You’d think that in 86 minutes of screen time that the makers of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR’s 2005 incarnation could come up with at least one genuinely scary moment. Even if it’s just by accident aided and abetted by the law of averages. Alas, this dreary Z-grade schlock-fest is capable of producing only titters and yawns rather than screams and gooseflesh. And this is remarkable because, as the well-known story goes, what we have here is a big house that drips blood and angry, not to mention dead, Native Americans out for righteous revenge. Sure, those things have become a cliché since the first AMITIYVILLE, but if filmmakers can’t get something creepy out of that, they’re either not trying or should be in another line of work altogether where they can’t do any harm, say putting on kiddie birthday parties.
Now, I have often opined that for a horror flick to work, the protagonists have to have a certain amount if innate stupidity. You know, the kind that makes them want to go into the creepy basement to see what that weird noise is all about, or, if they are just a scooch less stupid, just stay in the house in which there is a creepy basement with a weird noise coming out of it. AMITYVILLE has a creepy basement, and it does have weird voices in it, but George (Ryan Reynolds), the man of the house, isn’t investigating that. No, he’s just trying to stay warm because the basement is the only place that isn’t freezing cold to him. That no one else in his instant family, wife Kathy (the vacuous Melissa George) or her two sons and daughter feel the arctic chill in the air causes no alarm in anyone. Neither does the fact that their dream home, into which they have just moved, was on the market at a rock-bottom price, nor does the fact that the reason for that was the unfortunate fates of the previous owners. It was the scene of a family slaughter courtesy of the eldest son. He would be the one who lived in the basement and, late one night, after watching a test pattern on the television for a really long after all the television stations had gone off the air (this is 1974), takes a rifle to everyone else in the house. If only there had been cable available, or even a 24-hour station, the tragedy could have been averted and by tragedy I am including this film.
But I digress.
No, the real stupidity of these folks goes much deeper, running to things like what may be the most memorable line of the film. That would be when Kathy, having just been assaulted with murderous intent by her possessed husband, doesn’t run screaming into the night to get away from him. No, she stops, turns, and >tells< him that he just tried to kill her. And it’s not like she didn’t have an example to follow. This is a woman who had only hours before seen the priest brought in to bless her home run screaming from the premises after being assaulted, also with murderous intent, by houseflies.
The inanity runs beyond mere dialogue. The insistent soundtrack screams at us to be on edge whenever anything happens on screen. That the ghost child haunting the little girl of the house is more hygienically challenged that scary is only one of the problems. That the pose said spectre assumes, putatively to strike terror in the audience, is another. The phantom doesn’t so much menace as stand there with a glassy stare, not unlike the one the audience has, except the audience’s is a mixture of acute boredom and disbelief at what is transpiring on screen. Reynolds, who starts the film with a cutesy sort of charm, falls into the same expression, though behind it, he seems to be visualizing his future career as a series of VAN WILDER sequels of increasingly lackluster quality. It explains the hint of dyspepsia his character seems to have as he falls under the spell of the haunting entities. At least we can watch his amazingly cut abs. If only that were enough.
The nitpicks could go on forever, but I’ll limit myself to the contacts Reynolds wears. They’re supposed to make his character’s eyes suitably bloodshot, but the affected area is such a perfect circle, and there is so much of the perfectly white part showing, that you can’t help but wonder why no one noticed it during the make-up tests, and why, if they did, they didn’t care.
The running time is, as I’ve mentioned, 86 minutes, meaning that this is the part that the powers that be thought was worth salvaging. It makes one shudder to think what was left on the cutting room floor, and, it goes without saying, it’s the only thing THE AMITYVILLE HORROR offers in the way of the shudder.