The Amityville Horror – then and now – DVD Review

When the 1979 version of the Amityville Horror was released, it was based on the 1977 book supposedly based on true events from 1974. Both the movie and the Lutz family made a lot of money on the successful horror story.

Since then, the truth has come out that it’s a total sham. The truth didn’t stop the movie from being remade in 2005. Both versions came together in the double feature Double Take DVD set released June 2008.

I was just a child when the original was released and may have seen it once edited on television. I didn’t remember many of the details as I watched the wide screen DVD version. Since I prefer to watch modern movies, I actually watched the remake first.

I haven’t seen too many movies with Ryan Reynolds, but he did a good job playing George Lutz. You believe his portrayal of a man descending into madness. He has nightmares of being ripped apart and sees the demons on his family’s faces. There is one particular spooky and profound scene where he is punishing his 12-year-old stepson by making him hold the wood as he splits it with an ax. The child is crying but doing what he is told out of fear.

Both actors did this scene well, and I shuddered at the thought of that child possibly losing his fingers…or his head. There were no such suspenseful scenes in the original version however. James Brolin nearly sleepwalks through his role as George Lutz. His acting is wooden and you don’t ever really believe he is capable of killing his family. Not only that but all it takes is his wife, Kathy (portrayed by Margot Kidder), shedding a few tears to pull him out of his trance.

There is only one scene that is mildly shocking, and that is when Kathy has a nightmare that George kills her daughter and then buries the ax in Kathy’s head. Back in the 70’s scary meant spooky music, but that worked in Halloween, not in this movie. Anytime they wanted the viewer to know that something scary was happening, the actors distort their expressions and the music sharpens. Made me raise my eyebrows more than anything.

The one other thing that made far more sense in the 2005 version is that George was only affected when he was in the house. When he left it, he felt fine. Kathy (portrayed by Melissa George) in the remake is much smarter. She figures out what is happening and fights to save her family. George chases them with the ax, and the house tries to keep her locked inside. They manage to escape only to be confronted by a possessed George. Kathy fights him and knocks him out. She then gets him away from the house. Once far enough away, the evil from the house loses its hold.

In the 1979 version the house’s evil could reach across town, even to the church, yet it wasn’t strong enough to make George kill. They then easily leave the house, but George returns to get the family dog. I assume it was supposed to be suspenseful as Kathy waits in the car, crying and looking out the back window, awaiting George’s return through the rainy night. He falls into what looks like black ooze before fetching the dog. They get back to the car, leave and the movie then ends.

I suppose the 1979 version was more fitting for a more innocent time. It was a very popular movie and might have scared me back then. It takes more to scare me now. I was bored as I watched the original, but the remake kept my interest. It was actually refreshing to watch a horror movie where all the main characters survive (yes, they all survive in both versions). It was certainly touch and go for a while, at least in the 2005 version, but this is the first remake I’ve ever seen of a classic horror movie that was done better than the original.

The most refreshing aspect, though strangely unexpected, is that they didn’t try to modernize the story. The remake took place in 1974 just like the original. There were more special effects, so we see the ghosts and demons that the original only hints at. This fact adds to the remake but detracts from the original.

This DVD set would be a good addition for your library, especially if you like to collect originals and their remakes. Otherwise, the 2005 remake is definitely worth at least a rental.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars

MGM Studios

June 10, 2008