Month of Horror 2017: Dealer’s Choice – Platinum Dunes: The Amityville Horror

10/15/2017 – Platinum Dunes: The Amityville Horror (2005)
Directed by Andrew Douglas

I’ve long said that if you are gonna pick a movie to remake, a bad one or one that has aged poorly is a perfect pick. By both standards, the original 1979 version of The Amityville Horror is a perfect pick then because it is both complete crap and aged like a milk in the August sun. The film was based on a story long and repeatedly said to be a lie by the writer of the book and “refuted by eyewitnesses, investigations and forensic evidence”. It was also a story that was pretty scummy to take the actions of a real man (Ronald DeFeo Jr.) and seriously attribute them to a house and committed the awful sin of popularizing and legitimizing scumbags Ed and Lorraine Warren (who are depicted in The Conjuring films).

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George (Triangle), and in one of her first roles Chloë Moretz (this is not the Hit Girl and Deadpool movie I want), the film seeks to bring the film to the then modern age by making it just like every other film from their age. The film opens up with depicting the very real mass murder by depicting it as a house whispering to a man in the basement with a shotgun to “kill them” and then he proceeds to kill his family. Personally, I don’t think we can hold the house responsible as it doesn’t say who “them” is. Maybe them is other killers in a Dexter type situation. Maybe it was like a coach or coworker just trying to psych someone up in a “go out and kill it” type way.

A family of five buys the house for cheap on account of you know a mass murder taking place there but to paraphrase Airplane!, “they bought their [house], they knew what they were getting into, I say, let ‘em crash”. The film wastes absolutely no time showing its hand as the dad sees a hanging girl while he is having sex which later leads to more visions. Moretz’s character starts seeing and talking to “friends” who are the murdered kids and figures start darting by everywhere. When the scantily clad babysitter (also the former babysitter for the last family) who is uncomfortably flirty and teasing to a clearly underage boy and played by Continuum and P2’s (snickers endlessly) Rachel Nichols shows up, my boredom at least turned to laughter especially SPOILERS when she is scared into a mumbling and frozen in terror state. END OF SPOILERS

If you want to see Ryan Reynolds yell at a bunch of kids then here’s your movie. If you want to see Ryan Reynolds yell at a bunch of kids in a good movie then find something else. Reynolds goes more and more mad and this could be very easily recut into a non-supernatural film (a point I will get to more later), seeing bloody versions of himself telling people to “kill them”. He goes to a doctor about these symptoms and is sent to a psychiatrist but he denies it is that. The film did manage one genuine laugh when Moretz is standing on top of the roof yelling “Hi Mommy!” as her parents pull up. It was less funny (only just) when he tries to kill herself at the behest of “Jodi”, but she says it all in a tone which just made me think of the nanny from The Omen.

I do have to say that Reynolds is perfectly cast as a raging asshole that we want to see die (he was still four years out from likability in Definitely, Maybe, as is Moretz as the girl from Poltergeist and George as a wife taken advantage of by an abusive second husband while still not completely over the death of her first husband. She tries to justify it by being convinced her abusive husband is only this way because of the house and this isn’t the “real him”. It certainly explains all the things the kids see if they are dealing with a crumbling marriage. We even get something equivalent to the moment the abused stands up for herself and fights back. When Reynolds starts sleeping alone in the basement, growing more and more resentful, it really does feel like this is another type of story. When George goes to a priest for help and who actually believes their story, all I could think was “You probably see this shit all the time and I sure hope that even in the 70s you know to do the right thing, right?” SPOILERS At least he gets what he deserves thanks to a scene of flies in near Wicker Man quality (before that film was released too) which traumatizes him. END OF SPOILERS

I’m gonna leave this unspoilered only because I know a lot of people (I don’t understand them completely) won’t see a film because of this happening and I consider it a public service to let them know (only because I want to spare them a bad movie). Ryan Reynolds hacks the family dog to death thinking it is a demon. This should be sad but it’s almost shot like something out of a Evil Deadfilm and the way he cries over the dog collar is downright hilarious.

The film frequently makes the noises indicating there should be jump scares but I think the film forgot to actually put them in. In fact, I think they forgot to make anything resembling something scary at all. In most horror movies I can at least recognize “yep this is the part where I imagine people would be scared”, but here I was seriously scratching my head over what was supposed to be considered scary about this. Maybe a few moments late in the film I could see towards the end where thy kept cutting everywhere, but you are supposed to build some tension and the film never does that. It’s the equivalent of walking up to someone staring at you in a bright room and yelling “boo”.

I think the biggest problem is they showed the visions way too much. At first, I appreciated that everyone is seeing this but it really ruined any ambiguity in a way that made the film look like it was trying really hard to say “nuh uh, there were tons of witnesses, this couldn’t be a fake”. Without them, the film could conceivably work in a way like The Stepfather, letting the question of who’s to believe in the air. Better yet, ditch the garbage Amityville story and just make this about an abusive husband and not some real-life figure.

The film is garbage but what did you expect from a Platinum Dunes remake. It’s soulless, does nothing to improve the original, and just tries to up the gore and sex appeal for no apparent reason. The original shouldn’t have existed and this just feels even more unnecessary. I’ll just sum up my review though with two petty complaints that I think are emblematic of the film at all. The oldest son is into Kiss but I forgive him because he looks to be of an age where you are almost required to have shitty taste. The problem (besides Kiss being garbage) is that it’s such a weird thing to bring up frequently but it just made me think of the NKOTB references in It which feel like token attempts to establish setting in what otherwise could be some completely different time. Also, who the hell has crucifixes in their door knobs? It’s something added only for the lame joke of the upside down cross and symbolizes the fact that this feels more like a movie designed to be cut into a trailer than any actual work of horror.

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Bonus Episode #10 – Remakes: Black Christmas (2006)
Directed by Glen Morgan

Speaking of that boom of horror remakes in the 00s, here’s Black Christmas. The original from 1974 rose Bob Clark (later of Porky’s and A Christmas Story) to the top of the Canadian film industry (a year before David Cronenberg made Shivers) and is one of the earliest and most influential slasher films. It’s also a great home invasion film starring Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Margot Kidder (then fresh off Sisters and later the one true Lois Lane and starred in the original version of our first film of today), and a fresh off Enter the Dragon John Saxon. It’s only natural then that with seemingly every other slasher getting made, this one would get the treatment too.

The film is directed by the man who also did the decent remake of Willard and is a victim of fighting between the director and a certain pair of asshole executive brothers (one of whom has been very popular in the news lately). It certainly feels really uneven in what it is trying to do. It stars Arrow’s Katie Cassidy, Buffy’s Michelle Trachtenberg, the awesome Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the one actress from Mean Girls whose career didn’t take off in Lacey Chabert, and the requisite Canadian in the insufferable Andrea Martin.

The film starts off right away as a woman has a bag put over her head and stabbed through the eye. Then we get an info dump on our villain, Billy Lenz, who at the start is locked up in a ward for the criminally insane before escaping by stabbing a guard with a candy cane and then murdering a Santa. Another woman receives the same treatment when she discovers the body in the attic of the sorority and has her eye ripped out by some woman. Then we get another info dump from Martin as the sorority house mother not even 20 minutes in about him. I’d say the film is spending too much time on flashbacks but I can’t say I want to spend time with the insufferable leads either. Calling them stereotypes would be implying way too much about their characters since they can’t even manage those.

The backstory is one of those over the top things where the film tries to give the villain a deep characterization but thinks that by giving him a parade of misfortunes as a kid, that counts as character development or somehow makes them more interesting. It doesn’t and just makes you look like you are trying too hard to stand out from the pack because you know damn well nothing else about your movie is going to do that. SPOILERS He was born with yellow skin and lived in the house which now houses the sorority. After he watched his mom and her boyfriend murder his likable dad, he is locked in the attic, and later raped as a twelve-year-old by his mother in order to father a daughter named Agnes. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know in that moment who the killer is, it’s Agnes though Billy does come through later with the assist.

Billy took an eye from his sister-daughter, murdered his step dad by stabbing him through the eye and beat his mom to death before cooking and eating parts of her back in the shape of gingerbread men. I’m really not sure if the film means for this to be disturbing or comic as it splits the two and winds up being neither. The only thing close to a subversion that the movie tries are fake outs about a dorky girl and a woman shows up claiming she is the sister of one of the murdered girls (not that anyone knows they have been murdered). Of course, it undoes its hard work on both by hinting so hard that it becomes obvious these are false leads.

The rest of the movie just proceeds as a standard slasher as each woman is knocked off one by one by our two killers who travel through a whole bunch of tunnels and shit Billy built through the house as a kid. Some of the eye kills are fun enough and the falling icicle “kill” is genuinely funny if nothing new. END OF SPOILERS

That’s all this film is, nothing new. It’s a standard 00s slasher that goes on too long at the end, tries too hard to explain away the villain’s backstory, and is filled to the brim with forgettable 20 somethings. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on films like this since the 80s were just as filled with these exact types of interchangeable slashers and at least these have decent production values but there’s a reason those films died out then and again by the end of the 00s. I don’t think it is as bad as the reviews imply and there’s far worse examples, but I can already feel the film slipping from my head.

Next up: I hope 976-EVIL gives me something interesting to talk about.

2017 Partial Schedule