When it was announced that Michael Bay would be producing yet another remake of a seventies horror classic, following up his Texas Chainsaw Massacre with an updated The Amityville Horror, most genre fans, myself included, got their fur up. Why would someone want to update the film? Well, the answer to that is easy – money. A better question I guess would be why would someone want to? It was, after all, one of the most successful horror films of the decade in which it is was made, spawning all manner of bad sequels and knock offs. How do you top James Brolin and Margot Kidder? What about Rod Steiger as Father Delaney? Would there be a weird flying pig thing hanging around outside the upstairs bedroom window? These and many other questions plagued horrordom's twisted minds until the remake hit, without a press screening even, and was soon seen across screens all over North America to decidedly mixed results.
George (Ryan Reynolds of Van Wilder) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George of The Limey) are newly married, George now a step-father to Kathy's three kids (Billy, Michael and Chelsea) who still pine away for their late father. George seems like an alright guy though, and he is honestly making an effort to be good to the three kids and to take care of them as he would his own children. When he and Kathy are out house hunting one day, they find a deal too good to pass up – a beautiful old Dutch Colonial style home with plenty of space and waterfront property – they figure it's all too good to be true. They'll have to be careful with their finances but they can afford it, but what's the catch? Well, as we learn from the opening scene, Ronald Defeo Jr. killed his six family members in that home a few years later under some very macabre and unusual circumstances and since then, no one has wanted to move in (which explains the very attractive asking price).
Kathy pushes for the home and George agrees. After all, houses don't kill people, people kill people, right? Right. Soon enough, the Lutz clan moves into the home and start to make it their own and this is when things start to get a little odd. First little Chelsea starts to obsess over what her mother assumes is an imaginary friend who she names Jodie. Then George starts to get very short with the rest of the family, snapping at them and ultimately losing control of his temper. Kathy grows concerned for obvious reasons, and it looks more and more like old George is losing it once and for all, especially once he basically moves into the basement where he spends a lot of time starring at a weird hole in the wall. Kathy decides to take it upon herself to get some more background information on their new dream home so that she can figure out what's burdening her family before it's too late, but what she discovers is worse then either she or George could have possibly imagined…
Taking a few hints from some popular Japanese horror films of recent years (Ring comes to mind), director Andrew Douglas crafts a decent horror film that borrows just enough from the original The Amityville Horror to be recognizable as the same story but fixes some of the pacing problems that plagued that film. While Margot Kidder and James Brolin will always be the Lutz family to most of us, Reynolds does a fine job in the lead and is actually a little more convincing in the part once his breakdown starts to take some more serious turns. Melissa George isn't going to win any awards for her performance but she's not bad in the role either and she sure is easy on the eyes. The movie isn't perfect, not by a long shot as it is pretty predictable and does fall victim to some clichés in a few spots as well as a few annoying trends in the editing and camerawork departments, but it is a well made horror film with some truly creepy visuals.
The addition of some more back story to the history of the home itself and the land on which it was built is a nice touch and it does do a pretty good job of explaining just why the home is the way that it is, even if it reaches a little bit. The opening scene in which we see Defeo Jr. walk through the home and systematically kill off his family is eerie and disturbing and does a very good job of setting up what is to come in the film. Without wanting to spoil the film for those who haven't seen it, a few of the more memorable scenes from the original film are kept for this one, as they should be, but the film stretches out enough to become its own entity and the end result is actually a good horror film. Replay value isn't going to be through the roof here, as the jump scares are a large part of why the film is moderately successful and when you know they're coming they're no longer as intense, but the movie is worth checking out for both fans of the original film and fans of good ghost stories in general. Try to look past the obvious flaws and clichés and focus on the bigger picture and you'll find a fairly mature movie that makes good use out of one of the most enduring 'true stories' of the last three decades.
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that the packaging claims was mastered in high definition is good, but it unfortunately isn't perfect. The colors come through very nicely, the reds especially, without any bleeding problems or instances where they look muted or flat. There's also a nice, solid level of detail present throughout the film even in the darker scene (of which there are many). There's no print damage worth complaining about and only a few scenes where you'll notice any film grain. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the black levels are strong. Now for the bad news – there's some fairly heavy line shimmering and some mild compression artifacts. The shimmering is most noticeable along the lines of the house – the banisters, the moldings along the floor, and especially on the shingles in the outdoor scenes. The artifacts dance around in a couple of the darker scenes, you'll spot them in the really black areas of the picture. It's a shame that this issues are present as when you remove them from the equation you're left with a very nice looking image but the shimmering is too heavy not to point out, unfortunately.Sound:
The feature is presented in a fantastic English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, or in a dubbed French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. English closed captions are supplied, as are optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. The film makes use of a fairly aggressive sound mix and this DVD brings it to life in your living room with plenty of channel separation and distinct audible effects that creep up behind you and add to the fun. The jump scares are almost always punctuated with some fairly heavy bass and your subwoofer will get a bit of a work out in a few spots during playback. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the sound effects and the score never bury the performers.Extras:
Touted as a 'special edition' release, this one comes with some fairly substantial supplemental material. First off is an alternate audio track that contains a commentary from star Ryan Reynolds and the producers of the film, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. A lot of this material is scene specific and some of it simply narrates what's happening on screen without really adding too much but there are some interesting pieces scattered in with the rest of the material if you want to listen for it. Reynolds spends some time discussing character motivations and certain techniques he used in the film while the producers more or less cover the pre-production side of things and discuss how they feel about the end result of their efforts. Of interest is when the participants discuss certain aspects that they could have changed in the film's ending involving the scene with the shotgun.
Moving right along, we find eight deleted scenes, presented not only with full sound but also with optional commentary from Ryan Reynolds and the producers of the film, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. The eight scenes are: Family Toast, Kathy Buys Groceries, Kathy Gives Chelsea A Bath, Charlie And Girlfriend Visit George, Chelsea And Michael Argue, Kathy And George Arrive To Lights Flashing, Kathy And George Argue, and Original Etch-A-Sketch From Dailies. Not surprisingly, most of these were cut for pacing reasons but it's cool to see them here and the added commentary is a nice touch.
The first of two featurettes included on the disc is called The Source Of Evil, which takes a look at the making of the film. This is an interesting look at the behind the scenes action that took place while the film was being made via some interviews with the cast members, and some keen footage and stills shot on set mixed in with final versions of clips from the film. It's a bit promo feeling at times, and a little self-congratulatory in spots but overall it's worth checking out if you're into how movies are made. Some of the stunt footage is interesting, especially when they show you how the scene where Chelsea is on the roof was handled. There are also a few interesting bits that show us how certain make up effects were done. At just over twenty six minutes in length, it's a fairly detailed piece.
The second featurette is called Supernatural Homicide which is a seventeen minute long look at the truth behind the Defeo murders and what really happened that night in Amityville. Through some interviews with a police officer, an attorney, and a woman who claims to work as an interpreter for the dead, this quick piece attempts to piece together the events that took place when Ronnie Defeo Jr. killed his family. The events surrounding the case are strange and somehow remain without a truly plausible explanation to this day. Some clips and stills from the movie are used to add visual flair as are some actual photographs of the real Amityville house itself.
Rounding out the supplements is a multi-angle interactive exploration of the sets called On Set Peeks. There are nine of these built into the feature itself and when you see the film with this option playing you'll be shown some behind the scenes footage of the scene pertinent at that time playing out in the feature itself. There's also a still gallery, and a few trailers for other Columbia Tri-Star DVD releases.Final Thoughts:
The 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror makes for a fun popcorn horror film. It's not all that cerebral nor is it all that inventive but it does have some nice atmosphere, a good performance from Ryan Reynolds, and some well timed jump scares. The DVD from Columbia Tri-Star/MGM sounds great and contains some interesting extra features. Even if the transfer was a bit lacking, this one still comes recommended.