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Amityville Horror remake should be scary, right?

My experience with realtors is fairly slim, having only rented. However, I can recognize a nervous agent when I see one, and the realtor in The Amityville Horror is as jittery as I've ever seen. Who can blame her? She's trying to sell a big, scary house that she knows was the site of a grizzly family murder just a year or so before. Also, she sees shadows and hears noises as she's showing the home to potential customers. Shouldn't she be pointing those out, along with the high ceilings and spacious dining area?

Alas, this shuddering lady just doesn't know how to market this house but makes the sale anyway. One would think, by the magnitude of her heebie-jeebies, that she had made a career of trying desperately to unload the Bates Motel, the condo where Rosemary had her baby, and that Exorcist house. That could be her niche, if she could just take a Valium before the showing. She does admit that a tragedy occurred, but only after the Lutz family agrees to buy.

My point, if there is one, is that early on when the Lutz family is looking at a beautiful old house, the illogical behavior of the realtor is just like every other element of The Amityville Horror. We are informed nay, telegraphed that we are supposed to be scared. And then, lots of computer-generated frights appear, which should be scary but aren't.

This Lutz family, George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) are a happy, young couple. Kathy has three children from her previous marriage (from which she is widowed), and the challenge of integrating Mom's shaggy new husband into the affections of her children cannot be overestimated. When George and Kathy buy the house, a fresh start seems possible at last. But the words of that realtor haunt them as do some very literal spooks and haunts. George finds himself cold all the time and restless. And grumpy. And mean. Within just a few days, he transforms from amiable construction guy to ax-wielding tyrant, insisting that the oldest son hold logs while he chops them to teach him a lesson about whining. George also is compelled to break through walls in the basement, sensing that some unseen force is behind them.

Meanwhile, Kathy is justifiably concerned. Her kids are being verbally (and, gradually, physically) abused. A much-needed date at a cheap Italian restaurant seems to do the trick, but the ghosts back home wreak havoc on the babysitter. This highlights a connection for Kathy: When George is away from the house, he's fine. When he's near the house, he's psychotic. What to do?

A trip to the doctor reveals nothing, and the local priest (Philip Baker Hall) runs away after the briefest attempt at an exorcism. (I hope this papal conclave elects a pope who will crack down on wussy exorcists.) Seems like this is a problem only the Lutzes can fix.

So, there are some good points to this unnecessary remake of 1979's film of the same name with Margot Kidder and James Brolin as the Lutzes. (Wow. It must have been intimidating for the newer cast to step into the shoes of Kidder and Brolin, who are best known for rummaging crazily through neighboring shrubs and marrying Barbra Streisand, respectively.) But none of the good points seem to be so intentionally. Hall is fine, but only because he adds some much-needed class to these otherwise drab and undistinguished proceedings. There are some genuine scares not the computerized special effects but the human ones that come from a child being in danger.

Reynolds is an interesting camera subject and very sympathetic, but neither script nor director seems to know how to help him with the transitions between scruffy/lovable and mean/possessed. He tries hard, but he has neither the skill nor the support to make the leaps the film asks of him. George does fine with Kathy, though it's hard to get totally behind her, since it takes her so long to get her kids out of the house, and by that time George has graver intentions for that ax than firewood.

"Houses don't kill people. People kill people," George comments, justifying his purchase of a house in which murders occurred. This is an amusing homage to the NRA line "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." True. But people with guns can kill more people and kill them faster than people without. Similarly, movies don't numb us to violence and horror. Bad movies numb us to violence and horror. The Amityville Horror is numb and dumb.



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