The Amityville Horror

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The remake of “The Amityville Horror” arrives just in time to appear wholly unoriginal and a product of its era. Just as the hokey 1979 original felt precisely like a horror film from 1979, the new version is as 2005 as they come: lots of “jump” scares accompanied by loud bursts of soundtrack music, creepy dead girls wandering the halls, and almost no actual suspense or horror.

Like its predecessor, it is based on Jay Anson’s book, which purports to be the true story of the Lutz family who moved into a Dutch colonial home on Long Island in 1975 and moved out in terror 28 days later. (Ironically, “28 Days Later” is the only recent horror film that this one does NOT borrow from.)

The Lutzes are headed by George (Ryan Reynolds), a prematurely bearded man who works in construction and has just married Kathy (Melissa George), a horse-toothed young widow who is bringing up three very horse-toothed children. The kids have varying attitudes toward New Dad, teenage Michael (Jimmy Bennett) hating him, young Billy (Jesse James) loving him, and younger Chelsea Chloe Moretz) hardly even noticing him, as she is busy playing with her new friend Jodie, the dead girl whose ghost resides in the house.

The house has a past, you see. A year ago, in 1974, a man heard voices telling him to kill his family and, like an idiot, he obeyed those voices. (You know what, crazy people? Just because you hear voices doesn’t mean you have to do what they say.) The real estate agent showing the house to the Lutzes refers to it as having “a vibrant history,” one of the few signs of wit in Scott Kosar’s otherwise lackadaisical screenplay.

Whatever evil caused the first guy to go nuts is still there, however — it was not sold at the yard sale, I guess — and no amount of worrying or half-hearted exorcising by local priest Father Callaway (Philip Baker Hall, slumming) can evict it. The evil then begins to affect George, who turns grumpy and is subject to many odd visions and eventually to madness. The manifestations of the house’s inherent evil are the same as in all movies in which a creepy house plays a part. There are dark whisperings, strange creakings and groanings, and much unexplained flickering of the lights. (Evil loves messing with the electricity.)

Still, what all these movies fail to understand, and what first-time feature director Andrew Douglas does not grasp either, is that such random occurrences are not, of themselves, scary. “Weird” is not the same thing as “frightening,” my friends. We have to be afraid OF something — of an actual thing (like a monster or a ghost), or of an event (that the plane will crash, that the ship will sink, that our stepfather will lose his mind and come after us).

“The Amityville Horror” gives us very little to actually be afraid of. When George finally does fulfill his destiny as yet another movie character who is made homicidal by unseen forces, all the film does is move into standard run-and-scream territory. You know the drill: George’s potential victims choose escape routes that lead them into greater danger, and a few key players suddenly develop action-hero skills when the situation calls for it. The film is not psychological at all; it is visceral, all graphics and visuals with very little brain.

C (1 hr., 32 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity, some strong violence, brief partial nudity, a bit of sexuality.)

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