Review Date: October 13, 2005
Released by: MGM
Release date: 10/4/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
The biggest complaint that seems to come from remakes is simple. Why? The original films are often great to begin with, so what use is it even attempting to redo it. Doing so would either desecrate the original, or just simply come across as inferior. The caveat is though, is that why would someone pay to see a remake of a bad film? Michael Bay did something genius when he commissioned a remake of 1979’s The Amityville Horror
, since the film was popular enough to retain an audience, yet bad enough to be improved upon. The Amityville Horror
is a model for a Hollywood remake done right, and from the looks of it the upcoming remakes of The Crazies
and The Hitcher
seem to be following suit, since the reputation’s of the originals certainly exceed their quality.
While The Amityville Horror
may have started a new trend in remaking poor movies with good concepts, it was the last of its kind in terms of its maker. This is MGM’s final theatrical film, and their final big release DVD, so let’s see if the company went out in style. Close your windows, lock your doors, let’s take a tour through the Amityville house.
Although the film makes a point of stating “Based on a True Story” at the start of the opening credits, most are already well familiar with the legend of the Amityville horror. One dark and stormy night, Ronald DeFeo Jr. grabbed his shotgun and murdered each and every member of his family. The bizarre part is that none of them moved, all being found the next morning face down in their beds. DeFeo was sentenced to jail, but denies to this day consciously killing his family. This event is depicted at the start of the film, shot in moody sepia and rhythmically edited to lightning strikes and shotgun shots. A year later, the Lutz’s would move in and find themselves equally tempted by the inherent evils of the house.
George (Ryan Reynolds
) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George
) get the deal of a lifetime when they purchase the abandoned Amityville house. The house itself is massive, the yard outstretched onto a river and the area spacious. It is the perfect house, aside from being the resting place of the DeFeo family. When notified of the house’s shady history, George remains optimistic. “Houses don’t kill people…people kill people.” Slowly though, the house begins to have an impact on the people that live within it. Kathy’s daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz
) befriends the ghostly form of one of Ronald’s murdered sisters, while little Michael (Jimmy Bennett
) sees a weird Indian in the bathroom while he does his deed.
None are affected more than George himself though, as the house slowly begins to have a possessive quality on him. First the house gives him a chill, then he is pulled underwater in a bathtub daydream, and then he starts fixating on his ever-growing woodpile. The house is doing weird things, and whenever he is within its proximity he seems transformed much in the same way as Ronald DeFeo was a year prior. Kathy commissions a priest to exorcise the house (Philip Baker Hall), but its no use. This is an evil she will have to face head on if she wants to save her marriage and her life. George roams the house an axe the final act, but this time he is looking for more than just firewood.
The Amityville Horror
is a lean, flashy and surprisingly well acted little remake that no doubt surpasses the original in terms of overall quality. Michael Bay knows how to orchestrate pretty visuals, and its no surprise that Amityville looks great. The film stock retains that sort of kitsch seventies grain, and the emphasis on practical effects over CGI keeps the film looking authentic when most new horror films look anything but. The scene where Chelsea walks on the roof is intense, no doubt because it was all done on location and not in front of a green screen. There are some nice stylistic touches too, like a kickass pop zoom when Reynolds turns on the angry, and some nicely edited 16mm home video footage. Bay and Director Andrew Douglas, who both made their initial careers in music videos, infuse the film with a lush visual energy, and considering how short the film is, it can almost run on that energy alone.
Bay’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
remake was equally as stylish as Amityville
, but its plot was much more cumbersome. Tacked on was a whole maternal slant, with several needless scenes regarding pregnancy and motherly virtue. It bogged down what had started out as a tight little horror throwback into a film ten minutes too long. The Amityville Horror
clocks in at a trim 89-minutes, and wastes little time on superfluous plot additions or alterations. If anything, the only thing that doesn’t work in the film is the whole priest sequence from the original, since Philip Baker Hall’s character was not given near the emphasis this time around as Rod Steiger’s character was in the original. Hall’s performance is basically an extended cameo, and the film would have done better without it. Still though, the whole film moves with a solid pace, hitting all the scare and emotional marks before it runs its short course. Screenwriter Scott Kosar keeps things simple, which is a welcome change for the tacked on melodrama afforded to other remakes like Dawn of the Dead
, Texas Chainsaw
and House of Wax
What is most surprising about the Amityville
remake however, is how solid the performances are. The complaint du jour with music video directors is their careless approach to actors, but its clear here, both on the screen and in the extras, that Andrew Douglas really cares about crafting a good performance. The child actors are all very solid, and considering not even David Cronenberg could get a good performance out of his child actors in A History of Violence
, Douglas’ direction is quite the feat.
The scene stealer is of course Ryan Reynolds, who really shows his leading man status here. He coasted on charisma through his various teen comedies before this, but here he really shows he can construct a full-bodied emotional performance too. He acts with nuance, delivering a look or a gesture when most actors would hide behind a throwaway line, and his decent into madness is instantly more convincing than James Brolin’s in the original. Brolin never made a convincing dad at the get go, so it was tough to care about him as a character once he went mentally AWOL. Reynolds manages to inject humanity into his character, making his decent into madness all the more plausible and interesting. Reynolds manages to balance on so many different levels, being funny, sympathetic or scary whenever the script requires, never missing a beat. It’s a great performance, and not since Jack Nicholson in The Shining
has it been so fun to watch a man go bonkers in close quarters.
The Amityville Horror
may not be deep or profound, but it is undeniably entertaining. The story moves with brisk, the camera work always enticing, and Reynolds’ performance wonderfully layered. Throw in a couple of subtle nods to Macbeth
and this ends up a nice bit of revisionist horror fun. As far as remakes go, this one is probably the most watchable, and Reynolds’ performance is no doubt the most rewarding. It’s a good old fashioned haunted house story with scares and style to boot, and surpasses the original in nearly every way.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and benefits from the usual quality of your typical Hollywood horror releases. The image is sharp, clean and nicely saturated. Grain is minimal, but the thin layer of visible grain is an artistic choice to give the film a seventies aesthetic. Darks are typically solid, with the night scenes registering with deep blacks. The only glaring problem with the transfer is the omnipresent artifacting. MGM stacked the film full of extras, certainly enough to compile a hearty two-disc set, but fitting them all on a single disc has no doubt impacted the visual quality. Slight artifacting is present in several scenes, most noticeable in the sky during various daytime sequences. This is a problem that could have easily been avoided, but as it is it nonetheless plagues an otherwise fine picture.
The Amityville Horror
comes in with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and in all honesty it’s pretty routine. There is little channel separation throughout, with a poor use of discrete sound effects. That said, it still comes through forcefully, with what seems to be a constant bass rumble coming from the front left channel. The LFE channel definitely gets a workout here. Considering how prominent the score is in the track, and how many scares depend on the directionality of sounds in the house, this could have been a much more memorable mix.
Although there was nothing standout about the presentation of the film, the special features are super. Again, there is enough material here to pack a two-disc set comfortably, and considering the artifacting on the video side, that would have been a novel idea. The big extra is a commentary with Ryan Reynolds and the producing team of Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. Reynolds keeps things light with jokes, but still gets honest when discussing how he had to approach his role with utmost seriousness in order to remain convincing. The producers are quick to point out production faults and continuity issues, and are generally fun to listen to. It’s a solid track that should appeal to fans of the film looking for a little more insight into making a film rather than just hearing about amusing anecdotes.
Next up are a pair of featurettes. The first, “Supernatural Homicide”, runs 17-minutes and deals with the history of Ronald DeFeo’s murder. Those who picked up the Amityville box set earlier in the year saw two extensive documentaries on the subject on the bonus disc, yet this 17-minute featurette adds further to the history by featuring some insider interviews. Both the deputy chief and the medical examiner that were called in the day after the murders finally speak, and they both hold a negative view towards any sort of supernatural activity. The deputy and examiner are well spoken and add some good back story to the house’s history. An “Interpreter for the Dead” is brought in of course to try and give credibility to the whole haunted house story, although she comes off as quite ridiculous. Amityville celebrity and crazy old man Hans Holzer should have been brought in instead. Even if his theories are nearly as ludicrous, he is at least fun to watch. Still, a good documentary in the way it presents views from people who had up until now remained fairly silent.
The featurette is “The Source of Evil”, and it runs a little longer at about 25-minutes. For a production featurette, this is refreshingly comprehensive, covering everything from makeup to stunts to the art department. All the principal actors and producers are interviewed, and its interesting to hear stories from people as seasoned as Michael Bay to people as innocent as the child actors used in the film. There is some good behind the scenes shots of little Chloe Moretz pulling off her rooftop stunts, and its interesting the way the documentary shows how a stunt person goes about making someone comfortable in such an extreme situation. There is also plenty of good interview footage with Ryan Reynolds, who talks about how he had to isolate himself from the kids so as to not forge a bond between them. He wanted to stay as far apart as possible to make his transformation in the film effective, and this further proves his dedication to his craft. More than just a pretty boy, he is.
The DVD also features a pretty nifty little feature where you watch the film and then once you hit a scene that they have production footage of, the DVD immediately jumps to the production footage. There are 9 scenes of production footage throughout the film, some showing Reynolds getting emotional for his big scenes, and others devoted to the rooftop theatrics that looked so impressive in the final product. There is about 20-minutes in all, and the footage is all very insightful for those looking for an inside into filmmaking. The only nitpick is that the footage should have been accessible on its own apart from the film, but it makes a good double feature with the commentary.
There is also a healthy amount of deleted scenes included, 8 scenes in all. The whole thing runs 8 minutes, with some standout scenes being a guillotine window scare as well as a quick shot of the original etch-a-sketch footage used in the film. There is optional commentary with Reynolds, Form and Fuller, and they offer their reasons why the scenes were not in the film. Reynolds is mostly silent, but this is because he hasn’t seen the footage before.
Rounding off this comprehensive set is a photo gallery with three sections: “Crime Scene”, “House Interior” and “Ghost and Torture”. The title of each segment basically speaks for itself, with the first being the most interesting in showing some of the gore shots that didn’t make it to the film. There is about 120 shots in total. In what is a total waste of disc space, and no doubt something that could have been removed to prevent artifacting on the film, are no less than 14 trailers. You’d think you were watching the Hollywood version of 42nd Street Forever
. Here’s a roll call of the trailers on the disc: Lords of Dogtown
, Fun With Dick and Jane
, The Fog
, Into the Blue
, Kung Fu Hustle
, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
, The Mask of Zorro[/b], The Amityville Collection
, MGM Horror
, The Grudge
, and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary
. Without even the inclusion of the original trailer this amounts to a total waste of data.
Lastly are a couple of great extras. Accessible by highlighting the window on the special features screen, is a symbol that will take you to a secret menu. In that menu are two different supplements. The first is an awesome montage of the home video footage that was shot on 16mm for the film. There are some great bits with Reynolds and the rest of the cast having fun on set, and has a really old and nostalgic look, complete with the running sound of a projector. The other supplement is a 2-minutes “Scare Reel”, which is basically a condensed version of the entire film. Both are fun little extras and great finds on this disc.
Quite the bevy of content here, and aside from the influx of trailer waste, all the supplements here are well thought out and make for good entertainment, whether you are looking for a short little supplement or a full out behind-the-scenes experience.
With The Amityville Horror
, Michael Bay sought to improve on hokey but enduringly popular original, and he has largely succeeded. Thanks to some flashy direction, a tight pace and a knockout performance by Ryan Reynolds, this remake largely surpasses the original. The visual presentation is marred by compression artifacting, but otherwise is solid. Sound is good, and makes potent use of the bass. The supplements are all top notch, as this is really a packed two-disc compressed onto one DVD. If you’ve been avoiding remakes thinking that they’ll desecrate the original then avoid no longer, this renovated The Amityville Horror
is a remake done right.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 29 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- English captions
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Commentary with Ryan Reynolds and Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary
- "Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads" featurette
- "Supernatural Homicide" featurette
- "The Source of Evil" featurette
- Multi-angle on-set peeks
- Photo galleries
- Theatrical trailers
- Easter eggs