Thursday, May 12, 2011

Amityville: A Squeamish Horror Fan's First Movie Review

I'm always a bit cautious about asserting myself as a horror fan. The need to clarify what I mean by that term is ever present and that compulsion only grows stronger as the "horror" genre falls further and further into the trend of glorified depictions of torture as entertainment. I personally find those movies disturbing more-so than scary, which kind of defeats the purpose for me. In fact, the fear I experience as a result of most modern horror movies comes from people's enthusiastic support of them. But then again, for a "horror fan" I am uncharacteristically opposed to gore. Blood, no problem. Gore? Too much and I'm out. (It's a fine line)

All that being said, I love me a creepy movie! Especially haunted house movies. Which is why it's so odd that it took me until last year to actually sit down and watch any of the Amityville films. I decided to dive in to the first film in the franchise late on in my pregnancy with Bastian when despite my heightened sensitivity to scares I still had the urge to consume some horror media. During that time I relied heavily on the Parental Guide feature on IMDB to prescreen movies for content I knew I would be unable to handle. I still do. After completing my due diligence I determined that this one would be sufficiently creepy without having any ill effects on my stress level. I get mega-stressed out when I'm scared, and though I love the feeling, I wasn't too keen on the idea of putting my passenger through those side effects in exchange for a little bit of an adrenaline rush. Now eight months post-delivery I finally got around to seeing the re-make.

The 2005 version, though it was definitely missing some things that were crucial in making the original so great, turned out to be a good movie all on it's own as well as a good reinterpretation of the story. I was disappointed that the sense of the house being a living, breathing, thing pulsing with evil from it's very foundation was not present in the remake when it was such a hingepin in the atmosphere and suspense depicted in the 1979 film. The first few ghost "scares" were far from scary and almost took away from the building tension, but things became more realistic and frightening as the movie progressed. Eventually the presence of actual ghosts in place of a malevolent house became a real positive in terms of overall effect, especially in the moments after the first roof scene with Chelsea and the scene between George and Billy's dog in the boat house. Without the presence of these ghosts the pit in your stomach created by those scenes just wouldn't be there. So, while this change was still disappointing I feel that it allowed for an increased level of character development that wasn't achieved in the original Amityville.

On that point, the acting, in my opinion was much better in the 2005 film. I may be alone in this but I never got the sense from the 1979 movie that George Lutz had ever been a nice guy. That lack of likability made it difficult for me to discern whether certain performances throughout were supposed to be evidence that the house was breaking him down/posessing him or if he was just being a your standard Jerk. Reynolds did a much better job highlighting the difference between his character under the influence of the home's horror and his normal state when away from it's supernatural hold on him. He managed to be much more menacing than Brolin even though Brolin's physical side effects seemed more believable the emotional element just wasn't as raw as the unraveling Reynolds portrayed. Also, while I did appreciate Margot Kidder's performance I could relate to Kathy's motivations and desperation as played by Melissa George a bit more. In fact the only character I felt was less believable than the original was the babysitter. I don't even know where to begin with that one... her performance outside of the few moments inside the closet was laughable.

The new(er) movie did have quite a healthy dose of religious symbolism which I felt was important, but even so I sincerely missed the interactions with the priest and his local parish that were left out. The somewhat separate storyline depicted in the 79 version was extremely compelling and lent quite a bit to the building of suspense while also adding an element of syncopation in the pacing of the film (if that makes any sense to anyone but me). The back and forth between the house and the church also played up the theme of demonic energy which to me is far more frightening than the direction the new film took by highlighting the notion that past human misdeeds, however horrific they were, left angry spirits behind to haunt the homeowners.

Also, while I would much rather live in the house from the '05 movie (oh, to have a house like that) the original was much creepier. I felt like the time era in the remake wasn't very well established, it was as if it took place today but had retro inspired elements that weren't fleshed out well enough to feel authentic. It all seemed too new. Any elements meant to indicate a different time felt like afterthoughts.

I would like to see a combination of the positive elements of both of these films put together in one piece someday. The character development and paranoia achieved by the remake melded together with the missing storyline of the original and the sense of the house itself being completely enveloped in demonic forces. Now that would be truly nightmare inducing... come to think of it, that may be a little too scary for me. Because after all I am a real wimp of a horror fan!

What is you favorite horror franchise? What elements do you feel are necessary to a good horror flick? Or a good movie in general?

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