Missed all the decent horror films that populated gritty 70s cinema? Never fear as Armageddon director Michael Bay’s remake machine, Platinum Dunes, continues its unashamed, high concept approach to update them for the shock-starved, attention span-less MTV generation by hiring masters of music vids and Nike adverts to imbue them with their own flashy style. If you liked the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre offering, chances are you’re itching to move into the Amityville house to scare yourself senseless. The 1979 film by Stuart Rosenberg was itself based on a true haunting in the mid-70s, and while Andrew Douglas’s take on things won’t offer anything more believable about the hotly debated event, it certainly crams in enough jumps to make up for its more obvious shortcomings.
In 1974 Ronald Defeo went from room to room blasting his own family with a shotgun and would later make up a series of erroneous stories to explain it, the most plausible, and favourite of tellers of ghoulish tales, being that the voices made him do it. A year after the brutal event a family moved into the house, The Lutz’s, only to flee 28 days later, leaving their possessions behind, never to return. This is a version of their experience, albeit greatly exaggerated, where the new Dad of the family George (Reynolds) slowly turns against his wife Kathy (George) and her kids as the evil soul of the house begins to poison him. Each night they endure what the spirits have to throw at them and despite efforts from a local priest (Hall) it seems they can’t all just get along.
Even a lazy horror aficionado will recognise the clichés thrown at them, from the doomed yapping dog to the plot being learned from one of those old newspaper browsers at the public library, nothing will be of great surprise to anyone who’s sat pop culture 101 in the form of The Simpsons Halloween Specials. While the blood dripping down the walls and the rasping voice of the house itself may have been genre defining back in 1979 now it seems overworked, as if the Scream series never happened. Throw in much looting from other classics such as The Shining and Poltergeist before even the daughter starts seeing dead people in the form of her new best friend, and you realise that we may have gotten rid of the teens commonly found in remake purgatory, but this is a movie still very much stuck at filmmaking puberty.
With Melissa George, yes Angel from Home and Away, never really managing to rally her brood into anything other than a collection of stoic victims, it’s left to Reynolds to prove his worth. The actor builds admirably on his more youth friendly ventures and shows early charisma until things become as forced as the bloodshot contacts he’s later unable to shift to show ‘weariness’. While a buxom babysitter offers other areas of comedy The Amityville Horror quickly becomes exactly that, a mishmash of contrived jolts. What does raise it above the usual fare is its strength in numbers. The trouble with clichés is that you’re always trying second guess them and it’s here Amityville can sometimes get the better of even a seasoned horror veteran. Packing a film full of shock tactics isn’t what we’d all class as highbrow but for giving you a chance to fling the odd bucket of popcorn in the air it just goes to show that throw enough blood at the screen then some sticks.
Review by Richard Badley