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I generally despise remakes and I am simply shuddering at the thought of what they are going to do to the superb and—in my opinion—unsurpassable Old Boy, but the biggest area of remakes at the moment appears to be horror. Not only is every single decent Japanese horror being remade (does Hollywood really think that Americans cannot read subtitles?) but now Michael Bay's own studio has started remaking classic seventies horrors, starting with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which was dark and entertaining but not in the same league as the original) and now The Amityville Horror.

Amityville Horror, The

Film


George and Kathy are newlyweds with a young family who have all come from Kathy's now deceased previous partner. Whilst out looking for a property to buy in an area where every house is out of their price range, they come across what seems like the deal of a lifetime. It is a lovely, huge house (a little reminiscent of the Bates house in Psycho) set in the beautiful Amityville locale, and it even has its own boathouse (perfect for George's speedboat). Initially thinking that it is simply too good to be true, they find out that the house was home to a massacre little over a year previously, where the son took a rifle to every other member of his family, from the children to the adults, allegedly because the house told him to kill them. Although slightly troubled by it, George is insistent that 'houses are not evil, people are evil' and so the family move in and, for a while, everything seems ok.

Slowly though, it becomes apparent that the family are being affected by the house. First the young daughter, Chelsea, starts talking about her new 'friend', a girl who she sees that nobody else can see. Increasingly, this imaginary friend persuades her to do dangerous things (climaxing in a terrific scene set atop the house itself). Chelsea is not the only one who is affected, however, as George soon shows signs of being disturbed by the house. To begin with, he associates the headaches and visions with a lack of sleep but the rest of the family notice a distinct change in character; moreover they notice that he seems to be absolutely fine whenever they leave the area. Unfortunately it takes them a little too long to put two and two together and, by the time they have figured out what is going on, George is already rooted in the house on a downward spiral markedly similar to the plight of Jack (Nicholson) in The Shining.

The Amityville Horror is a fairly competent psychological horror about what is essentially a haunted house. Eschewing your standard, almost comical, ghostly apparitions in favour of the power of suggestion (frenzied MTV-style visions and murmurings), it is a much more mature enterprise than many similar movies. The acting is superb, with Ryan Reynolds doing a reasonably convincing 'Shining' routine as the husband and Melissa George (of Home and Away and now Alias fame) looking lovely as ever in her stalwart role as the wife and mother. The direction is also proficient, giving us quite a few creepy moments that will have your spine tingling as well as your standard loud-noise jumps.

Amityville Horror, The
Unfortunately there is a 'but' in all of this that I cannot help but air. The movie is set in the seventies (because it is based on a real incident that occurred back then) but it is seventies in name only. Sure they try and get the right cars and the right faded outfits (was everything really that bleak back then?) but Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George are clearly not a seventies family. Ryan is the biggest culprit, where even the way he speaks (in a very sarcastic, sardonic 'hip' manner) is not believable, nor (however much it pleases the ladies) is his state of 'fitness'. I suspect that very few average middle-class husbands who had to provide for their families back then saw fit to frequent the gym, without which no human on earth could look like he does. Don't get me wrong, his superior physique perfectly suited Blade: Trinity (even if his sense of humour was not) but here it seems incongruous with the setting. As does Melissa's independent, forthright wife, something which again does not quite ring true in what was largely still a sexist, male dominated decade.

These are small things, but they could have easily been avoided had the setting been changed. This is, after all, a Michael Bay production, so why not just make it a 'reworking' or a new vision of the original concept, rather than try and ground it in part history and part modern life? The story is not dependent on that particular decade other than in the fact that it was the time at which the real murders took place. Anyway, moans aside, this is—as I've said—a perfectly competent little psychological thriller. Very much a Michael Bay version of The Shining, and entertaining as such even if you do have take a few things with a pinch of salt and forgive the family for not coming to the conclusion that the audiences will arrive at even before the opening titles finish. If you haven't seen the original (and I haven't) then it will happily engage you for an evening's viewing. It's just a pity that Hollywood cannot come up with its own horror ideas for once, or at least breathe new life into old ones.

Video


The Amityville Horror is presented with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer that looks tremendous. Detail levels are exceptional, with no grain whatsoever (except in the purposefully dated-looking video camera footage sections), little softness and negligible edge enhancement. The colour scheme has been purposefully given an autumnal feel (to make the setting more seventies without making everything look too faded) and the palette is well represented throughout. We get solid blacks that allow for superb night scenes and decent shadowing and there are no noticeable print defects. Overall it is a brilliant transfer.

Amityville Horror, The

Audio


The movie is presented with a pretty decent audio track as well, of the Dolby Digital 5.1 variety. The dialogue is clear and comprehensible, predominantly from the frontal array but with a couple of moments of directional screaming and the voices of the 'ghosts' populating the rears. The score offers the most action, carrying you through the various rollercoaster scenes of tension with aplomb, but also providing a general disconcerting feeling with the brooding noises it offer. Effects-wise, we get keen observation of everything from the creaking floorboards to the ominous footsteps across the wood panelling. The main source of bass comes from the more startling moments in the soundtrack, doing its best to have you jumping out of your seat.

Extras


First up we get a full-length audio commentary from Ryan Reynolds and producers Andrew Folm and Brad Fuller. They explain what was based on reality and what was fictionalised, talking about the actual '70s news footage played over the opening titles, the local actors that they used to play some of the smaller roles and going into a little too much detail about where the scenes where shot and what unnoticeable continuity errors took place (this was shot on the fifth day of production in the sixth room on the second set etc. etc. gets a little tedious after a while). Reynolds often saves the day, coming across as much less dry and much more light-hearted than the others, and subsequently being much more engaging and interesting. Hearing his anecdotes and improvisations on the script marks the highlight of a commentary which you are probably going to want to dip in and out of.

There are eight deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Ryan Reynolds and the two producers. Reynolds is once again interesting (explaining why the scenes were cut by just making snoring noises). Most of them develop the characters, but not enough to justify their reinstatement. There are a few extra nice scares and some more funny—but once again modernised—dialogue and it is worth giving them a run-through.

Amityville Horror, The
The ‘Supernatural Homicide’ featurette runs at eighteen minutes and is a very cheesy 'real life murders' style production, with irritating movies and annoying sound-bites 'I know the house made him do it—nothing else can do that other than the intelligence of something inhuman'. Still, it is nice to hear from the then deputy chief of police, the then medical examiner and, rather oddly, a silly woman who proclaims herself as an 'interpreter for the dead'. Arghhh. If you watch this featurette, make sure you take everything they say with a pinch of salt. Hearing the facts is one thing but some of the notions this woman has are too much like those of Mystic Meg and it is only thanks to the pragmatic ex-sheriff that the featurette manages to main any footing in reality.

The ‘Source of Evil’ featurette runs at twenty-seven minutes and features interviews with the main cast and crew, behind the scenes footage of rehearsals, make-up application, pre-effects shots and plenty of footage from the final product. Reynolds talks about his beliefs in the supernatural, along with most of the other crew members, although Melissa George diplomatically states that 'if the family say that it happened then I guess I believe them.' The director is a little more grounded in his approach, talking about the more psychological angle to the story and how he developed the characters appropriately. It is nice to have so much input from the two leads, along with a few comments from the young child actors and this featurette is much more interesting and informative that the first one.

The ‘On Set Peeks’ option allows you to watch the main film and be given prompts for relevant background footage relating to the necessary scenes (continuing in the mould of the original 'follow the white rabbit' option on The Matrix DVD). There are nine of these mini-featurettes littered over the course of the movie but it is a shame that you cannot watch any of them from the special features menu.

The photo gallery is split into three sections—Crime Scene, House Interior and Ghosts and Tortures—but don't be fooled, they are all fictionalised (even the autopsy/newspaper reports). It is still quite an interesting option, although an original news archive would have been more engaging.

Rather stupidly, under the ‘Previews’ option all we get is a trailer for the totally unrelated Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Whilst I enjoyed the original, this one looks a little unnecessary and it certainly isn't a particularly clever idea advertising it amidst the special features for a horror movie.

Amityville Horror, The

Overall


The Amityville Horror is a scary enough evening's worth of entertainment, despite the fact that it probably marks yet another unnecessary addition to Hollywood's increasing reservoir of redundant remakes. The video and sound are markedly good and there are a multitude of decent extras to keep you entertained long after the end credits roll. Definitely worth a rental but probably only then should you decide whether or not to invest in it for your collection.


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