Michael Bay and his team of slick Hollywood producers seem to be on a path remake every horror film from the 1970s that had the tagline "based on a true story." Bay and music video director Marcus Nispel started with 2003's revision of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a flashy fiesta of gore that was good for a few scares but failed to capture the icky, grainy home-movie quality of Tobe Hooper's original. Bay's TCM remake was doomed from the start, though, because no improvements were needed-the film stood on its own (and the heavy reputation it carried) for three decades. And so it seems fitting that Bay's second spook-show outing should be The Amityville Horror. The initial version, made in 1979 and starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as the haunted Lutz family, was a campy, goofy Exorcist knock-off. The only thing the film really had going for it was that it was based on the book of the same name, which in turn claimed it was based on a true story. Whatever the case, the new Amityville shares the same name and the same "based on a true story" tagline, but works hard to one-up the original in almost every regard. This means that while the production values are higher and the blood and guts are more excessive, the storyline is more derivative than before and the acting is just as bad.
The film's biggest trouble spot is its uneven tone. Ryan Reynolds, who stars as George Lutz, is a great comedic actor but he just can't get the hang of playing a convincing homicidal patriarch. When George, Kathy (Melissa George) and the rest of the Lutz brood move into the house on 112 Oceanside Ave., everybody is already on edge. Kathy, a widow, has three kids from her previous marriage, all of whom are a little suspicious of George. For his part, George wants to get in good with the kids and is worried about paying for the sprawling domicile he just paid for. Of course, he's even more worried because, as the realtor informed him after closing the deal, a year earlier the house was the site of the gruesome slaying of the DeFeo family by their oldest son Ron. (Remember, in 1979, this was shocking.) Despite the house's history and a giant bloodstain on the ceiling, the Lutzs move in. George starts going crazy right away, hearing voices, seeing ghosts and spending all day chopping wood in a vaguely sinister manner. Reynolds tries hard not to be funny and smarmy-like, but he just can't pull it off, and so director Andrew Douglas' attempts to build some kind of suspense stumble like bad pratfalls.
And, of course, there's the new twist screenwriter Scott Kosar has thrown into Amityville. Instead of a house haunted by the ghosts of the murdered DeFeo family, we also have-get this-a hidden, underground torture chamber where a 17th century preacher got medieval on some Native Americans. Kosar, who's also responsible for the 2003 version of TCM, must have been late with the script and decided to rip off Poltergeist (which, by the way, is another Tobe Hooper film. Geez, the guy can't get a break).
Of course, who needs subtlety and originality when you've got a trough full of gore and some jazzy effects? There's some disturbing imagery, no doubt, especially a particularly gross moment when the Lutz's trashy babysitter has a close encounter with one of the DeFeo children's ghost. But for the handful of genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments, there's still one too many instances where you can't help but mockingly snort at the screen or wonder when Reynolds will get back to making stupid comedies like Van Wilder. At the very least, all but seasoned horror fans will be spooked sufficiently, and the film as a whole is a fresh start for the tortured Amityville series, which stacked up seven sequels after the first film in 1979. It might also help formulate a new strategy for Bay and company-the lamer the original film is, the better the remake.
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