Overworked horror clichés and silly casting doom Amityville remake
Back in the days of my idle youth, there was a popular drinking game known as “Hi, Bob!” It was played while watching the original Bob Newhart Show by people armed with copious amounts of beer. The point of the activity was that anytime a character said “Bob” everyone would have to take a sip. With a “Hi, Bob!” a chugging of the beer was required. There were a lot of “Hi, Bob!” entrances in each half-hour episode, so getting loaded fast was a given.
If the remake of The Amityville Horror were approached as a drinking game, with a sip triggered with any given horror film trope and a chug for each direct steal from other popular genre classics, any gorehound would be three-sheet-faced before the haunted house’s first “Get out!” is uttered.
While kudos can be extended to producer Michael Bay for bucking the remake-happy Hollywood trend by retooling the bad original movie, any warm-and-fuzzy is lost by how utterly derivative the result is. When this hits the video stores in a couple of months, it should be placed on the shelf in a plain white clamshell, labeled only “Horror Film.”
The story is Pop Culture 101: Amityville, New York, November 13, 1974. The bodies of the DeFeo family are found, murdered execution-style. Young Ronald DeFeo, Jr., is arrested for the murders as he claims that voices in his head compelled him to kill his parents and four siblings.
One year later, the Lutz family takes up residence in the ancient Dutch Colonial house. Twenty-eight days later, they flee the house without pausing to gather their belongings. One year after that, writer Jay Anson chronicles their ordeal in the bestseller The Amityville Horror, a tale of the family besieged by a floating pig with glowing eyes as blood spills from the walls and ominous voices that compel George Lutz to stalk his family with a shotgun.
The original film adaptation soon follows. It is not a good film, or even a particularly scary one, but it does manage to establish some new clichàs within the genre. The problem is, it’s hard to take the movie seriously after Eddie Murphy makes a stand-up routine out of it.
As a product, the remake is competent-enough looking. Director Andrew Douglas imbues the effort with a retro ‘70s vibe as we revisit the jack-o-lantern house that represents The American Nightmare. Unfortunately, just as he establishes the aura of 1975, he incorporates a contemporary ditty that derails the illusion.
He also handicaps the proceedings with some odd choices. Casting hard-bodied 29-year-old Australian Melissa George to portray the mother of three children (the oldest of whom is 12, ahem) tests credulity from the start. Ryan Reynolds as husband George pops the balloon of suspension of disbelief when he doffs shirt, chiseled pecs glistening from the touch of a personal trainer. That is soooo not 1975.
And then there’s the aforementioned over-reliance on tropes. Once a character climbs into a bathtub, it isn’t exactly news that something else is in the water. Cue the screech of strings to startle in lieu of earning a proper scare. Not content to work around the self-inflicted clichàs of its antecedent, Douglas liberally borrows from other films, even going as far as to replace the admittedly silly floating pig with the latest genre clichà: an ashen-faced little girl with dank black hair. Throw in a backstory cribbed from Poltergeist, a ghost from Poltergeist 3 and a dash of elements from The Shining.
If I said this is a better movie than the original, that would be damning it with faint praise. What does work in its favor, however, is that George Lutz’s character arc is handled much more believably than Jack’s in The Shining. And it’s short, about 80 minutes long.