I didn't particularly like the "new and improved" Amityville Horror when I went to see it in theaters. I don't know, maybe it was the crowd I was with, or perhaps it was just "one of those days"; whatever the case, I left the theater feeling cheated, manipulated, and pretty underwhelmed. When I recently got the chance to revisit the film in the comfort of my own home, I thought that, maybe, just maybe, I'd find at least a nugget of quality here. If you set the bar low enough...
The film opens with Ronald DeFeo Jr. systematically slaughtering his family, with all of the deaths shown in glimpses, and treated as little more than grisly stepping stones en route to the youngest child Jody's room (for, you see, her death will provide the majority of the film's scares). There, Ronnie smiles, tells Jody he loves her, and then we cut to the exterior of the house, where we see a muzzle flash fill the home's signature demon-eye windows. The next time we see those windows, George and Kathy Lutz (Reynolds and George) are staring up at them in awe, as a reluctant real estate agent gives them the grand tour of the place. They are eager to move the new family in (Kathy has three children from a previous relationship), but when they are told of the house's history, they weigh their options, with George finally offering up the nugget of wisdom that seals the deal.
“Houses don't kill people. People kill people.”
And, with that, the Lutz's are now the proud owners of a house haunted not by demons, but by horror clichés. There's the ghost of Jody DeFeo (who looks like a cross between a goth mall rat and Samara from The Ring) who inhabits the room of Kathy's youngest daughter. There's also the boogeyman in the tub, the demonic face shifting of family members, and, of course, the slow and gradual descent into madness of the man of the house who ultimately stalks everyone with an axe.
However, what's missing is all of the actual stuff the Lutz family claims to have had happen to them. Where's the late night cacophony of a marching band? Why is Jody (a fictional character, as there was no DeFeo daughter with that name) now a little girl instead of a red-eyed pig? Why isn't the family awakened by knocks on the front door, slamming windows, and all of the other less sensatiolised but far more effective scares that were chronicled in Jay Anson's terrifying book? All I can fathom is that Andrew Douglas and company didn't feel that those sorts of scares would work with today's audiences, so instead we are given all manner of jolts and goosing at such a rapid-fire pace that I was too busy wondering what in the hell I had just seen to notice the next scare tactic.
We are also presented with a truly ridiculous twist on the old story in which the haunting is blamed on an evil sorcerer who lured the local Indians into the house, where he performed torturous experiments on them. I hated this plot device almost as much as I hated the fact that Jody was now the Samara of Ocean Avenue.
So did I find anything I liked about the film upon viewing it the second time? Well, besides wishing I had this guy's physique, I have to say that Ryan Reynold's performance is quite strong, and makes for a very likeable and tragic "hero". He's one of those actors that I can't help but laugh at as he's an effortless comedic presence in most of his films, but he also does a damned good "tormented" and he and Melissa George add a much-needed human element to a film that seems to have been concocted in an entirely digital realm. While I hated the quick edits and CGI ghosts, I have to admit that, away from a theater full of teenagers I wanted to strangle, the film does offer some moments of tension and horror, but I found it ironic that the most effective scares in this film were the ones in which they seemed to use the least amount of digitally enhanced hoodoo.
The horndog in me also appreciated the presence of the ridiculously attractive Rachel Nichols as Lisa, the stoner babysitter. Fans of the very cool and shortlived Fox drama, The Inside, know of whom I speak, but I would imagine if you asked just about any red blooded male what their favorite scene in the film was, it'd probably be the moment Nichols walks on screen. If they tell you otherwise, they're lying, especially if they're over thirty years old.
MGM presents the film on DVD with deleted scenes, a humourous commentary by director Douglas and star Reynolds, as well as featurettes, including one that focuses on the DeFeo case upon which the whole mythology of this franchise Lutz's story is rather crudely based.
The Amityille Horror is certainly a better film at $14.95 than it is at $25 bucks (the cost of two movie tickets and the large popcorn my wife always needs to get but never seems to actually eat), but that's not exactly a glowing endorsement. Personally, I still find the original film scarier and far more entertaining, but this is an Amityville for a new generation of moviegoers weaned on MTV style scares and slick visuals, and, in that respect, it delivers. Otherwise, this Amityville Horror could have just as easily been called Darkness Falls 2, The Ring 3, or Fourteen Ghosts. There's nothing here that separates it from the current pack of CGI heavy horror films, nor is there much that connects it to the original film or Jay Ansen's book.