You can see why mega-producer Michael Bay would want to churn out a new Amityville Horror right now: Gas prices are through the roof, the housing market is tighter than ever and facial hair and corduroy blazers are back in. The 1979 original may have provoked years of nightmares for the prepubescent audiences that snuck in to theaters, but anyone over the age of 13 could see it for what it was: an inept, hilariously dull attempt to cash in on the paranormal craze of the late ’70s, ushered in by such other, better fare as The Exorcist, Carrie and the entire run of TV’s In Search Of.
The “true story” of the tortured Lutz family goes as such: A young couple who move into an allegedly haunted house claim to have been possessed by the same demons that caused a previous tenant to kill his entire family. It may have turned out to be complete bunk, but that didn’t stop George and Kathy Lutz from laughing all the way to the bank with a best-seller and a box-office hit.
Proving once again that one man’s quintuple-homicide crime site is another’s fixer-upper, the smirky Ryan Reynolds steps into the role made famous — that is, famously hammy — by James Brolin, facial hair, leisure suits, oozing walls and all. While this big-budget remake may pay some lip service to the time period and the so-called facts of the Lutz tale, it’s still junk. But it’s gory, flashy, glib junk (what else would you expect from a Bay production?), as opposed to the original’s campy, incompetent junk. Director Andrew Douglas and screenwriter Scott Kosar (the man who inflicted the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake upon us) attempt to bring out some of the remarried-mom subtext ignored by the first film while adding cool camerawork, some ludicrous new twists and a handful of hot young actors (including the promising Melissa George). However, the overall effect is something akin to the cast of Melrose Place doing a community-theater version of the first film.
The biggest problem with this new Horror is that blood starts dripping from the light switches before the Lutzes even empty their U-Haul; there’s no attempt at building suspense. The movie seems like it was edited with the same ax that George uses to chop wood, lurching wildly from mood to mood and including fake-out visions of undead children that seem borrowed from The Ring movies. The scenes that are carbon-copied from the original — babysitter trapped in the closet, anyone? — are as ludicrous as they were the first time around, but with an added weird layer of self-parody that undermines any potential terror.
It doesn’t help that the perennially likable Reynolds is playing the lead. Where Brolin brought unintentional laughs to the part of the increasingly menacing George, Reynolds brings intentional humor, skulking around the evil-windowed Dutch Colonial in his pajama bottoms, ranting about the “crazy family” he’s married into and looking in general like a crack addict. Any movie that requires the actor to be largely shirtless and drenched in sweat can’t be all that bad, but next time, let it be a sex comedy, preferably directed by the Farrelly brothers.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].