C’mon, folks. Really(!) — how far does Hollywood have its head up its own ass? Seriously, how hard is it to not screw up The Amityville Horror? You get a scary-looking house, throw some blood around, chop up a few large-breasted teenagers, have the preacher-man take a pratfall, throw in some “Gimme some sugar, baby”-type one-liners, and send the few remaining survivors on their way, drenched in the gore from the floorboard that came alive and backhanded your hero with a protruding nail. Roll credits. Voila: You got yourself a $28 million dollar opening weekend, enough to recoup your entire investment and reap your rewards on DVD.
It seems, however, that producer Michael Bay — the jackass who directed the most overblown blockbuster trio of all time: The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor — couldn’t remember the one driving force behind the success of this generation of schlock-horror films: a ridiculously high body count. Unless you have a talented director — Danny Boyle, David Fincher, or (sometimes) M. Night Shyamalan come to mind — who can actually create tension without blood, you’d best be chopping up some folks, ripping apart some corpses, and leaving some gory entrails along the way.
Bay was smart enough to do so with the updated The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was also looooosely based on actual events, but, I suppose in an effort to stay close to the original “facts,” Bay decided to let all the members of the Lutz family survive, which is ridiculous if you consider how fabricated the rest of the movie is. Sure, Ronald DeFeo blew away his family with a shotgun on November, 13, 1974, but beyond that, the entire Amityville legend is a nothing but a big ol’ hoax. In actuality, George and Kathy Lutz moved in, apparently heard a few creaks and saw a few apparitions, and left 28 days later — and nowhere in the original account did George Lutz go after his portly stepson with a goddamn ax. I mean, if you’re going to forsake the original account, why the hell don’t you at least invent an interesting fiction? Alternatively, if you’re going to try to stick close to the facts, wouldn’t the Amityville story have been a lot more fascinating had the filmmakers concentrated on the actual murders that took place in the house and what inspired them rather than focus their attention on the folks who moved in afterwards and ultimately left unscathed?
Indeed, screenwriter Scott Kosar had creative license enough to have us believe a Native American from a television test pattern asked DeFeo to do away with his family, but he wasn’t “creative” enough to bring in a few dismemberments, which is a shame, because — with the exception of Ryan Reynold’s George Lutz — I would’ve squirmed in delight to see the rest of the cast knocked off in a gruesomely bloody fashion. Instead, we get a lot of ambient noise, a lot of semi-creepy images, and way too many fantasy sequences, which carry very little threat when we know they’re just dreams that somebody is about to wake up from.
Worse still was Michael Bay’s choice of Andrew Douglas as director, whose only experience was a little-seen 2003 documentary, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, and a few car commercials. Douglas has absolutely no sense of pacing in Amityville, trying to deliver loud noises in numbing succession with the hopes that one or two might compel you to leap from your seat. If someone comes up behind you while you’re reading a book and yells at you, it just might elicit a jump; if someone comes up behind you during a Metallica concert and yelps into your ear over and over again, you’re probably just going to be annoyed, which is how I felt watching Douglas’ version of The Amityville Horror.
If you’re curious, here is the plot: Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity) and Melissa George (“Alias”) play George and Kathy Lutz, who purchase a gigantic Dutch Colonial in New York for a song. Unfortunately, George is having a hard time connecting with his three stepkids, a situation that’s made no better by the damned ax he keeps carrying around with him. Expectedly, the house inspires “creepy” hallucinations in George, he relocates to the basement, and by day 28, he’s the poor man’s Jack Torrance, parading around in the rain, shirtless, with a gleam in his eye that says, “Man, I wish I were in a better movie.”
Reynolds does his best to inject some life into the script, and given my heterosexual man-crush on Mr. Van Wilder, I’m not in a very good position to criticize his contributions, except to say that — intended or not — everything he says seems to be dripping with sarcasm, which meant that even his most psychopathic lines elicited giggles. Melissa George — who I keep confusing with Kevin Arnold’s big sister in “The Wonder Years” — is serviceable, but doesn’t really have that Alba-esque appeal you’d like to see in horror movie heroines, so when she’s hacked in the stomach in another lame fantasy sequence, you find yourself hoping that this one’s for real. Phillip Baker Hall rounds out the cast as the local priest, but he is given little to work with but a house of CGI-created flies, which elicit about as much fear as a “Care Bears” cartoon.
Overall, The Amityville Horror, aside from a dearth of death scenes, suffers from lack of direction. Andrew Douglas doesn’t seem to know what to make of his version of Amityville; it is neither self-referential nor kitschy enough to qualify as campy fun, and yet it doesn’t take itself seriously enough or do the hard work it takes to qualify as a straightforward horror film. Indeed, this mishmash of sub-genres mostly left me wondering why they bothered to remake it in the first place.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.Amityville Horror / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()