I am increasingly convinced that hordes of murderous undead little girls roam Hollywood, feasting upon unwary directors. How else to explain their prevalence, and the shorthand for creepiness they represent, in films from “The Ring” to “The Others” to the remake of “The Amityville Horror”?
This last movie features Jody, a young murder victim, as the dead girl du jour. In the truly terrible “The Amityville Horror,” Jody is one member of the Defeo family, allegedly slaughtered in their sleep by their father (who claimed that voices from the house told him to kill his family). The young Lutz family moves into the home one year later, only to find that young Jody and other ghosts have not moved out.
The over-reliance on Jody is one of many ways in which “The Amityville Horror” is a fundamentally lazy movie. The film is based on a prior movie based on ostensibly real events that took place in the mid-’70s and it follows the standard horror-movie set-up more or less point-by-point.
A short, scary prologue depicting the gruesome murders begins the movie, followed by several scenes introducing the main characters—mother, stepfather, belligerent older son, adorable younger son, and vaguely creepy young daughter—while establishing that they are good people who deserve the audience’s sympathy.
As per the formula, they don’t believe in all that superstitious nonsense they’ve heard about the suspicious goings-on in the house. As George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds), the patriarch and apparently avid bumper-sticker reader, says, “Houses don’t kill people, people kill people.”
Houses do, however, give people creepy visions, re-arrange furniture, and open and close their own windows. Director Andrew Douglas, having decided that these phenomena on their own aren’t scary enough, gets cheap, but sometimes effective, jolts by using booming sound effects, eerie music, and jump cuts. These get the heart racing, but at the expense of internal logic.
After the first half, what little sense or tension the movie has falls apart, and it becomes a game of spot-the-cliché. For a film that proclaims in a title card at the start that it is “Based On the True Story,” it is remarkably derivative. Especially as the real George Lutz, who probably made up the story to begin with, is calling the remake “drivel that is pure sophistry,” this is perhaps to be expected.
It endlessly rips off events, shots, and makeup effects from better movies. When it comes out on video, this could lead to a good drinking game: do a shot whenever you see a theft (“homage,” if you prefer) from another movie. Off the top of my head, I found “The Sixth Sense,” “The Shining,” “The Exorcist,” “Poltergeist,” “The Ring,” the video for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” and, oddly enough, “The Lord of the Rings.” Play with beer.
In addition to stealing from specific movies, “The Amityville Horror” mines the collective tropes of all B horror (without the X factor that can induce sleazy fun). Fleeing from danger, the family runs up the stairs, only facilitating their capture. In the course of a drive from one attempt to unravel the mystery, it is suddenly a dark and stormy night. After escaping danger, it is daylight and sunny again.
“The Amityville Horror” is by no means a good movie, but it is an amusing one, if unintentionally so. Also, if it takes in enough at the box office, we might be seeing remakes of the seven sequels, from “Amityville 3-D” to “Amityville: Dollhouse.” Whether this is an inducement or an impediment I leave to you and your capacity for irony.