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With: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Philip Baker Hall
Written by: Scott Kosar, based on a screenplay by Sandor Stern and a book by Jay Anson
Directed by: Andrew Douglas
MPAA Rating: R for violence and terror, sexuality, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 89
Date: 04/07/2005

The Amityville Horror (2005)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Big Maul House

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The original Amityville Horror (1979) bored critics, created a box office bonanza and spawned seven sequels. Now the studios have commissioned a straight-ahead remake. After all, why go to the bother of writing new stories, or for that matter, coming up with material for another sequel? This way no one needs to think of anything at all. Written by Scott Kosar (the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake), the new Amityville Horror begins in 1974 with a flashback to the catalyst murders, steeped in darkness and lit by intermittent, flickering flashes of lightning. A year later, the Lutz family moves into the creepy house with the big eye-like windows. George (Ryan Reynolds) is the second husband of Kathy (Melissa George), who has three children from a previous marriage. George almost immediately begins hearing voices and going crazy, though Reynolds is too inept an actor to convey psychosis without help; he employs special drops and/or contact lenses to make his eyes look scary. Ghosts occasionally flit by or materialize, Grudge-like, with stringy hair and bulging eyes. When Kathy enlists the aid of a priest (Philip Baker Hall), he's attacked by a swarm of digital flies and runs for his life. Hall delivers perhaps the movie's best line: "Your house frightens me, Mrs. Lutz."

The new Amityville owes a great deal to both The Exorcist and The Shining but lacks both Friedkin's attention to detail and Kubrick's supreme patience. Making his feature directorial debut, Andrew Douglas rushes through everything, building a monotonous, anxious hum without mixing it up or giving the audience a break. Still, The Amityville Horror has its moments. When the youngest boy (Jimmy Bennett) makes a late night bathroom visit, Douglas makes it known that he is about to scare us. But during this one sequence he takes his time, letting the tingles and prickles build for an extra moment before cutting loose. And Rachel Nichols has a star-making turn as the world's best/worst babysitter. Slinking around like a hippie sex kitten, she stretches and arches and purrs while frightening the children with murder stories. "I suck at babysitting," she muses, as an afterthought.

Alas, the film's final third sinks into horror techniques so tired that even the later, straight-to-video Amityville sequels would have edited them out. How many times do the filmmakers expect the "it-was-only-a-nightmare" thing to work, anyway? Audiences will be better off staying home with MGM/UA's new DVD box set The Amityville Horror Collection. It includes thefirst three films, plus a fourth bonus disc, Amityville Confidential.

DVD Details: It took me a while to check out the aforementioned DVD box set, and sadly, the old movies really aren't much better than the new ones, though they do contain better acting and are less headache-inducing. James Brolin, Rod Steiger and the underrated Margot Kidder star in the first one (1979), which runs an excruciating 2 hours. Amityville II: The Possession (1982), a prequel, is widely considered one of the worst films ever made, and stars Burt Young. These first two films, ironically, are presented with extraordinarily high-quality picture and sound. Amityville 3-D (1983) does not fare so well; mashing the 3-D presentation down to 2-D leaves smudgy lines around everything. Even so, this PG-rated film improves slightly on the second film, featuring veteran Richard Fleischer (The Narrow Margin) at the helm, and Tony Roberts and a young, cute Meg Ryan in the cast. Finally, the bonus disc comes with two History Channel specials, neither of which really prove anythign one way or the other, and a short look at the 2005 remake.

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