has no place in the film and ultimately makes no sense since it is explained at one point that Jodie is a good ghost who is herself terrorized by the house’s darker demons. That doesn’t stop her, of course, from showing up in all her creepy-nastiness for a few mechanized jolts, which is all this Amityville Horror is really about.
|The Amityville Horror Blu-Ray + DVD|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 14, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Like most modern horror films, the remake of The Amityville Horror has plenty of visual panache, all of which is well represented on this Blu-Ray in 1080p/AVC-encoded high definition. The cinematography varies widely throughout the film, from the grainy black and white of the opening sequence, to bright, sunny exteriors, to the dark, highly contrasted interior of the house as the haunting becomes more apparent. The image is sharp and clean with the kind of first-rate detail that makes those discoveries down in the basement all the more gruesome. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise superb, with the surround channels finding plenty of use in surrounding us with creepy ambiance and ghostly voices.|
|All of the supplements are available only on the accompanying repackaged DVD. We have a chatty and at times very funny audio commentary by star Ryan Reynolds and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, the former of whom plays wise-cracking emcee as he essentially interviews the two producers about the production. There are also two featurettes: the 18-minute “Supernatural Homicides,” which explores the facts of the 1974 DeFeo family murders via interviews with the Suffolk County police chief and medical examiner who handled the case and a paranormal expert who visited the house after the murders (there are some actual crime scene photographs included, but the featurette frustratingly relies primarily on recreations shot for the movie) and the 26-minute making-of featurette “The Source of Evil,” a good portion of which depicts the complex rigging required to allow Chloë Grace Moretz to walk along the edge of a three-story house. For those interested in the film’s production, the disc also includes a multi-angle function that allows you to leave the movie at certain points and see brief making-of vignettes (there are nine total scattered throughout the film). Lastly, there are eight short deleted scenes with optional commentary by Reynolds, Form, and Fuller and three photo galleries.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment