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The Amityville Horror (2005)
Director: Andrew Douglas

review by Jonathan McCalmont

That's right kids! It's time for another American remake of a classic horror movie! What's more it's one that steals and borrows from other great horror movies so shamelessly it's the cinematic equivalent of having Graham Norton tell you to stop being puerile and talentless. But despite the lack of originality... I honestly liked this film. I liked almost everything about it.

The film starts as we see Ronnie De Feo stalking from room to room in the middle of the night systematically executing his entire family. We're then introduced to the Lutzs. George is Catherine's second husband and stepfather to her three children. They're happy despite the death of the children's father and the ensuing resentment of some of the children. They buy the De Feos' house and within the first day of moving in things start to go wrong as George starts to turn nasty and people start to see things. The relationships and the mental health of the family continue to deteriorate until, like the De Feos, things come to a head 28 days after the family moves in.

The film beautifully follows Jonathan's iron law of the horror film, namely that the evil has clearly defined characteristics. The really evil things happen at 3:15 am, right from the start the aim is to push the father until he murders his family mistaking them for demons and the family always feel better when they are away from the house. As the film advances we also learn more and more about the house and its history and by the end we know exactly what's going on and why and despite that it's still scary and surprising. Technically this film is fantastic. The only thing preventing it from being truly great is the fact that you've seen most of it before.

At times it's like a Simpsons' 'Tree House Of Horrors' Halloween episode as all these horror clichés are crammed into one film. We've got the butchered Indians, the spooky ghost child, the psychopathic husband pushed over the edge by the house, the suggestion that not all ghosts are evil, bleeding walls, the evil bath, the thing living underwater, billowing curtains. But these old favourites are introduced with great skill and actually remind you of why some of these things are clichés, namely because they can be fantastically scary. But there is some originality in a few quite nice set pieces.

At one point the parents go out for dinner, leaving the children with a local babysitter. The protests of the eldest boy are immediately silenced when a girl looking like a 1970s' porn star arrives, smokes pot in the bathroom and then asks the 12-year-old if he French kisses. Of course she turns out to be the De Feo's old babysitter and is ambushed and driven insane by the house as she's confronted by one of her old charges. There's also a scene where the father, now acting like a complete psycho, tortures the eldest child for some slight by having him hold wood as he chops it. The film climaxes as the father breaks through a wall in the basement and finds out what the house was built on and what he finds is reminiscent of the hellish scenes from Jacob's Ladder or the fetish club in Irreversible. These scenes are so beautifully grotesque, that they serve only to reinforce the ever-present dread that hangs over the rest of the film like a dull ache. Director Andrew Douglas shows real skill in not just pacing out the scares but changing the nature of the scares too, frequently taking the film to the limits of gallows humour, horror-exploitation movie and blood drenched gore-fest.

The film also manages to have children who get our sympathy without falling into the mindless repetition of the spookily middle-aged child (while Tory-boy era William Hague was chilling I wouldn't call him scary and yet try and find a modern horror film without some ghastly analogue of him?), or the sickeningly cute. The heart of this film is ultimately the father's relationship with the rest of his family as the house relentlessly schemes and manipulates him into killing them.

Douglas is a relatively green director, his only other credit being the superbly named Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a documentary about the Deep South and the bizarre mythology based of Pentecostal evangelism, real world events and American weirdness that has inspired artists and writers. Despite his lack of experience he has managed to put together a film that works despite the fact that on paper it looks like another witless and clichéd reworking of old ideas.

I look forward to his next piece of work.
Amityville Horror - 2005

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