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Volume 70, Issue 130, Friday, April 15, 2005

Life & Arts

'Houses don't kill people'

'Amityville' makes it difficult for educated viewers to believe

By Dusti Rhodes
The Daily Cougar

Reality is a lot scarier when it's real. So if you go to a horror movie that claims it's "based on a true story," don't research what really happened because when it misses out on major details, the momentum will be lost as soon as the plot is put into motion.

The Amityville Horror is a great remake of the original film of the same name released in 1979. It's scary, suspenseful and a tad bit psychological. Director Andrew Douglas said his goal was to create something more than just an improved version of the first.

The house featured in The Amityville Horror does a great job at serving a scary purpose for fantasy, but not reality.
Photo courtesy Dimension Films/MGM Pictures

"I deliberately didn't see (the original) because I think one of things I was being asked to do was, to some extent, try and deliver new scares," Douglas said. Douglas succeeds in building suspense, something he said is essential to the genre's process. Douglas compared building a scare to a roller coaster ride, saying the anticipation of the drop was just as important as the fall.

Although Douglas' version of Amityville does deliver in scares, it fails to do reality any justice. Even though beliefs of what really happened differ throughout the cast, Douglas, as well as actors Ryan Reynolds (National Lampoon's Van Wilder) and Melissa George (TV's Alias), and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller agreed on one thing: The Defoe family was murdered by their eldest son Ronnie in the mansion on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, New Jersey, on Nov. 13, 1974. But the film fails to portray the events of that evening historically, so anyone who knows what really happened may be turned off because of its inaccurate portrayal of the event.

This isn't necessarily bad, as the movie doesn't have to be an exact account of what happened inside the house. The film focuses on the Lutz family, who moved into the house a year after the murders, and 28 days later, they left, leaving everything they owned behind -- and never went back.

Although the movie does have some jump scares, it fails to destroy viewers mentally and leave them afraid to turn out the lights. It is suspenseful, yes, but once the scare is over -- that's it.

There are many things that some could attribute the lack of believability to, but most of the things that the producers, Form and Fuller, and director Douglas seemed worried about were not the film's biggest problems.

Douglas said he was hesitant of Reynolds being able to play Lutz because of his extensive work in comedy and his appearance.

"I was worried about him for so long; I thought he was bringing too much beauty and too much comedy to the piece," Douglas said. In the end, however, these things seemed to be what propelled Reynolds' performance.

"He used his physicality and his handsomeness to create something far more chilling than somebody who already looks mean," Douglas said, and he is right. Reynolds' sarcastic wits and demeanor (à la Jason Lee) added a different kind of villain to a horror story. Although the real villain was essentially the house itself, Reynolds does a good job of making audiences believe he has been overtaken by it.

The main problem with this movie seemed to be the script and its tendency to create unbelievable situations. George stars as Lutz's wife Kathy, who stays with him throughout the saga regardless of the violence he inflicts upon her and her children. It seems unlikely that any woman would stick by her husband's side through all of this, and George agrees.

"(I would last) an hour -- I'm an Australian woman; we're very tough down under," George said.

When talking to Form and Fuller, the movie only gets more unbelievable. During an interview, the two talked about "suspicious activity" during the filming. Although some things could be accounted for (Kathy Lutz's death during filming and a body found in the lake by the house), some just seemed like wild fabrications of a duo looking to sell a movie.

"You know you're screwed when you wake up at 3:15 in the morning," Form said in reference to the time the DeFeo murders occurred when George Lutz would wake up every night during his 28-day stay. The pair also noted other events in the house, such as chairs moving and lights flickering on and off. This all seems a bit odd considering the house where the movie was filmed was not the original house. The original house was in Long Island, and the film's house was in the ever-spooky atmosphere of Wisconsin. Boo? More like moo.

As Ryan Reynolds said as George Lutz,"Houses don't kill people," especially when they are more than 2,000 miles away.

But audiences will have to judge for themselves. This movie will have viewers divided between those looking for a quick scream and those looking for a reason to be scared.

The Amityville Horror

Dimension Films/MGM Pictures

Rated: R for violence and terror

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George

Verdict: If you go for the history, you won't stay for the scares.

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