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MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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The Amityville Horror wasn’t exactly screaming to be remade, but this rendition does offer bigger, better chills even as its denouement departs wildly from the source material.

Home Sweet Home

Some good stabs at humor about the American dream
Some good stabs at humor about the American dream

Not since Psycho has a house looked so evil. The top windows, curved like demonic eyes, overlook the inhabitants of sleepy Amityville, the quaint maritime hamlet of Long Island.

Aside from the murders that took place in the house in 1973, the goings on at the site are up for debate. The locals are quick to dismiss the horrific claims of the Lutzes, the family that moved into the house in November 1974. They’re also quick to shush away meddling tourists who bring unwanted attention to their otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

Nonetheless, as with so many things from the 1970s experiencing a new life in the new millennium, from Star Wars to Atari, The Amityville Horror has returned to the big screen, packing with it modern-day sensibilities.

The original 1979 edition, starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, was phenomenally popular but felt more like a ploy to cash in on the success of The Exorcist and The Omen than a legitimate “true” horror story. Today, what was a sensation decades ago now feels dated, muted, and plays more like a subdued psychological drama than a story of pure, unadulterated evil.

As for Amityville’s follow-up movies, including a third chapter in 3-D, they prompt the Steven Wright-like question: Do true stories have sequels?

High Hopes

The new telling takes plenty of liberties with the source material, but there are also some very significant improvements.

For starters, there’s just enough back story given to Kathy (Melissa George, Alias: Season 3) and her three children to flesh them out and make them more sympathetic. Also, the “imaginary friend” of the youngest Lutz, Chelsea, is now seen, through Chelsea’s eyes, in the flesh while the rest of the family see only an empty rocking chair.

A couple other changes include the excising of the infamous red room in the basement (more on that later) and the pig eyes in the window have been replaced by Chelsea’s one-eyed doll.

Oh. And the babysitter is no longer a brace face. She’s a drug-totin’ sex pot. Hottie or no, her episode in the closet is far more chilling than the original edition.

As for the main characters, both Ryan Reynolds (the Van Wilder star who calls to mind a buffed up Jason Lee) and George are on par with the original film’s couple, with the added benefit of being a little more hip.

That hip approach affords the opportunity for some good stabs at humor, particularly relating to the pursuit of the American dream. As Kathy comments in the early going, “This is the life we want.”

Oh yes. Just wait, Honey.

Evil Is Proof of God

Ironically, 26 years later, after crappy sequels to The Exorcist and a slew of PG-13 horror flicks, The Amityville Horror effectively puts the fright back in the night.

Director Andrew Douglas, whose résumé is limited to only Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a soulful documentary about life in the south, offers up hope as a new talent to keep an eye on as more projects arise.

Perhaps his best trick here is pulling decent performances out of the youngsters playing the Lutz children. Their roles are critical to the story and far more involved than those found in the ‘79 flick; if they couldn’t deliver, the whole movie would have come undone like a zombie with a bad case of gas.

For what it’s worth, the real-life George Lutz has reportedly been critical of Douglas and this remake, calling it “pure sophistry” after the production team declined to take him up on his offer of assistance. His reaction is hardly surprising; in the new rendition, he not only comes apart, he flat out turns psycho and falls victim to the same voices that haunted Ronald DeFeo (the house’s previous owner) before he murdered his entire family.

Regardless of whether Lutz was broke and fabricated his horror story simply to make a buck, as some have claimed, or if the story was indeed true, what has been brought to the silver screen in 2005 is a haunted house flick and it should be treated as nothing more and nothing less. After all, don’t forget that Fargo was also billed, tongue firmly planted in cheek, as a “true story.”

28 Days Later

Spoiler Alert: stop reading now if you’ll be going to the movie.

Getting back to that infamous red room, which figured prominently in the book and to a lesser extent in the original movie, it has been traded in for a far more graphic torture chamber where Native Americans were murdered. The house is no longer on the site of a sacred burial ground per se, but rather the location of sadistic actions taken against Native Americans.

At one point George (or, at least, the Ryan Reynolds version of George) quips, “there are no bad houses, just bad people.” Here, that’s only a half-truth. And that’s a good thing.

Eschewing some of the heavy-handedness found in the original movie, this Amityville Horror moves swiftly toward its own ending and offers up a devilishly fun and plucky haunted house ride.