Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Amityville Horror (2005)

The Amityville Horror is probably the most iconic haunted house story in modern history. Based (though probably loosely) on a true story, it starts with a man named Ronald DeFeo, Jr., who woke up one night and inexplicably slaughtered his entire family (Jim Morrison-The End-style), claiming to have been guided by the voices in his head. Later, the Lutz family moved into the house where the murders took place, and experienced a slew of paranormal activity, escaping the house just in time to avoid ending up like the previous family. Their story (the authenticity of which is under question) inspired a novel, which was adapted into a film, and then remade decades later. It is the latter film remake I intend to review here.

It's been a while since I've seen the original film from 1979, so comparisons may be sketchy. My enduring impression is that, though dated, it was a good film, with some good scares, although (like many things) its execution may have fallen short of its inspiration. In particular, I recall a fireplace in the basement that turns out to be a tunnel to hell, but little more is made of it than that. In the 2005 remake, we do get to see a little more of what's hidden in the basement, but rather than a tunnel to hell, it's a set-up for the extra back-story I presume was invented for this remake to flesh it out - and while sinister, has a more human than demonic origin.

The greatest thing about this story is that it's not simply a case of a house being haunted by ghosts of an unjustly murdered family. The house itself becomes a character, and a rather menacing one, at that. For example, when a priest attempts to bless the house, he is assaulted by a swarm of flies and commanded by the house, in no uncertain terms, to "get out!" Though there are angry ghosts present, the question remains, what led Ronald DeFeo, Jr. to commit those initial murders? The voices in his head - was he insane, just making excuses, or was he actually being egged on by the house? Well, the Lutz family's experience would indicate the latter, as Mr. Lutz begins to follow down the same path as DeFeo. When the family first moves into the house, he shrugs off the superstition about the previous murders committed therein, saying that "houses don't murder people. People murder people." But as it turns out, he may be dead wrong.

I'd say the 2005 remake is a pretty effective movie. It manages to be both tense and scary, and I would hesitantly say (considering how much time has passed since I saw the first one) that it provides a richer exploration of the theme than the original film did. However, there is one aspect that I have mixed feelings about, but it's spoileriffic, so if you don't want to be spoiled, skip ahead to the next paragraph now. The remake builds up a back-story for the house, indicating that a sadistic reverend who dabbled in black magic used to torture indians in that house, and killed himself in a ritual that allowed his evil spirit to embody the house, presumably for eternity. It's a good story, don't get me wrong, but even though the original film didn't follow the thread far enough to my liking, I think I prefer the house's evil to have a nonhuman (or at best, ambiguous) origin. It's just that much more unsettling, don't you think?

So it's a pretty good movie. It was interesting to see Chloe Moretz again in a role very similar to the one she plays in Wicked Little Things - the little girl who befriends a child ghost(s) of ambiguous threat. I also like the one musical theme that occurs in the movie with the driving bass line. I don't recall if it's a reprise of the theme from the original movie, but I really like it, and it works very well in this context, capable of building a sinister and foreboding atmosphere.

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