3 stars (out of 4)
On Nov. 13, 1974, a young man named Ronald DeFeo Jr. went berserk in the middle of the night and shot dead his parents and four younger siblings in their Dutch Colonial home in the peaceful Long Island community of Amityville. A year later, a young couple, George and Kathy Lutz, and their three children moved into the house only to flee it 28 days later, never to return, even to collect their possessions. What happened to the Lutzes during that 28 days was turned into a best-selling book, "The Amityville Horror," by Jay Anson, which spawned a popular movie of the same name in 1979, which in turn led to two sequels.
"The Amityville Horror" has now been remade, and it is decidedly superior to the original. Directed by Andrew Douglas, a commercials veteran, the film is a terrific scare show, fast and furious, made with a lot of style and energy, packing plenty of jolts yet never lingering morbidly over horrific images. It is anchored in strong characterizations, and its plot develops with chilling psychological suspense. It's such a skillfully made entertainment that its plunge into the supernatural is persuasive even for the skeptical. Some words of warning are in order: Strictly for the stout of heart, the film is entirely unsuitable for children.
Working from Anson's book as well as Sandor Stern's script for the 1979 version, writer Scott Kosar sets up the story with care. George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) is a new husband and stepfather to the three children of his wife, Kathy (Melissa George). They are an attractive and loving couple, and George Lutz is eager to make a good husband and stepfather. He connects easily enough with little Chelsea (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Michael (Jimmy Bennett), but he realizes that 12-year-old Billy (Jesse James) will be a bigger challenge.
When George and Kathy come upon a large seaside Victorian on a huge forestlike lot, a rundown but splendid example of the Dutch Colonial Revival style, they find it hard to resist. No fool, George asks the real estate agent how the price could be so low, and she is forthright about the DeFeo family tragedy. Because George is a contractor able to fix up the place himself, and Kathy is so taken with it, they decide it a unique opportunity to seize their American dream. "People kill people; houses don't kill people," says George firmly, determined to put the house's dark past behind him and his family. Horror pictures can be a real workout for actors, especially young ones, and "Amityville" makes heavy demands on its five principals. Reynolds depicts rigorously George's descent from a conscientious loving family man into a lethally possessed creature, and Melissa George shows Kathy as a woman struggling in the face of escalating terror. Douglas clearly took extraordinary pains to ensure that his three child actors felt secure while creating hair-raising events surrounding them.
The house is the film's central character, its steep roofs, soaring staircase and dank basement providing wonderfully moody and atmospheric settings for dynamic cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister, who heads the film's substantial list of skilled artists and craftsmen. With visual panache and consistent dexterity, "The Amityville Horror" confronts a completely normal, likable young family with a glimpse of hell.
"The Amityville Horror"
Produced by Ted Field and David Crockett; directed by Andrew Douglas. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George and Jesse James. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated R for violence and terror.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times