Review: The Amityville Horror’ (2004)

Better than expected, and that’s in no small part due to Ryan Reynolds recognizing a great opportunity when one came along.

The year is 1975; the place is Amityville, New York. George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) have found their dream home at an incredible bargain: the lives of the former occupants who were slaughtered over a year earlier conveniently driving down the asking price. Their children are unaware of the history of the house, but that won’t stop the house from making its new family a part of it.

“Based on a true story” of events chronicled by Jay Anson from the real George Lutz in the book “The Amityville Horror,” the original film adaptation was advertised as the non-fiction The Exorcist. The validity of the facts sworn by the Lutz family who claimed to have endured the events have been called into question before, yet the story itself persists and has spawned numerous fanciful sequels and fiction. In MGM’s latest remake, the story and the facts have been jumbled once again, so while the Horror may have once been based on a true story, this newest fictional account bears only a passing resemblance to it.

This all-new Amityville only hints at the 1970’s time period in which it is set; Alice Cooper and KISS posters set the stage since audiences still know who they are, plus the usual cars and clothes. The artfully-slow rotoscoping cinematography unfortunately destroys what little illusion there was, so the filmmakers were obviously less interested in a period piece than they were with the fright factor. Even the opening music drags any hope of a decent horror film down with its initial dreary strains of a family about to be in crisis (and all their dreams shattered!)

Then, surprise! Perhaps because the first trailers dropped the expectation of this remake so low there was no where to go but up, the end result is a creepy crowd pleaser which cleverly entertains. For example, there’s the introduction of former victims that personify the ghostly events in the house, giving the audience frightening monsters, makeup effects, and other bits while only spooking the characters on screen that can’t quite see the same things (and you can thank the 13 Ghosts remake for that trick). It also builds up those new characters for a more sympathetic feel towards them than the new family who we already know gets out alive (and you can thank Gore Verbinski’s remake of The Ring for that and all of Horror‘s other scare tactics as well). The scares are tried and true (and often have nothing to do with the story) but does their job for its target audience.

One of the exceptions, however, is Ryan Reynolds finally managing to destroy the last remnants of his stereotypical “funny guy” role. There’s enough remaining at first to let Reynolds establish himself in the guise of a well-meaning but newly-minted step dad doing his best to fit in, but then Reynolds lets the house have him and revels in it. The rest of the cast does their part, neither hamming it up nor failing to convince, but Reynolds must sell his dementia from beginning to end and pulls it off. That (plus one devilish scene involving a babysitter who gets what she’s got coming) is just enough to pull Amityville up a little higher than recent Ringu rip offs.

The authenticity of the source material is likely the furthest thing from the minds of this film’s target audience, and Ryan Reynolds doesn’t waste his shot to go all Nicholson on a helpless family. But the best thing of all may be that they’re starting to rate horror films ‘R’ again… show it a little love!

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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