April 18, 2005

The Amityville Horror

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Sigh. I tried. I really did. I came in with no expectations and impressively still came out disappointed. The Amityville Horror is as horrifying as a used-car lot commercial. It’s ambitious, obnoxious, cheap and essentially trying to make money with second-hand shit. Why, one may ask, would anyone attempt to make another version of an already, in its numerous incarnations, pedestrian movie–other than the obvious cha-ching factor?

Because it’s a damn good story! The Horror is a story of the underbelly of Americana–the decaying family structure, the highly perishable suburbia and even White guilt. Unfortunately, no adaptation has quite justifiably rendered the morbid allure of the pop-cultural myth of the Amityville haunting.

This much is true: In the fall of 1974, Ronald DeFeo shot his parents and four siblings in their sleep with a high-powered rifle in Amityville, New York, a community on Long Island. DeFeo blamed the massacre on demonic possession, claiming that he heard voices from the house. He was found guilty of six counts of first-degree murder.

The story, however, did not become a national sensation until a year later, when the Lutz family moved in, only to be chased out by demonic presence twenty-eight days later. Since then, the Lutz story have been debunked–one suggesting that the haunting was staged by George Lutz himself to avoid a hefty mortgage payment. After the publication of the best-seller by Jay Anson in 1977, the Amityville hooey have been horrifying audiences (not because they were actually scary but rather for their sheer plain badness) with a few sequels, a number of TV movies and even direct-to-video efforts for almost three decades.

The pre-masticated plot casts Ryan Reynolds of Van Wilder fame (or shame, whichever way you want to look at it) as George Lutz. Reynolds probably thought that a crazy-guy beard and crazy guy bloodshot contact lenses are enough to construct a psychologically vexed and supernaturally-agitated character. It turns out, feigning constipation does not quite equate to reticent rage and familial jealousy.

Reynolds tries really hard to portray a man beset by the responsibilities and the repulsion of the title stepfather, only to be maliciously coaxed and instructed by sinister voices. Ultimately, despite his best efforts to impersonate Jack Nicholson’s character in the The Shining, he just looks goofy. In fairness, Reynolds is not completely talentless; he effectively shows off his talent for crunches as we are shamelessly inundated by shots of his gaudily sculpted abs.

Anonymous and sadly forgettable Melissa George plays his wife, a widow and mother of three children namely, Billy (Jesse James), Michael (Jimmy Bennett), and Jodie (Isabel Conner–who, I’m sorry to say, could only wish she were Dakota Fanning).

Because of the marginally convincing performance of the three children and their mother, we buy into their family unit and any resulting dumb decision after that.

While the writing may not be the best, we are given adequate reason why they stay in a haunted house for almost a month or why the youngest child persists to follow the directions of the pallid ghost of Jodie DeFeo, the youngest victim, even if she looks like she crawled out of the same proverbial well in The Ring.

The narrative is a flat, soporific line that, at its best moments, incites a guffaw instead of the intended shriek. The (non) action insistently scales up in a pitiful attempt to creep its audience, only to fall flat on its ugly, uneventful face. The film is nothing but a succession of anaesthetizing jump cuts and scavenged stock horror film elements. A product of cerebral laziness and unoriginality, The Amityville Horror is an amateur collage of horror films past.

Archived article by Whine Del Rosario
Sun Staff Writer