THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
Directed by Andrew Douglas
Produced by Michael Bay, Andrew Form & Brad Fuller
Written by Scott Kosar
Director of Photograpy Peter Lyons Collister
Music by Steve Jablonsky
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James & Philip Baker Hall
2005/89 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the MGM Home Entertainment DVD
Unless you've been out to lunch for the past few years, then you've no doubt noticed the rash of remakes to hit the cinemas. This trend has been especially popular in the horror genre, with titles such as THE GRUDGE, THE RING, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and THE FOG, being just a few entries into this cycle. Attempting to avoid the label of "lazy", some producers of these films refer to them as "re-imaginings" as opposed to remakes. While this sounds like a B.S. description, it is true in some instances. For example, the first two acts of THE GRUDGE where nearly identical to the original Japanese film JU-ON, so this was clearly a remake. While THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE made enough (poorly chosen) changes to make it feel different (ie: worse) from the original. But, other films, such as the new on DVD THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, mixes many ideas from the original film with new ideas to make a film which lies between remake and re-imagining.
One night in 1974, Ronald Defeo (Brendan Donaldson) murdered his entire family in their home in Amityville, Long Island. One year later, newlyweds George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George), along with her three children from a previous relationship -- Billy (Jesse James), Michael (Jimmy Bennett), and Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) -- move into the house. George is hesitant about buying the place, but the price is incredibly low for a house of that size, and while the story of the murders is certainly disturbing, the family can't pass up the bargain. Soon after they move in, the Lutz's begin to experience many odd things. George is always cold and no matter how high he turns up the heat, he can't get warm. Chelsea claims to have an imaginary friend named Jodie (Isabel Conner), which is the name of one of the children killed in the house. The family dog, Harry, is constantly barking at the boat-house and digging in the basement. As the month drags on, George becomes very despondent and begins to have violent visions, and the children display odd behavior. Fearing for her family, Kathy researches the history of the house and learns that the residue of a murder-spree may be the least of their worries.
In the thirty years since the real George and Kathy Lutz fled from the house in Amityville with their children, the story has gone through many forms and changes. The story began with the media accounts of the events in the house, which then became a best-selling book from author Jay Anson, which was in turn adapted into a film in 1979 by screenwriter Sandor Stern. Through those stages, the story has changed and grown. For the 2005 film THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, screenwriter Scott Kosar has taken bits and pieces from each of these sources to create a story which is different from the 1979 film, but familiar enough for those who know the story.
In the grand scheme of recent remakes, many of which have been very bad, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is a pretty good horror movie and was much better than I expected it to be. Director Andrew Douglas, making his fictional feature film debut, has given the film a very nice look and there are some very impressive shots in the film -- My favorite being the TV's test pattern reflected in Ronald Defeo's eyes. (Also, producer Michael Bay's hand can be felt in the editing at times.) The film's pacing is nearly perfect, and the 82-minute running time (pre-credits) allows the film to get in, do its thing, and then move on. The special FX in the film are good, and there is a nice use of CGI here. The cast is good, especially Ryan Reynolds. When the film was first announced, I found Reynolds to be an odd choice, but it works well. As we know him from goofier roles, such as VAN WILDER, Reynolds is likable at first, so when he begins to get wiggy, it's effective.
But, for every thing THE AMITYVILLE HORROR does right, it does something wrong. While the film certainly draws inspiration from the "real" Amityville story, it brings in some other elements as well. There are some nice touches from the first film, such as the mirror behind George and Kathy's bed being the same. But, the movie misses the mark on some scenes transferred from the 1979 film. For example, one of the most famous scenes from the original is where a priest (played by Rod Steiger) comes to bless the house and is attacked by flies. This scenes also occurs in the remake, but it comes late in the film and doesn't have the same impact. Another scene from the original, the "babysitter in the closet" segment, is recreated, but it goes from a primal fear to an over-the-top moment.
The story vacillates back and forth between being a straight-forward haunted house film and a tale of possession. Whereas the 1979 film focused on how George Lutz falls apart while some odd things are happening around him, this new version will give us a little bit of crazy George, then a little haunted house, and then a little crazy George, etc. The original film never delved into "why" the events were happening beyond the Defeo murders. In the third act of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, Kosar brings in some of the local lore concerning what happened on the land which the house occupies. While this is interesting, some of the visuals will remind many viewers of POLTERGEIST and POLTERGEIST II. The finale really gets wild and wanders a little too far into THE SHINING territory.
Given the notoriety and controversy surrounding the Amityville story, it's probably impossible to make a perfect movie concerning the events experienced by the Lutz's. But as a horror film, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR works fairly well, offering some very creepy visuals, a few jump scares, and a (semi) serious alternative to the rash of PG-13 horror we've seen lately.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR haunts DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in both full-frame and widescreen editions. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks very good, as it is sharp and clear. There is very little grain on the image, and the grain that is present is most likely the result of digital color processing. The transfer shows no defects from the source material. The dark photography looks fine, as do the flashes of bright colors. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is very good, as it provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects are excellent, most notably the thunderstorm sounds. My only complaint is that the voices which George hears aren't very loud. The subwoofer effects are good as well.
The DVD features a smattering of extra features. Star Ryan Reynolds and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller provide an "Audio Commentary". This is a nice, laid-back chat, as the trio discusses the production of the film, including the locations, the sets, the FX, and the other actors. Reynolds give a lot of insight of how director Andrew Douglas worked with the actors. The DVD includes eight "Deleted Scenes" which total eight minutes. These scenes can be viewed with or without commentary by Reynolds, Form, and Fuller. "Supernatural Homicide" (17 minutes) is a documentary featuring Ken Greguski, former Chief of Police in Amityville, Dr. Howard Adelman, deputy chief medical examiner for Suffolk County, and Lorraine Warren, interpreter for the dead. This trio discusses the Defeo murders and the subsequent investigations in the house. Their comments are combined with dramatic recreations of the murders and crime scene. We are treated to a fairly in-depth making of with "The Source of Evil" (26 minutes). This featurette offers comments from the cast and crew and explores the story, casting, the visual FX, stunts, and production design. There are three "Photo Galleries" -- "Crime Scene", "House Interior", and "Ghosts and Torture". The DVD also features an alternate viewing selection called "On Set Peeks", which will show behind-the-scenes footage while watching the movie.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©