The Amityville Horror [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (30th November 2010).
The Film

I don’t think there are many people who don’t know the story of “The Amityville Horror” at this point, but for those still uninformed I’ll provide a brief synopsis. Way back in 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed all six members of his family at their home on 112 Ocean Ave. in Amityville, NY. 18 months later, the home was sold to George and Kathy Lutz for a bargain basement price due to the difficulty in selling it because of the crime. They moved into the home in Dec. of 1975 and famously lasted only 28 days before they fled the home. Since then, several books have been written about what happened during that time, the most famous of which is Jay Anson’s 1977 novel, “The Amityville Horror: The True Story”. Over the years, however, numerous skeptics have questioned the veracity of the Lutz’s claims. George, who died in 2006, had always maintained that much of the original 1979 film, “The Amityville Horror”, was given the customary “Hollywood polish”, and that certain aspects of the story were greatly embellished. But, he always held firm that strange occurrences were afoot in that home, even though no one else can verify any claims of the paranormal activity stated. Since then, the story has become legend, the house has become a landmark of horror location scouts, and nine feature films have been produced based on its haunted history.

This latest entry, itself a remake of the original film, claims to hew more closely to Anson’s novel than that film did. This may be true, but it also adds in a great deal more which makes this tale seem even more far-fetched than it ever has. The main points remain the same, though. George (Ryan Reynolds) & Kathy (Melissa George) Lutz, and their children, move into the house on 112 Ocean Ave. after scoring a great deal on the asking price. Despite the horrific crimes that took place here, George reminds her that “people kill people, houses don’t kill people” and they are willing to overlook everything so they can start off fresh in this dream house. It doesn’t take long for unexplained events to start occurring in the house, like disembodied voices being heard through the ventilation system, Kathy’s youngest child, Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) seeing visions of the young girl who was murdered in the house, George’s increasingly unraveled mental state, and the family dog constantly barking at unseen objects. These happenings continue with more frequency until the family finally realizes that the house is trying to drive them out, and in a rushed panic they gather what they can and try to escape with their lives.

I’m no defender of the 1979 “classic” starring James Brolin, James Brolin’s beard and Margot Kidder. I thought it was creepy and effective as a child, but nowadays I see it as a goof full of hocus pocus and laughable scares. It’s far from perfect, but there’s an undeniable element to the film that makes it a fun watch. On the other hand, this film tries to play things extremely straight with a more sinister edge. The most major change they’ve made to the storyline is the addition of an evil preacher named Father Katchem, who supposedly used to capture and torture Indians where the basement now stands. This is, of course, the probably cause for all of the bad vibes the house is putting out. Personally, I hate when a horror film, especially a remake, needs to spew up some wretched rationalization for why things are the way they are.

Actually, that brings me right to my next point: the scares in this film. They’re all totally inept and completely lacking any real sense of dread or foreboding. Director Andrew Douglas, obviously not one for subtly, decided that we need to be beaten over the head with scares that come from LOUD NOISES and ridiculous, CGI imagery in place of fearing what we can’t see, which is still the single most effective method to scare the pants off of moviegoers. Every jump scare is so telegraphed that I could point each one out before it actually occurred. I don’t recall a single instance of feeling the hair on my neck stand up out of wondering what would happen next because it was so predictable. At least the original film had the sense to feature horrors both seen and unseen so that viewers weren’t sure what would get them next. The only concern here seemed to be showing off the latest in digital technology used to show us creepy, black-haired girls with bullet wounds with a penchant for appearing out of thin air. Douglas even says as much in the bonus features, talking up how they tried to do something new with their jump scares. Really, you did? Because all I saw was an obvious set-up shot, a loud stinger and then a character in the film acts frightened. Failure on an epic level sums up these so-called frights.

I actually found myself enjoying the dialogue between George & Kathy more than the nights of terror. Not that there are some masterful exchanges that would make Paddy Chayefsky jealous or anything, but the human interaction between the two felt genuine. I also have to applaud Ryan Reynolds for doing a great job with showing us George’s increasingly unstable mental state. He starts off the film as a loveable father to Kathy’s kids, a devoted husband & hard worker, but as the film progresses little things begin to bother him more than they should. He eventually ends up snapping at everyone for the slightest infractions before finally losing his marbles altogether and becoming incredibly out-of-character. There are a couple of unintentionally funny moments where he overdoes it a bit too much (his scream after offing the family dog gets me rolling), but I found him to be the strongest actor in the film. Melissa George seems like she’s sleepwalking through her role most of the time. At least she’s easy on the eyes, but there are a few moments where her motherly instincts kick in and she turns up the knob and springs to life.

It was interesting to see how the children cast in this film have gone on to bigger and better things in the years since this film was made. The daughter, Chelsea, played by Chloe Moretz, is better known to Fanboys now as Hit-Girl from “Kick-Ass” (2010). She’s a fantastic young actress, and with all the work she’s getting now I’d say she has a good career to look forward to. That, or a good career for a few more years before she gets hooked on drugs and alcohol. Time will tell! The youngest son, Michael (Jimmy Bennett), was most recently seen playing the young James T. Kirk in “Star Trek” (2009). I don’t know anything about the oldest son, Billy (Jesse James), but they gave him a room and wardrobe replete with KISS and Alice Cooper swag, so he’s easily the coolest of the bunch.

I can’t say that “The Amityville Horror” is a good horror film, but I’ve certainly seen worse. Much, much worse. The film has a good set-up, great locations and set design, solid casting… but it lacks the most crucial element to make any horror film a success: scares. Platinum Dunes has long since made a name for itself as a production company more interested in raping the childhood horror icons of yesteryear than actually creating films that will stand the test of time as those did. “The Amityville Horror” feels like such a wasted opportunity because it was the perfect candidate for a remake. Great story, infinite possibilities for scares, and a mediocre original film followed by years of inferior sequels. This is fertile ground for planting something special, but the chance was missed and what we do get is on par with the 1979 film, maybe even slightly less enjoyable.

Video

There’s nothing terrifying about the film’s 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image, except for maybe how good it looks. If there’s one thing I can give Platinum Dunes credit for (actually, there’s literally only one thing I will give them credit for), it’s that they know how to make their films look beautiful. They’ve all but trademarked the phrase “slick piece of shit” because every horror film they’ve done (all remakes, by the way) have been mostly terrible, but they always look fantastic. Cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister has a decidedly horrendous resume (seriously, go look at it), but the man did a superb job on this film. The image is rich with dark, natural colors inside the home, but the exterior is full of warm, inviting hues – this dichotomy provides the perfect balance between the serenity of the world outside the house and the evil that supposedly dwells within it. I was pleased with the retention of fine details during nighttime scenes; there was no evidence of crushing, nor did the black levels ever fade into a hazy gray. The clarity of the image does allow some of the CG work to reveal itself to be less than perfect, but that’s something horror fans have been slowly (uncomfortably) getting used to. Film grain appears only in the form of a fine sheen, never intruding on the image even in the darkest of scenes. This is a pristine, cinematic presentation with a wonderfully detailed appearance and great color reproduction. Outside of a few shots I noted that were soft on focus, this is excellent.

Audio

Not looking to take a backseat to the video quality, the film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48 kHz/24-bit sounds every bit as impressive as the video looks. Right from the opening scenes, viewers will feel like they’re inside the DeFeo household as Ronald stalks from room to room, floorboards creaking beneath his feet, rain & thunder pulsing and pounding from every corner of the room, his ever-present rifle pumping round after round into his family members. Since this is a film about a haunted house, you’d expect them to throw myriad oddball sounds to listeners from every angle. And you’d be right. We do get many instances of voices or ambient, creepy sounds emanating from all four speakers, but more often than not the film relies on hard-hitting, shrill stingers to punch up the fright. This doesn’t work well for the film, but it does wonders for the soundtrack. The end in particular features an array of sounds as the family tries to escape the house during a thunderstorm with a menacing Ryan Reynolds on their heels. On the intimate side of things, dialogue is always crystal clear and never difficult to make out. This is a clean track, free from any aberrant noise.
There is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track included. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but here’s another addition to MGM’s roster of “Blu-ray + DVD” combo packs that have been invading stores as of late. Unlike other fortunate entries, however, “The Amityville Horror” gets the shaft, as the Blu-ray only features the film’s theatrical trailer. The included DVD is loaded with all kinds of goodies, like an audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, photo galleries, etc. But, who cares? It’s not on the Blu-ray. Would it really have been that hard to just tack these supplements on to the Blu-ray and call it a day? Seriously. You can still include the (useless) DVD if you want, but I think that it should be obvious that if people are buying a Blu-ray, they’d like to have all available features on it. I don’t want to watch the standard-definition version of a movie I just paid to watch in high-definition so I can listen to the commentary; it’s ridiculous.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

The lone extra found here is the film’s theatrical trailer (1080p), which runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

DISC TWO: DVD

The DVD starts things off with an audio commentary with actor Ryan Reynolds and producers Andrew Form & Brad Fuller. Form & Fuller are two of the last people I like listening to in Hollywood because they always spend an inordinate amount of time glad-handing and pumping up their products, which are typically slick pieces of shit. A track with just the duo would have been intolerable, so I’m glad Reynolds is here to balance things out. He takes a bit of a backseat to the two of them, but he does offer up some notes on how he prepared for the role and how he purposely kept away from the kids during filming to prevent them from becoming too friendly. Interesting fact I learned: the house used in the film was located in Wisconsin, and the façade that resembles the classic home front was constructed over the existing frame.

There are several deleted scenes available to watch individually or with the “play all” function, with optional audio commentary by actor Ryan Reynolds and producers Andrew Form & Brad Fuller, for the following:

- “Family Toast” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds, George proposes a toast to their first night in the new house.
- “Kathy Buys Groceries” runs for 58 seconds, a clerk at the store acts surprised when she hears where Kathy is living.
- “Kathy Gives Chelsea a Bath” runs for 25 seconds.
- “Charlie & Girlfriend Visit George” runs for 1 minute and 12 seconds, one of George’s employees stops by with some papers, but his girlfriend won’t go near the house.
- “Chelsea & Michael Argue” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds, the two argue over Jody, and when Michael starts making jokes he almost gets hurt.
- “Kathy and George Arrive to Lights Flashing” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds, all the lights are flashing on and off, so they assume the kids are behind it. But, they don’t know how to explain it either.
- “Kathy & George Argue” runs for 1 minute and 26 seconds, Kathy confronts George about his increasingly unstable mental condition and attitude.
- “Original Etch-a-Sketch from Dailies” runs for 4 seconds, someone REALLY knows how to make a good picture on one of these.

“Supernatural Homicide” is a featurette which runs for 17 minutes and 32 seconds. This fascinating piece plays like a true crime show, focusing on the real life murders which took place in the storied house in Amityville. Investigators and others close to the case talk about the infamous DeFeo murders and the events that transpired that night in the house on Ocean Ave. I’ve read books on the stories, and I’d say they do a good job of relaying a healthy amount of information here.

“The Source of Evil” is a featurette which runs for 26 minutes and 28 seconds. This making-of piece talks about “the most famous haunted house in America”, the Amityville Horror house, and gives viewers a little backstory on the events that inspired this remake of the 1979 film. Everything here is mostly standard, though. The actors all discuss their roles and how they approached their performances while we’re treated to a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage of the film being shot.

“On Set Sneak Peeks” is an interactive feature where a small icon will appear at various points throughout the film (9, to be exact). When you hit “enter” on your remote, you’ll be taken to a behind-the-scenes look at them shooting that exact scene.

There are three photo galleries with images for the following:

- “Crime Scene” has 87 images.
- “House Interior” has 56 images.
- “Ghost & Torture” has 63 images.

A hefty selection of bonus trailers is included for the following:

- “Into the Blue” runs for 2 minutes and 14 seconds.
- “Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo” runs for 1 minute and 37 seconds.
- “Stealth” runs for 33 seconds.
- “The Legend of Zorro” runs for 1 minute and 47 seconds.
- “Rent” runs for 2 minutes and 12 seconds.
- “Fun with Dick and Jane” runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds.
- “The Fog” runs for 1 minute and 37 seconds.
- “Kung Fu Hustle” runs for 1 minute and 47 seconds.
- “Lords of Dogtown” runs for 2 minutes and 3 seconds.
- “Amityville Horror Collection” runs for 57 seconds.
- “The Best of MGM Horror” runs for 53 seconds.
- “Boogeyman” runs for 58 seconds.
- “The Grudge” runs for 1 minute and 12 seconds.
- “Urban Legend: Bloody Mary: runs for 1 minute and 5 seconds.

Packaging

What else would we get but the eternal glory of a 2-disc amaray eco keepcase?

Overall

I don’t think remaking this film was a bad idea since the original isn’t exactly held in such high regard anyway. But, they missed the mark on bringing the real chills to the picture, instead replying on cheap scares and loud musical cues. Of course, this is to be expected from Platinum Dunes, the production company incapable of doing horror classics justice. I like this version slightly less than the original because it’s missing the camp/kitsch factor, as well as James Brolin’s astoundingly awesome beard. At least we get excellent picture quality to go along with the impressive audio. I’m glad bonus features appear in this set, but they really need to be on the Blu-ray.

The Film: C- Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: B- Overall: C+

 


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