“George and Kathy Lutz and their three children move into a house that was the site of a horrific murder a year before. They decide to keep the house and try to keep the horror in the past. This is until, George starts to behave weirdly and their daughter, Chelsea starts to see people. What now follows is twenty-eight days of sheer terror for the family.” (courtesy IMDB)
So, after you’ve inspected the house of your dreams and the real estate agent ominously explains that this spooky old fixer-upper’s bargain price is on account of, um, the entire family that had died there not so long ago, what are you going to do?
1. Run screaming out of the house?
2. Politely enquire for more information?
3. Blithely progress to the moving-in montage because ‘Houses Don’t Kill People, People Do’?
Admittedly, the first option wouldn’t make for much of a movie, but it could be reasonably be expected that home-buyers George and Kathy’s natural curiosity would compel them to exercise the second option. Not so in Scott Kosar‘s screenplay for the Lutz’s opt for number three, a contrivance that allows them to discover the house’s evil history piecemeal for the rest of the movie. Even this, though, is done at a credibility-shattering pace, and it’s not until very late in the piece (long after George has developed demon-fever and supernatural pink-eye and their daughter is seeing dead people) that Kathy hits the local library microfiche to discover the truth. The original 1979 movie at least credited the characters with smarts. In that version of the so-called real events, the Lutz’s were aware of the house’s history and made an offer on it because they knew they’d get a good deal.
George Lutz himself described this remake as “drivel” and sued the filmmakers for defamation, libel, and breach of contract. He objected particularly to the scene in the film where George Lutz, as played by Ryan Reynolds, is shown killing the family dog with an axe. The film also shows the George Lutz character building coffins for members of his own family. The defamation claim was dismissed by a Los Angeles court in 2005, while other issues related to the lawsuit remained unresolved at the time of George Lutz’s death the next year.
The first version also understood the notion of building atmosphere and terror. Here, director Andrew Douglas relies on colour-coded cinematography for mood and the only way he can think of scaring the audience is with sudden flashes of ghouls accompanied by a blast of Dolby sound. The aural assault really underlines his lack of confidence in the material. He’s like a kid who’s jumped out from behind the door so often that he now needs to give a loud “boo!” to even make his friends flinch. The pacing, too, is relentless, with the law of diminishing returns coming into play quite soon.
Just as the filmmakers don’t make this period-piece too seventies (beyond a few Kiss posters, it could be set today) because they don’t want to bewilder their teen audience, the filmmakers also raid the modern-horror canon for any touchstones that might terrify. The whole possession-by-property theme has always invoked The Shining (1980) but never more so when a clearly crazed George assures his wife “Don’t worry, I’m here.” – “Honey, I’m home!” it’s not. There’s also a Pet Semetary-style root-cause explanation of an Indian torture ground, The Ring (2002) television weirdness, and a ghoulish-looking girl who looks to be on loan from The Grudge (2002).
Oh, and by the way, the tagline on the poster is “Katch em and kill em” which refers to the claimed link between the house in Ocean Avenue and John Ketcham, whose name has been linked to witchcraft in Salem, and remains a rather controversial and elusive figure to this day. All of these elements stack up to not so much a bad film as one that feels as though it has rolled off the production line written by a committee. The movie looks and sounds sharp in a bland kind of way, and the make-up effects are convincingly gruesome. There are a couple of suspenseful scenes, the best of which is a rooftop rescue and, within their limited characters, Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George convince as a dreamy couple coming under strain.
The school-holiday audience I first saw the film with certainly enjoyed the mechanical roll-out of jolts and gore and indeed, it’s passable entertainment. But for a movie about spiritual possession, it’s rather ironic that it hasn’t an ounce of soul. And it’s with that thought in mind I ask you to please join me next week when I have the opportunity to sterilise you with fear during another terror-filled excursion to the dark side of Hollywood for…Horror News! Toodles!
Amityville Horror arrives on Blu-ray!
The Amityville Horror (2005) – New Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack
From Michael Bay, the producer of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, comes the true story of Amityville. In November 1974 a family of six was brutally murdered. Now, a year later, an unsuspecting young father, George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) and his wife Kathy (Melissa George) move with their children into the house that was the site of the horrific event. The house is now haunted by a murderous presence, and what follows is 28 days of unimaginable terror. With demonic visions of the dead and relentless screams of terror, this is the haunted house story that isn’t just a movie – it’s real.
The Amityville Horror (2005)