One of the advantages of Remaketober is that any film I wind up reviewing for it literally HAS to be notable. In order to qualify for Remaketober, a movie has to have a remake, obviously. And in order to merit a remake, a movie has to be, at some point to notable, otherwise why would anyone bother remaking it. However, I have chosen my words carefully there: I said a movie had to be notable. Not necessarily good.
That seems as good a segue as any to the title of this week’s movie: The Amityville Horror.
If nothing else, The Amityville Horror is a bizarrely fascinating institution in the horror landscape. Based on a book that purported to be true (but is, as far as most people can tell, complete bulls**t) the franchise has spawned a dozen sequels, one of which has a, no joke, evil lamp. And before you think those sequels are a thing of the past, the most recent Direct to DVD sequel came out in April of this year (and the next one is coming out next April…seriously).
All of that kind of distracts from talking about how bad the movie actually is. If you’re hoping for it to be hilariously bad, you’re out of luck. It has a couple of funny moments (mostly from some absurdly over the top line delivery) but for the most part, the movie is just dull across the board. And, given that was my criticism of the Poltergeist remake, I hope that won’t be a theme of this year’s Remaketober.
The big issue is that the movie is not, in any way, scary. The movie opens solidly enough, even if it is weirdly edited, as the best scene in the movie is right at the beginning the Priest is driven out by the…ghost? Demon? I dunno, they don’t specify too well. Anyway, that’s the best, and most famous sequence in the movie, even if it does make me feel like the Priest is a wuss (the house told you to get out and you just bolted? Fathers Merrin and Karras are ashamed of you).
The problem is, the movie has no idea how to escalate the scares from there. The movie is still doing what should be first act scares like doors slamming and mysterious eyes in the darkness well into the climax, so the horror never really gets going. This means the movie is basically forced to try and upsell the handful of scares it does have, which makes it…weird. The moment that sticks out to me is when they try to make a babysitter getting locked in the closet into a big horrifying moment, but it just falls completely flat (seriously, she beats her knuckles open on the door after like 30 seconds). Without any sense of menace or threat, all the movie can do is limp down the road towards its dull ending.
That might be salvageable if the actors or script were competently done, but the movie is putting too much weight on James Brolin to sell the ‘Psycho Dad’ aspect, and he’s no Jack Nicholson. He winds up playing it less as if he’s going insane or being possessed, and more like he’s just becoming a belligerent asshole. I was more afraid of Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest. The rest of the actors aren’t much better, although I fail to see how even Daniel Day-Lewis could salvage a script that calls for the mother to break down sobbing and praying because her phone call got cut off.
Still, despite being derided by critics for being as dull as dishwater, The Amityville Horror was a MASSIVE hit, blowing past 80 million bucks at the box office, on a 4 million budget. That, combined with the constant sequels and occasional parodies have kept it in the public conscious (the on-again-off-again attempts to figure how much of the book was made up probably helped too). So I guess a remake was, on some level, inevitable.
I work very hard to not let other critics opinions of a movie color my own, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of them. In this case, my awareness took the form of glancing at both this movie’s and the original’s Rotten Tomatoes score before watching them. And to my great surprise, they were incredibly close, separated by only a single percent. But now that I’ve watched them both, that makes sense. The remake is neither a step forward, nor a step back in quality, so much as it’s a shuffling sideways. It imports most of the original’s flaws wholesale, fixes a handful of them, but creates a few new ones of its own, leading a comparison to be mostly a wash.
The biggest issue the remake does manage to fix is the problem with the climax. While the movie opens pretty slow, it does manage to escalate the action, which actually gives the movie a semblance of a third act and climax. It also manages, through liberal use of special effects, to make a handful of sequences borrowed from the original feel like there’s actually some threat attached (although the recreation of the Priest’s visit is too silly for words).
On the other hand, the dramatic tension hasn’t gotten any better, and if anything, the movie is even worse at making its scares actually scary than the original. Most of the movies scares are far too telegraphed to land with anything other than a thud, and those that aren’t are just too unoriginal. Ryan Reynolds (who is, incidentally, still rocking his Blade Trinity physique, which is hilariously out of character for him) is completely incapable of selling his evil-dad schtick, the youngest member of the murdered previous family is hanging around ripping off The Grudge for no adequately explored reason (why not the rest of the family?) and…I dunno, the rest of it’s sort of a blur of recycled ideas. How can I be afraid of anything the movie throws at me when I’ve seen it all before?
Really though, they’re both pretty pointless. Once the dust had settled on the question of whether or not the story was true (hint: No) neither of these movies is particularly interesting. The original may have a couple more iconic scenes, and the remake may have more Chloe Grace Moretz (although, since she’s not trading jabs with Alec Baldwin or murdering people for Nicolas Cage, who cares?) but neither of them are really worthwhile.
Next week on Remaketober, we go into full classic mode, with a movie a friend of mine has been quoting a lot since he found out his wife is pregnant.
No it’s not It’s Alive.