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AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE (2005)

SYNOPSIS:
Fact based story of smalltime construction contractor George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds), his new wife Kathy (Melissa George) and Kathy's three young children by her deceased husband, who think they've got a bargain when they buy a sprawling, riverfront Dutch colonial mansion at a price they can afford, in Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island. George figures there must be a catch, and the real estate agent explains that this is the house where a year earlier, in November 1974, police were called to find the entire DeFeo family shot to death in their beds, by Ronald DeFeo jr, who confessed to the killings, claiming voices in the house ordered him to do it. The Lutz family moves in, but within days, there are disturbing signs that the voices haven't been stilled, and demonic visions appear. Worse still, George is becoming ill, and his behaviour alters in terrifying ways.

Review by Louise Keller:
This chilling remake of the 1979 film The Amityville Horror is by far a better film than the original, with plenty to terrify lovers of the horror genre. Based on a book by Jay Anson containing first hand accounts from George and Kathy Lutz, this allegedly true story tells how the Lutz family dream home becomes the source of their nightmare. Director Andrew Douglas has a good feel for the subject matter and quickly creates unease and fear in this house that harbours a horrific secret. The casting feels just right too, with actors whose faces are not easily recognisable, allowing us to identify with this young family that could so easily be any family. In the original film, much of the horror was suggested, but here, the violence is more explicit and there's more pay off as we see the ghostly and disturbing faces of the dead.

Ryan Reynolds may have made his name as the clean-shaven charmer in Van Wilder, but as George Lutz, he is almost unrecognisable. Within days of moving into the spacious two storey home in Amityville, Long Island with wife Kathy (Perth-born Melissa George) and her three children, his entire demeanour changes. 'There are no bad houses; just bad people,' he says, and is utterly convincing as George, who starts chopping wood to feed the furnace in his new office in the basement. Being cold all the time isn't the only change. His initial patience with his step-children makes way to cruelty: the scene when he forces Billy (Jesse James) to hold logs of wood while he swings the axe, is horrific.

In the role originally played by Rod Steiger, Philip Baker Hall is the kindly priest who tries to banish evil spirits from the house. All three children are excellent, and Melissa George strikes a good balance between the responsible parent and the woman whose life is threatened. Ordinary situations that become terrifying ordeals are the most memorable. How can we not identify with young Michael (Jimmy Bennett), when he wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and becomes more and more terrified as he hears noises, sees faces and finally a drop of blood from the bathroom tap. Hair becoming entangled in a speedboat's propeller, a dead dog keeps barking and a parent's nightmare as Chloe Moretz's Chelsea is lured onto the precipitous rooftop. The scene when the pot-smoking baby-sitter is locked in the closet is one of the film's highlights, starting so innocently, and by the end of which I did not dare take a breath. The tension is relentless and the driving music score/sound scape never lets us off the hook.

The last 20 minutes are a little over the top, and I got the feeling the filmmakers were trying too hard to give audiences their money's worth. Nevertheless, The Amityville Horror is a good scary movie, and keeps our attention until the very end. Don't see it alone!

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sticking to the conventions of the haunted house sub genre in horror, Andrew Douglas' remake of the 1979 film, also based on the Jan Anson book (which in turn is based on the story the real Lutz family told), adds a few embellishments to the original, but not enough to profoundly alter the film's bizarre-but-true elements.

But 1979 is a long time ago, and most people who will be drawn to this film will not have seen it (unless they grab the DVD released in Australia just prior to this film's theatrical release). On its own merits, The Amityville Horror of 2005 is a well crafted chiller, with expert use of the horror tools; the slash-screech that accompanies visual shocks, the terrifying images of demonic or destroyed faces, and most of all the sense of dread that is created by cinematography and sound design. In the same class, the stylish, doom-laden portrayal of the original killings convinces us that in that act a haunting may be born.

But this film takes another element from the book, which explores the real reason for the haunting, and that also explains why the young family member was driven to kill his family. From that point of view, this is a slightly more complete film, although for horror fans the payoff is the grisly scenes uncovered through a wall in the basement. Here, the history of the location gives up its ghastly, bloody secret.

All the performances are spot on, including the three children and Philip Baker Hall who plays the priest (originally played by the late and great Rod Steiger), who is scared away by the house.

Andrew Douglas makes a credible feature debut and shows that his directing TV commercials was not in vain; economy of storytelling has added material to the film yet he tells it in less than 90 minutes. (He could probably have done something with in in 90 seconds, if he were pushed, but audiences would have wanted their money back.) The only plot flaw is in the climactic sequence when Kathy is dashing back to the house from the town library after doing some desperate research: she leaves in bright daylight, but by the time she reaches the tormented house, it's pitch black - and a storm is lashing the place (and of course much lightning...too much lightning).

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

DVD REVIEW (1979)

AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE (2005) (MA)
(US, 2005)

CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Philip Baker Hall, Jimmy Bennett, Jesse James, Chloe Moretz

PRODUCER: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller

DIRECTOR: Andrew Douglas

SCRIPT: Scott Kosar (Novel by Jan Anson)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Lyons Collister

EDITOR: Roger Barton, Christian Wagner

MUSIC: Steve Jablonsky

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jennifer Williams

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 14, 2005






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