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ISSUE 118 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/22/2005

'Amityville' not horror-fying

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, April 22, 2005

Though it improves upon the quality of its 1979 predecessor, the recently released remake of “The Amityville Horror” retains many of the plot holes and inconsistencies present in the original film.

Despite the original’s all-star cast (James Brolin, Margot Kidder) and sizeable box office intake ($80 million), the film was more horrible than it was horrifying.

Indeed, 2005’s “Amityville,” which chronicles a factual Long Island residence dubbed the “portal to hell” in the 1979 film, begins with a bang (literally: gunshots are fired) before faltering in its overzealous application of special effects.

The movie follows the semi-authentic story of George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George), whose lives begin to deteriorate when evil forces in their home start to wreak terror upon their family. The Lutzes soon discover that their newly-purchased lakeside abode holds many grim secrets, the premier being that only a year prior, the eldest son of the previous homeowners – supposedly spurred on by strange voices in the basement – shot his entire family as they slept.

This aspect of the Amityville saga is the only storyline with even marginal credibility; a family – the Defeos – was indeed murdered in the storied residence, though accounts of this “Long Island Tragedy” don’t necessarily coincide with the movie’s portrayal of them.

Butch Defeo, who originally claimed that demons had a hand in his decision to murder his family, later retracted the statement, claiming that his was simply a series of murders committed “in cold blood.” Nevertheless, Hollywood continues to capitalize on the glorified falsities of Defeo’s original claims, turning his so-called “demon voices” into gruesome, visible apparitions.

Taking his cues from 1973’s “The Exorcist” and 2002’s “The Ring,” director Andrew Douglas has created a fearful conduit to the paranormal in the form of a pale, dark-haired adolescent girl. In “Amityville,” the wide-eyed specter is Jodie (Isabel Conner), the resurrected ghost of the youngest Defeo child (real name: Allison) killed in the now-infamous 1974 murders.

Audiences should note that in Jay Anson’s 1977 book chronicling the Lutzes’ 28-day stay in the Defeo home, Jodie is actually described as a red-eyed pig; obviously, Douglas thought a barnyard animal would fail to inspire as many chills as a time-tested adolescent female archetype.

Surely, Jodie is unnerving; one scene in particular, in which she forcefully jams her former babysitter’s finger into a bullet wound in her forehead, will elicit both disgust and discomfort from viewers. But Jodie’s character, which is substantially disturbing early in the film, eventually fizzles into a confusing – rather than enlightening – presence.

Certainly, the appearance of restless spirits is not the only muddled and perplexing aspect of “Amityville.” The film’s jump cuts and seemingly arbitrary montages add up to little more than mildly frightening moments. Moreover, the movie exhibits a blatant disregard for character development.

For example, the house’s fictional original resident, the satanic Rev. Jeremiah Ketcham, is introduced so abruptly that audiences will scratch their heads as to his significance in the film.

Nevertheless, “Amityville” is not without its genuinely tense moments. There are several scenes in which the film’s suspense is nearly unbearable; this, combined with a slew of quick, barely discernible visions of ghosts, is enough to make even the most horror-savvy viewers visibly lurch in their seats.

But, like most modern-day horror flicks, “Amityville” ultimately resorts to hokey special effects and contrived plot twists to flesh out its otherwise irresolvable storyline. The film lacks the cohesion and imagination that other “inspired-by-true-events” films (again, “The Exorcist”) so splendidly exude.

Red-eyed pig not included, Douglas’s film might have succeeded had it more accurately portrayed the events leading up to Butch Defeo’s killin’ spree; as it stands, the movie fails in its attempts to show terror, rather than instill it.

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