While The Amityville Horror is a remake of the 1979 original of the same name, and while the new version is still set in 1975, the film takes on a terrific spin. The 2005 version of Amityville Horror is a character driven horror film, so it feels more like an actual film with gore included in the action, and less like a typical, overacted, cheesy horror movie. No, there aren’t any huge named actors like Bruce Campbell or Jennifer Tilly, but that’s not to say that the acting isn't top notch. Amityville is one of those classic, flinching in your seat, hands hiding your eyes kind of movies. This is the place where the “edge of you seat” “scary as hell” cliches were on their way to when they got slapped on someone else’s box cover.
The opening scenes of the movie take place with the November 1974 murder of the DeFeo family. Not too far behind come Ryan Reynolds (who can walk around in nothing but his pajama bottoms at my house anytime) and the beautiful Melissa George as Mr. and Mrs. Lutz, who bring three children with them. Guess what? They buy the house where the murders occurred. I know that idea is fairly tired for the horror genre, but at least they get it over with during the first fifteen minutes and by minute sixteen we dive right into a sex scene and the first vision of a ghost in the house.
As we continue further in to the plot, a ghost/demon type presence both wants rid of this family and at the same time is considering taking over Reynolds’ character. Likewise, the ghost of the little DeFeo girl comes into play with the daughter of the Lutz's. As we learn more of the history of the house, we also learn why the family wants to leave and why they feel they have to stay.
One aspect I really love about Amityville is the distinct lack of the crap-tacular old stunts. From a woman’s point of view going into a horror movie, I half expect for a demon to eventually rip off/open a woman’s shirt and *surprise* - guess who’s not wearing a bra. I suppose for some guys nothing is scarier than the idea of demons and boobies, am I right? But in Amityville Melissa George rocks out as a not so powerless mother of three showing a nice balance of strength and a reality of fear.
I’ll admit, I started out cautious of any movie that leans too much on the “based on a true story” sales pitch. For the sake of examples, let’s say a man robs a bank in Des Moines. That doesn’t mean Hollywood should force out a Vin Diesel flick about a renegade, driven by powerful forces, who sends chills down the spine of a sleeping town on a night of terror, bloodshed, and bank robbery. Sure, it’s based on the story of that crack addict with no strung out sense of right or wrong, but in no way would it truly resemble fact. While I’ve heard from some people that the Lutz family later admitted they made the story up about their house being possessed, in my heart, I wanted it to be at least a little more than partially true.
If nothing else, true or not, Ryan Reynolds can come demonize my house any time. Even if you cut off his head with a chainsaw Ryan Reynolds’ body would still be the hottest in film today. Daaaaamn! Even the men can get a man crush on him and not feel ashamed. But I’m telling the women out there, prepare to be empowered and get the pause button ready because while the movie is only eighty-nine minutes long, it might take all night to get through it with as many shots of Reynolds’ chest and arms as there are. Glory Hallelujah!
Aside from Ryan’s pecks/abs/bis/tris/delts/obliques/traps, the style of the film is also well balanced. There never seems to be an overuse of gore and through all the blood drippings and brains there are also some great “non-visual” frights, where suspense and fear carries us forward. Although, sure, some of the effects have been done before, the look is quite different in this film. You do have some of the typical dramatic building music and then relief when there’s nothing behind a door, in a closet, etc., but sometimes there are things behind those doors, and in those closets that the characters don’t see but we do.
I give first time director Andrew Douglas credit for putting a fresh feel on what has become the typical horror genre. There are off camera angles (how can we watch the door if we’re staring up into a faucet), out of focus movements, and a classical theme: the dead girl, the innocent come home to haunt, with even her little teddy bear to join her. I’m especially drawn to the fact that through it all we’re rooting for the family to make it both before and after Reynolds’ character has been taken over by the power of the house’s brutal history.
Graphic visuals and subtle movements all combine to make the film painfully suspenseful and wonderfully scary. What’s your poison? The fear of the unknown, or actually seeing the monsters under the bed? Whatever it is, drink up. Amityville has plenty to go around.
To follow up such a great film there are equally great extras. Nothing makes a reviewer smile like looking at a box cover loaded with text about special features. And to top that off, these are special features that are worth watching. Amityville could quite possibly be the beauty queen of horror movies: suspense, gore, and fabulous extras.
Let’s start with the deleted scenes. While these scenes weren’t the best (which is why they were deleted) you can watch them with or without commentary and for each of them understand how it would have changed the film, direction of story, or made characters unreliable. This is a big plus.
“Supernatural Homicide” is a documentary-like segment lasting not quite twenty minutes. It shows interviews with some psychic woman, a sheriff, and the Amityville coroner. Each played a part in the aftermath of the DeFeo murder and each express a different opinion about the cause or reasoning behind the actual homicides. They also spend some time talking about the myth surrounding the house’s history.
A fantastic addition to the Amityville disc is the “Source of Evil” portion. This is the place where everyone can really geek out on the making of a movie and actual production efforts that it takes to pull off some of the effects in the film. A great part of it is seeing little Isabel Conner get loaded with makeup to become the dead girl Jodie, complete with hole in the head. Then there’s lots of footage of Chloe Moretz, who plays the Lutz’s daughter, being trained and prepared for her stunt to walk along the peak of the roof at least three stories off the ground. There are several interview clips with Melissa George and Ryan Reynolds to put a personal touch on the filming process and show them working on set with the children. Finally, if that wasn’t enough, there’s a bit where you see drawings for the torture segment near the end of the movie, and then are shown a lot of the make up work and shots for that aspect of the story.
“On Set Peeks” works somewhat like an audio commentary. You select for it to be on while you watch the movie and go from there. What it does is play the film naturally and when it gets to a scene where there’s a Peek, after that scene the movie stops, the “on set peek” plays for that scene, and when it’s done, the movie continues on from that point. Really neat to see these and there are nine of them in Amityville. I wish more movies used this feature because if I like the movie I tend to watch it over and over. Sometimes intently, sometimes as background, ask my older brother if you don’t believe I’ve seen Splash twenty times growing up. I still do it today.
There’s also a Photo Gallery on the disc and I’m okay with that, but this time I found it to be a bit much. I know what you’re thinking: there’s no pleasing this woman. One week I complain about no extras and now I’m complaining about too many extras. Where does it end? I’ll tell you. While I don’t mind pushing the same button again and again on my remote to look at pictures, I think there needs to be a reasonable limit to what they choose to throw on the disc. There were so many pictures on there that I lost count. I think I would rather have a special edition DVD with a booklet the size of a video game instruction manual to show the pictures. I’m serious, there had to be close to sixty images on there and that’s a lot of time to keep pressing the same button over and over for a movie.
Finally, there is a remarkable audio commentary with Ryan Reynolds and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. I’m glad that there’s lots of information on there, in other words there's no dead air time, but I’m just as relieved to hear them taking about the movie in a not fully serious way. At some shots they even point out their own goofs. I’d much rather listen to people talking about their movie from this perspective than listen to someone being overly serious about a job where they just got away with making millions of dollars for pompous crap. Amityville and its extras is not only alarming and frightful, but also inspiring for the future of horror and the career of director Andrew Douglas.