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Few scares, clichés aplenty in "Amityville"

photo courtesy of MGM
In The Amityville Horror Ryan Reynolds proves that beards and axes mean business - just ask Pete and Sharron... oh, wait, you can't... they're dead. bum bum bummmm..
By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 21, 2005
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"The Amityville Horror" joins "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in the long line of remade horror films. It also joins the tediously long list of more recent, awful horror movies like "Boogeyman" and "Cursed".

"The Amityville Horror," like most of the recent horror films coming out of Hollywood, relies on shock as its only tangible resource.

Most troubling about the film is its blown potential. Whereas "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remakes had the unenviable tasks of trying to top two of the genre's standard-bearers, "The Amityville Horror" had no such pressure. The original 1979 version is interesting only in its campiness and the so-awful-it's-funny acting of James Brolin and Margot Kidder. Nevertheless, the remake cannot seem to legitimately manage a scare.

The movie is purportedly based on a true story, which is not entirely true. The 'true' story, based on the 1977 book by Jay Anson, has since been debunked. While the Defeo family murders that occurred in the 'demonic' house on Ocean Avenue are true, the story of The Lutz family has since been mostly discredited. However, the film ignores this minor inconvenience in the hopes of adding an element of unease (yikes, it may have really happened) and making the forced shocks more palpable.

The film begins, after a brief reenactment of the Defeo tragedy, with George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) deciding to purchase and move into the infamous 'High Hopes' house. Despite their knowledge of the grisly Defeo murders, the couple optimistically views the place as a fixer-upper, nothing a little elbow grease and an exorcism can't take care of. Meanwhile, George's place in the family is already tenuous. As stepfather to the children, he is under watchful surveillance by the whole family, particularly Kathy's eldest son, Billy (Jesse James).

Inevitably, crazy, spooky things start happening once the family moves into the haunted house. The youngest daughter, Chelsea (Chloe Moretz), befriends her room's previous dead inhabitant, Jodie (Isabel Conner), which makes for some interesting and disturbing moments. For better or worse, the audience is treated to most of its initial scares thanks to the rotting ghost child's overbearing presence. Hollywood, it appears, is not quite done milking the creepy dead girl image just yet.

Meanwhile, George is slowly being possessed by the house in a parallel to Ronald Defeo (Brendan Donaldson), the Defeos' eldest son and demented murderer. Director Andrew Douglas overemphasizes George's possession throughout the film. In avoiding doing anything subtle, Douglas cues the audience that George is changing by reddening his eyes as the film progresses. He even seems to delight in beating a dead horse by making it mandatory that Reynolds state how good and normal he feels every time he leaves the house.

While Reynolds' acting style bodes well for comedy ("Van Wilder"), it doesn't lend itself well to horror. His clunky delivery and unnecessary over-the-top facial contortions become a bore in the already mind-numbing film. However, Melissa George's portrayal of the razzed Kathy is far superior to any other role in the film, which isn't saying much.

Andrew Douglas, a veteran television commercial director, is well versed in the art of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't horror filmmaking. He manages to create a couple jumpy moments, despite rehashing such tired techniques. By the film's end, however, the audience is drained by seeing every seemingly pleasant room or innocuous bathroom turn into a living nightmare for the split second required to frighten them and for Douglas to cash his paycheck.

In a desperate move, "The Amityville Horror" endeavors to fill its quota of horror film clichés. People run upstairs. The house creaks in menacing ways. Windows open on their own. There's even a Native American burial/torture ground thing going on. It's all been done before, and it's all been done much better.

Too often the film avoids moments of actual horror to instead peddle the same cheap tricks and tired thrills.

Thankfully, the horror of James Brolin's hairy chest was kept on the shelf this time around.

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